"I've got my pride," said David Heard. "I mean, I can't even stand for a guy to catch a little five-yard curl route, That makes me so mad. I had pride in my play every time some new freshman came in and challenged for the spot. If he is better than me and earns it, so be it. But I just hold my own, do my best and let what happens just happen. That's all you can do every day in practice and games."
The 5-foot-11 and 191-pound Heard exited spring drills with a firm grip on his starting role. But that didn't stop Heard from being impressed with the rest of his secondary mates this spring.
"I thought the secondary looked good and everyone came along," said Heard. "Keith Fitzhugh really improved at safety and I thought DP, Derek Pegues, came along very far, probably more than anyone else. He was impressive at times.
"And then everybody knows me and Jeramie Johnson are solid and been in the league awhile. And with Bobo healthy and getting back, I feel we have one of the best in the SEC."
Like all good college secondaries, Heard is counting on State's defensive line to do their part when man-to-man coverages are called in the defensive backfield.
"I believe we will be really good, especially with the schemes put in by Coach Johnson," said Heard. "The schemes are easy but effective. If the defensive line is good then everybody should be good and I know they are solid up front. I feel better about the defense this year, more than last year and I think we can rank pretty high with our defense."
After graduating from Vicksburg High School in 2002, Heard wasn't exactly overwhelmed with college scholarship offers. But he found a home he liked in Starkville, and takes more pride in how far he has come, from a lightly-recruited defensive back to a veteran SEC corner.
"It makes you feel good, I guess, looking back from where I was right out of high school to now," said Heard. "But I'm not looking at all that. I just wanted a chance and Coach Johnson gave me my shot. I know I've held my own against every opponent I've seen on the field. I mean, me and Dock (Kevin Dockery) played like 70 percent man coverage last year out there on the corner. That lets you know the coaches have faith in you."
Heard will be the first to admit the transition from high school to college was difficult, like all inexperienced players point to. But Heard knew he needed to get two components down pat if he was to make a splash in the nation's toughest league.
"I think it's the speed and knowledge of the game," said Heard of adjustments in college. "You have to learn everything and you can't duplicate game speed in practice. But now that I'm in the flow of the game and gained knowledge more through experience, it's okay. That knowledge and getting into the flow just made me better."
Heard is scheduled to graduate either in December or next spring with a degree in biological engineering, not your typical major for most athletes. But he doesn't plan to stop there, giving himself other options in case the NFL is not in his future.
"I talked to a couple of people with some firms in case football doesn't work out in the future," said Heard. "I might get my masters or MBA and try to further my education.
And being a senior, Heard will also have to increase his education on the field with the underclassmen. Heard understands his new-found role of leadership, and plans to increase the volume on and off the field.
"I feel my role is more of a leader now," said Heard. "In the past, I haven't been very vocal but leading more by example. Now, I have to be more vocal. I will give the new guys and other guys coming up as many pointers as they need because I want everybody to be good on this team."
As one of nine returning starters on defense, Heard likes the experience on the defensive side of the football. Sure there are many familiar faces back for defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson. But Heard sees plenty of room for improvement, and wants the secondary to be all-but-perfect in the fall.
"We've got to have less breakdowns," said Heard of this year's unit. "Last year we missed some assignments, like one or two guys, and that ruins the whole play. We have to keep increasing our mental reps. Everything has to go like clock work and when that happens is when you will see more interceptions and passes knocked down."
While Heard may have been a soft-spoken performer in the past, he doesn't hesitate when asked just how good this Mississippi State football team can be in 2006. He's seen all the lowly projections by the pre-season publications and magazines.
But he likes what he's seen so far, and strongly believes the fans will like what they see, too.
"I believe we will rank high in the SEC and contend in the SEC," said Heard. "We will surprise some people on game day, those that are sleeping against us. We will show the fans what we can do and how far we've come since last year."
Paul Jones is a writer for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. Paul, also a sports writer for the Columbus Commercial Dispatch, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.