Egg Bowl Press Conference Report

Coach Sylvester Croom held his Tuesday press conference to discuss Saturday's season-ending contest with Mississippi at Scott Field. The coach discussed the meaning and the emotions of the Egg Bowl for both the Bulldogs and himself. Croom also announced that halfback Jerious Norwood, cornerback Kevin Dockery, and special teams leader Brett Morgan, all seniors, have been elected permanent 2005 team captains.

Opening comments: "Of course this is the most important game of the season, playing Ole Miss here at home for the Egg Bowl. It's good to have it here on our campus this year. It's been a while since we've won it and we're looking forward to it. We practiced inside yesterday, some of that was due to the weather, and we'll do part of our practices inside and outside for the remainder of the week."

Injury update: "Brandon Hart and Titus Brown are definitely out for this game. Keith Andrews is questionable, and Michael Heard is probable, how much he'll be able to practice we don't know yet. But as of today we think he'll be able to do something later in the week. Of course we can't go into the game counting on a great amount of playing time there."

"We look forward to this game. It gives us the opportunity to reach the last of the goals for our season. Of course we've had a long streak of losses. Some good things have occurred, some thing not so good. But winning this game makes everything better—flowers smell sweeter, the girlfriend looks better, and life is just totally better when you win this game. That's just how big it is. Everything before really doesn't matter, this is everything. That's the way we're going into this ball game. Our seniors, it's been a long time since…in fact they haven't won. I know if I were them I'd hate to be a senior group not having that wonderful experience. Any time you have a rival game in your career it's important that you win one of them and none is more special than that last one because you have to live with it the rest of your life."

The game's impact on recruiting: "Well, what's as important as anything else is when our coaches go on the road they'll feel good. You can recruit a whole lot better when you've got a smile on your face. That's the number-one factor, that when we go on the road Sunday recruiting we'll be smiling and bubbly and that kind of thing. The other part is you've got bragging rights for a year, that's a whole year. That's valuable, that's money in the bank."

Comparing Egg Bowl to Iron Bowl, and did that game decide his college choice: "No. It's what I said earlier, it's more important for our players and coaches. As far as recruits, you either like Ole Miss or you like Mississippi State if you grow up in this state, that's pretty much usually the way it goes. If you're a Bulldog you're a Bulldog, if you're a Rebel you're a Rebel. And the same way over there, if you're for Alabama you're for Alabama and if you're for Auburn…if you grew up wanting to go there, in fact that game probably solidifies whatever you're going to do win, lose, or draw. You're going to go anyway because you're going to make it right!"

How last year's loss affected him: "Miserable. Absolutely miserable. When we walked off that field I was embarrassed, still am. I haven't forgotten it and believe me I haven't let the players forget it ever since then. We've been talking about it all year. The first day of training camp we looked at that film. The newspaper article from the Clarion Ledger has been on the board every day since that game, so they know very well I'm not happy about it."

Can the game be over-emphasized: "There's no such thing as over-emphasizing it. It's football. All the games are big, there are no games that are unimportant. You take them one at a time, coaches say that and we mean it. But there is always on your schedule one game in back of your mind."

Does anything about practice week change because of the game's emotions: "Well the first thing is I try to control mine, which is not easy. This is not very easy for me, I try not to hinder the players because I'm a very emotional person—contrary to popular opinion. This is big. There are certain games that you have a feeling in your gut, it's about your pride and all the hard work you put in. It's about making sure your wife, your Mom, your sister, when they go to the store or the cleaners they can walk in smiling. That's what it means to me and that's I expect our players to think about. Momma is going to have to go to the grocery store this week, and she's either going to be sad or smiling, there's no in-between. So this is for Momma."

His comment two weeks ago in Huntsville about this game: "I said it. I meant it. If we play like we're capable of playing we should win the game. But it's going to take everything we've got. Based on what they said after the game last year they don't like us very much either, and that's the way it should be. I've got no problem with that, that's the way this game is supposed to be played. And if I was one of our players and (my coach) didn't think we could win or weren't going in the game to win, I wouldn't show up either. You better believe I think we can win, you better believe it's important to me. And I expect our players to feel the same way."

Are you surprised now Kevin Dockery was not a leading recruit: "No, not at all. Because quite often being listed as a top recruit has no bearing whatsoever on how your career will pan out. Right now I think some of the younger players on our team who were not considered high recruits are going to be very good football players. I don't put a whole lot of stock in recruiting lists and where guys are ranked, I never have and still don't. That's from when I was recruiting in college before, and in the NFL a lot of guys were low draft choices. I know from my playing experience I can name a long list of players who were all-Americans and great players who may have had none or only one scholarship offer.

"You don't get to be a good player in the Southeastern Conference without a great deal of hard work anyway, no matter how good you are. But Kevin has overcome a lack of height and great size, he's an intense competitor and has given us good leadership, especially this year."

How Chris McNeil used his second chance for a career: "The entire experience coaching in college football is about the players and trying to help them be better people. Any time we make decisions relative to this program, the first consideration is what is best for the player. Because in the long run what is best for the player is best for the program. We saw in Chris the potential to finish school and have a chance to get his degree and go on and be a contributing citizen. That's the approach we took, and we had the resources available on our campus to help him. There were still some consequences to be paid for his actions, he did that and handled it like a man. We try to approach things in the manner of helping a player somewhat in a parental style, what you would do if it was your own son. That's the approach we try to take here."

On Blake McAdams: "He's one of those young guys that this is their first time. You see signs of outstanding play and then you see signs of rookie play. That's what you get when you play a rookie in the SEC. But all along we felt the potential for him, Calvin Wilson, Michael Gates, the list goes on and on, the feeling is that our future is going to be those young players. They'll take their lumps and make mistakes, let's go ahead and get that done now so they get game experience and next year they'll be better players for it."

Why was Brett Morgan picked as a permanent captain: "I didn't make him a captain, the players voted on permanent captains. I choose captains each week based on game performance. At the end of the season players vote on permanent captains. We do that so whoever those final captains are for the Ole Miss game are the guys who have truly earned it. I've been on teams that named captains prior to the season and every time one of them probably doesn't end up playing very well in the course of the season.

"I think the permanent captains should be voted on. That is the greatest honor any player can get, to me. I know the only reward I wanted when I went to Alabama was to be elected captain, because that says more about you as a person than anything else, that the guys you went to battle with believed in you. There's no greater honor to me than that."

On the 14-year run of Morgans playing for MSU: "I'm going to see if I can get his Momma and Daddy to get busy and get us some more! I'd take one like Brett every year, he's a winner. Let me tell you something about this guy. He was a quarterback when we got here, we moved him to safety and he never complained. Then we moved him back to quarterback, but all this time he's our special teams ‘quarterback', one of our best special teams players. He works every single day and is one of the most valuable players on this team. I went to him this summer and asked if there was any position he wanted to play other than just being third-string quarterback so he could play. Because he deserved the right to play. Any position you want, tell me. He said I want to stay right where I am because I can learn more about football and the offense so I can be a coach one day. He's going to be an outstanding coach one day and I want to do anything I can to help him."

On Jerious Norwood: "When you come in a program like we came in and you're starting over, and you've got a guy you didn't recruit; when what we're trying is probably diametrically opposed to the philosophy in the past…as you all have witnessed some guys buy in and some guys don't. This guy has totally absorbed our philosophy. That's not easy to do. I've been through coaching changes myself as a player and coach, it's not easy to do. But he has done it with total commitment and great class and character. He will always be very special to me. There's a couple of guys—David Stewart, Jerious Norwood, Brett Morgan—those three are very special. I don't like singling out players but those three are very worthy because they are special people. When you talk about pride and passion those guys are totally committed to Mississippi State. They made personal sacrifices for this University, those three more than anybody else since we've been here have totally given of themselves. And I will always be indebted to those three men."

The Mississippi offense: "Well except for the jerseys I see the same thing I see in ours. Young guys, injuries, some spots the talent level not what they would like for it to be. Their schemes, I see a lot of the same elements offense and defense in Southern Cal's. You see Southern Cal running the same plays, but different people. They lost a coach I understand, one of their coordinators, and it's tough. Because it's the exact same scheme Souther Cal runs, but there's no (Reggie) Bush there, no (Matt) Lienart. That's the difference, people don't understand that. I was watching Green Bay last night, Brett Favre is having one of his best years yet they're 2-8. Offensive production is almost equal to the points given up. But there's no Jovan Walker, no Ahman Green, two of their offensive linemen are out, yet people wonder why it doesn't work. It's nothing wrong with the schemes, the same scheme they've been running 12-13 years, same quarterback. But you don't have the people now, it's a whole different ball game."

On Patrick Willis: "Yeah, I like to talk about this guy…this guy scares me! I've been seeing him all week, I wake up in the middle of the night and see #49. He is a courageous player, not only is he talented but the guy is hurt. It's the first time I've seen him this year without that great big ball on his hand, enough to tear his shoulder out as big as it is. And then he's got what looks like another two pounds of tape on his right ankle. And he plays every game, and I'm sure he practices because he knows what he's doing. He doesn't appear to miss assignments. Even if you do block him he's probably going to get in on the tackle, and if you don't put a body on him for sure he's going to be the one to make the tackle. He does not miss tackles. The guy is an unbelievable player, he's the first linebacker that's really caught my attention this year of all the teams we've played. They talk about the guy at Alabama, he's a good player; this guy is a great player I think. You do everything you can to put a hat on him. Now, finding a guy who wants to put that hat on him is another matter. I asked for volunteers yesterday and I'm still waiting."

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