Compare last year under Coach Croom to what you have seen from him this year.
"Coach Croom, when he first came in, was very disciplined and was strictly business. That's not to say he's not business now, just that now he's opened up a little more and is talking to the players more. I think he has gotten a little more comfortable with where he's at. But his standards and the way he does things haven't changed a bit. What he said from day one to now, not a single thing has changed. Plus, he is one of those type guys who wants you to be successful not only on the field, but off the field."
What has Coach Croom brought to your team, personality-wise, that, maybe, wasn't there before?
"Coach Croom is so passionate about what he does. You can see in his face the complete opposites when he wins or when he loses. And he is such a positive influence on the players, not just on the field, but off the field."
Coach Croom said he didn't feel the guys, when he first got to MSU, believed they could win. Now, he says, he sees that in the players. Do you agree?
"Oh yeah, everything that we do now is built around a winning attitude. We have a winning attitude in the classroom. We have a winning attitude when we are out in public. We also have a winning attitude on the field. It is something that you not only carry through college, but it's something that we will carry through life. Everything that Coach Croom does is to set us up to be great fathers, great husbands and successful people in life."
How much more improved do you think this team is compared to last year's team?
"We were trying to find ourselves last season. But, when we went through spring training - and he told us it would be one of the worst thing that we had been through in our lived - it was probably the worst thing I have been through in my life. I saw guys who were pretty much in tears because they were hurting so bad. But it brought us together as a team. When you are out there running and you have a guy laying a shoulder on you pretty much in tears and another guy hugging a trash can, you don't have any other choice but to become close. So, coming into this year, there is going to be much more improved team."
You mentioned that the spring was really tough. Was there one moment that was the worst?
"There are two moments that are pretty much equal. One was in February, when we were doing our early morning runs. I remember we had to do these things that are called big 10s, a bunch of up and downs and pushups. You did that before you even got to the running stages. We got in there and I figured that we would go through this real quick and no big deal. We did that for an hour and 30 minutes. We did it over and over again. By the time I got out of there, I went home and slept for 14 hours. I was done. The second one was during spring training. One day we were out there and doing the big 5s before practice. We did that for about an hour before we went to practice. Then, we went to practice. At that time, I was really questioning what I was doing out there to a certain extent (laugh)."
Do you think you guys are ready for the season?
"We put in the work, so there is no question about that. I feel like I have been to a Junction Boys camp. Now, all we have to do is put the pads on and see how we stack up against everybody else."
What are your expectations for this team this year?
"The expectations are high. The first year, we were trying to get use to the new coaching staff and also trying to learn the schemes on both sides of the ball. Now, we are in a comfort zone. We have all the schemes put in and everybody is comfortable with what we are doing. Everybody has pretty much done all that they are supposed to do during the entire offseason and entire summer. This year, we are much better prepared for what we want to do going into the season."
Do you think you have the talent to win in the SEC this year?
"We had 7 players on the SEC coaches pre-season All-SEC teams, so we do have the talent. The problem we'll probably have is depth. We just can't afford that many injuries, especially on the offensive line."
Talk about senior running back Jerious Norwood.
"Jerious and I are real good friends. We live right next door to each other. I love blocking for him. He is a great athlete, but the biggest reason I love blocking for him is because he is a great guy. A lot of guys who have those kind of stats don't always have the (good) attitude that goes with it. It excites me every week to play with that guy, because for every yard he gets, it makes me as happy as it does him. He deserves everything he gets."
A lot of players have left the team. Now, you've seen the new recruits. Do they seem like players who match what Coach Croom wants to do?
"The guys he has recruited, based on what I have seen, are great kids. They are focused and know what is expected of them coming in. But, just like anybody else, you are going to have some guys come in who don't want to do it the way it is supposed to be done. And it's not just recruits from the previous staff, but from this staff. Sometimes, you just can't tell about (a player). Coach Croom is serious about what he wants done. Either you are going to get right or you will get gone."
I've heard that you guys seem to be working very hard this summer. What do you attribute that to?
"The main reason is our strength coach, Jim Nowell. We've had him for two years. He came from West Virginia. He is very intense, very motivated. There's not any nonsense about him. Plus, you have guys on the team that love to workout. When you have guys like that who can motivate others, it makes things roll a lot better."
Does it worry you that your team doesn't have the number of great players that some of the other teams have in the SEC?
"You don't have to have more than 22 on the field playing. You have to have some depth when it is hot. But, by midseason, I played almost every play of every game. In the NFL, I think they only have 55 guys on their roster. If they can do it, there's no reason why we can't. You don't have to have 85 guys on the sidelines to win a football game."
How much does last year's win over Florida help this year's team's confidence?
"That win over Florida was a good thing. It helped give us motivation going into the last few games last year. But I don't think that win will give us any kind of motivation this year. I think the motivation for this year will be the whooping we got laid to us by the Auburn's, the LSU's, and the Ole Miss' last year. That will motivate me everyday. When I'm at my house crying because I just got completely embarrassed by another squad, that's what's going to motivate me."
What do you think about freshman playing their first year?
"It's a two-way street. If a young guy is ready to help us win, I want him out there. But, you also have to understand with younger guys the mental maturity and physical maturity is not going to be there. Because of that, you have to make sure you are positive with them and you be patient with them."
Who is the toughest defensive linemen that you have faced while at Mississippi State?
"Since I've been at Mississippi State, it's probably going to be McKinley Boykin at Ole Miss. He is about 275 pounds, but he's so quick off the football. He is definitely an athlete."
How much does it motivate you to know you are playing such great competition every week due to playing in the SEC?
"Every week you are going to play great competition in the SEC. That's one of the biggest reasons, when I was being recruited out of high school, that I wanted to play in the Southeastern Conference. I believe this is best football in America. It is built on physical, pound the football old school. You find out pretty quick how you stand because you are going to go against the best guys. I think, for the last three or four years, we have led the nation in guys drafted in the NFL."
How important is it to win games against teams like Vanderbilt and Kentucky as you try to take the next step up?
"I don't think it matters who you play in the SEC - whoever you play, you are going for a big victory. I don't classify one team in one area and another team in another area. You go out every week and prepare the best you can for whomever you play."
We know your feelings about defeating Florida. What did the Kentucky victory do for you?
"I got knocked out, so I wasn't really aware of what was going on. I was pretty much in la-la land."
When things weren't going so well for you and the team your first few years, did you ever regret having gone to Mississippi State?
"When I signed with Mississippi State, I was proud to be at Mississippi State. It is a place that I always wanted to play. I was a fan of theirs all the way through high school. This is where I felt passionate about playing. I was disappointed in the ways things were going here, but it didn't change my love for the university."
How important is it to you to go out on a positive note after enduring all the hardships that you have gone through the past four years?
"It is very important to me. One of the biggest things I did going into this spring was to prepare myself and others around me to win games this year. I want to go to a bowl game this year. I've never gotten to experience that. That has been my goal everyday. My job is to play the best I can, but also to be in a leadership role for the younger guys."
Did you try to recruit your brother, Josh, to Mississippi State?
"My brother and I are very close, but we try to keep football separate. So, when he was going through recruiting, I told him I would love for him to play with me because I felt it would be a great experience having two brothers playing for the same team and playing center. But I also told him that he had to do what was best for him. I told him if he had to go somewhere else and do his own thing, that was fine. He also picked a great school. I'm going to be there in support of him, but I'm also going to be ringing my cowbell. I'm still going to be a Mississippi State fan."
When did he tell you where he was going?
"He called and told me that he is going to Tennessee. I asked him if he was sure that was what he wanted to do. He told me it was. He said when he went up there, he just felt it (was right). I then told him I was happy for him and happy that he had that opportunity."
Did you take a lot of heat from teammates and fans due to him choosing Tennessee?
"I'm close with a lot of my teammates. They actually know my brother pretty well because he used to come up to Mississippi State and stay with me. They were like me - they told him that he had to do what was best for him. It would probably shock you the way the players deal with things like that. I guess the actual rivalry and hate between schools is more between the fans than the players."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.