"Accountability. It gives us an indication of the type of condition our players are in. It's a very, very tough test. Our guys run 16 half-gassers. You can be in great shape and it is still going to hurt. You saw guys in great condition and they were still hurting. When you go through our test, you have to be mentally tough and say one more sprint when you don't think you can continue. Then, when you make that sprint, you tell yourself one more. You just keep pushing yourself.
"We have a lot of guys who have learned to do that and can pass the conditioning test. Some guys didn't pass the conditioning test because they didn't have that mental mindset on that particular day. And some of them have been passing practice tests that we have had this summer. But yesterday was gameday and we didn't get it done. We had some guys that fell a little bit short. But we'll pick them back up, dust them off, and we'll run it again Wednesday morning. But we are not going to lower the bar. The standard is what it is. They will get over it. We are not going to lower it to accommodate them. Like I say all the time, it's not hard being good, it's hard being good every day."
You divided your players into three groups. Was it my imagination or did the second group perform better than the other two groups?
"The second group was the mid-skill group; the linebackers, tight ends, fullbacks, quarterbacks, punters and kickers. The mid-skill guys' time is 18 seconds, while the skill guys' time is 16 seconds. That extra 2 seconds is a big difference. A second reason is you have a lot of mid-skill guys who are probably a lot closer to a skill guy than they are to an offensive lineman. For example, Quinton Culberson is a linebacker, but last year he ran the DB time, which is 16 seconds. But as far as athletic ability goes, Quinton is a skill guy, not a mid-skill guy. He is a very fast linebacker, so he can make his time of 18 seconds fairly easily."
Will the guys who didn't pass have to do the entire 16 or the number of half-gassers that they didn't make?
"I had some of the coaches asked me that. Some guys missed 1 or 2 out of 16. The coaches wanted to know if the players would only have to run the ones they didn't make. The guys who didn't pass will have to do all 16 again. It doesn't matter if they missed 1 or 16. The standard is they have to pass 16 out of 16. If they don't, then they have to run the entire thing over again."
It looked like a few of the guys will have a very, very hard time making 16 half-gassers no matter how many times they try.
"If they don't pass it Wednesday morning, then I'll do some extra conditioning with them after we finish our regular running during practice. I don't see it as punishment even though some people may. What I see is a few guys who haven't met our standard. So, we have to keep going until our conditioning is where it needs to be. Vince Lombardi said fatigue makes cowards of us all. If we aren't in good shape, then we don't even have a chance. Just being in good condition and good shape is going to give us a chance to compete every play. And that is what we are looking for."
Some of the freshmen had a difficult time, especially the offensive linemen, with the half-gassers. Will they be treated the same as the veterans?
"Because they are freshmen and haven't been in our program for a year and a half like some of the other kids, they really don't understand it yet. We'll be more understanding with them, more patient.
"But there's no excuse for the other guys. They knew what the conditioning test was going to be. The (veterans) that missed were the guys who weren't here for both semesters. That's ok as long as you are a disciplined person who followed my daily plan day by day. But, if you aren't one of those guys, we aren't mad at you. We just want you to come in and let us help you do it. That's what our job is. But, when you come in here in July and the rest of us are on week 5, we don't start you at week 1. You are with us at week 5, because that is where the Bulldogs are. It is accountability. Some of the veterans who stayed home for the first part of the summer did what they were supposed to do. Michael Heard did a fantastic job of doing that. Quinton Culberson also did a fantastic job. And there were other guys.
Were there other reasons some of the veterans didn't make their times?
"Some of the guys that missed had never been through our summer program. Brandon Thornton and Jonathan Lowe never went through it. The summer program is much, much tougher than our spring program because the volume of running is unbelievable. Our guys think they are on a track scholarship once they get here. We want our kids to be in tip-top shape. We don't want anybody to be tougher than us. And we don't want anybody to be in better condition than we are."
Do you have any idea why they were in such good shape?
"Blake McAdams' dad is a football coach, so he understands it. But with the others, it's part of the maturing process. Quinton Wesley is a tough guy who weighs 260 pounds and can run forever. He could run with the mid-skill guys and make their time. He's just an exceptional athlete. I hope those things carry over to the playing field. If they do, then he has a chance to be a very special player. But we haven't put the pads on. You could get a track guy who can't play football and he could run the half-gassers all day long.
"As for the freshmen that didn't do well, part of it is conditioning and part of it is maturity. They don't have that tough mental mindset that says I don't care how many we run, I'm making every one of them. But I'm not worried about guys like (freshman offensive linemen) Gates, Spencer, Jenkins and Carpenter. They are going to be fine. They want to get better. They have gotten better since they've been here. Are they where we want them to be? No. They just have to go through the learning process, which takes time. Day by day, we will change how they think, how they compete, and improve their level of toughness and conditioning. It's a step by step process. (Redshirt freshman) Dio Herrera couldn't do it last year, either. He would crumble. He was like they are now. But his mentality has changed a lot. He is in much better shape and is a stronger guy."
One freshman that hasn't been able to work out is highly touted offensive lineman Calvin Wilson. He has had surgery and is currently rehabbing. And he is one of those guys that Coach Croom feels can play as a freshman. What can you do to get him in practice shape?
"The first thing we have to do is get him well. He is going to his rehab appointments and is doing everything that (MSU head trainer) Paul Mock is asking him to do in the training room. He can get on the underwater treadmill and those type things, but they aren't the same as running with us. Will those things get him in practice shape? Probably not. We'll bring him along as quick as we can, but we can't throw him in too quick or we could set him back."
Coach Croom hopes all of the freshman offensive linemen will be able to play this year. Because of that, will you have to accelerate their conditioning so that their position coaches can work them hard enough to get them into game shape? If so, how will you be able to do that?
"We'll have to do the best that we can. Can they be at the proper level by September 3rd? I don't know. Only time will tell, but we will do everything in our power to help them get there."
Will you be able to do more conditioning with them during the season?
"We will do that starting Wednesday morning at 7 a.m. We'll run the conditioning test again. Then, when practice starts, while we can't take them out for extra practices due to NCAA guidelines, we can do some extra conditioning with them during practice. Plus, one thing that will really get them in shape is a hard practice. And Coach Croom's practices are extremely tough. There is a lot of running around, a lot of moving. Because of that, they will be fine."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.