Croom is pleased with Nowell reports from the first summer semester's workouts, and he expects more of the same in the remaining July weeks. "We feel we've made tremendous progress there as far as improving our overall strength and conditioning," Croom said Monday. "We're going to have a very difficult conditioning test when they come back. It's going to be a lot more demanding than what we've done in the past; very simple but tough. I wanted it tough so they'd have to work hard."
That hard work is being done by the entire healthy Bulldog varsity as well as the newest members of the roster. As of Monday, Croom confirmed that 19 of the 23 players signed in February were on campus for July. The latest additions to the list reported by Dawgs' Bite last week are LB Jamon Hughes and DL Reggie Odom. They join 14 other true freshmen (including spring enrollee CB Anthony Johnson) cleared for freshman eligibility by the NCAA Clearinghouse, as well as three junior college transfers who enrolled in the first summer term.
Croom said during spring that he hoped to have all eligible freshman on campus by July, and State came closer than ever before to meeting the goal. "We did that except for about two we still have some complications on," Croom said. "But for the most part we did pretty well."
Two of the high school signees not yet reported as enrolled (coaches are limited in what can be said about non-certified or qualified players) are RB Courtney Jones and WR Alex Carpenter, who are both in the certification process. It appears both will get the word too late to enroll for the July semester. "Today was pretty much the deadline," said Croom. "We don't expect those other two guys to be here the second semester. But we don't anticipate any problems for them being here by August, at this point."
That leaves a couple of uncleared frosh for '06, and one of them—DL Alex Dekle—has enrolled in a Georgia junior college. LB Chasman Davis' status is being decided. He is rehabilitating a surgically-repaired knee and has not been cleared, which leaves the option of Davis delaying enrollment at State until January. This would keep him a true freshman in fall '07 even after participating in spring semester work.
If the entire class couldn't be cleared in time, this was the best summer yet for State as far as getting rookies enrolled for July. Croom gives the credit to his staff. "Our coaches did an outstanding job," he said, "because it's really tough. Schools get out so late in summer, counselors go on vacations, and trying to get all the paperwork and getting it to the Clearinghouse is just a lot of coordination.
"But our coaches did a good job. We planned in the spring and asked the coaches to stay in touch with the high school counselors throughout the spring semester and into the first part of summer to try to get all of them here for the second semester."
Those kids are now being immersed in the college life, which is another aspect of Croom's program. Yes, he said, getting freshmen in football shape is the primary goal, but… "The next factor is getting them—and their parents!--acclimated to them being away from home for an extended period for the first time. They're going to get homesick, things are going to come up that we can deal with now and get out of the way prior to football practices. They'll get that ‘third week' homesickness, go ahead and have it now while we're not practicing. Then we can move on by the time practice starts.
"The other thing that is beneficial to the young players, and it's because of the players we already have, is our throwing program workouts are way better than what we've had the last two summers. It's because of better leadership and getting those freshmen involved in that, because the players have to do it themselves and they have taken it on themselves to get it done and get our freshmen involved. It's going to beneficial to them. Everything that we're doing will not be totally new to them when practice starts because of what our upperclassmen are doing to help them out."
Croom said he expects to have a team ready for August camp, including Mike Henig. The sophomore quarterback came through the Shira Complex Monday wearing a protective boot on his left leg, the effects of a broken second-toe broken in a June home incident. Croom said he was out of town when he found out his starting quarterback had hurt himself. "And I'm glad I was, at long-distance it's a little less worrisome, you can't do anything about it anyway!
"Fortunately it wasn't the big toe, and I understand his second toe is a little longer than the big toe and protected it. He's out there throwing and getting ready to get back. They'll take the pin out next Friday and he's going to be OK. And he is a big factor in the success we hope to have this year."
For all the attention turned to freshman class status at this time of the year, the newcomers Croom is most interested in are his three newest juco transfers. They, along with January enrollee WR Tony Burks, figure prominently into State's plans for this fall. The head coach liked the team that came out of spring camp already, and adding these new JC parts fills in most of the remaining gaps in the August depth chart. The August 31 depth chart, that is.
This puts State far ahead of where they have been the previous two Julys. "Oh, at least," Croom agreed. "As I said when we finished with spring, today we know barring injury who our two-deep is going to be already. And that's huge for us, especially considering all the guys I'm talking about we expect to be in the two-deep—except for (LB) Tim Bailey, (WR) Ryan Mason, and (OT) J.D. Hamilton—for South Carolina went through spring practice. Now, anything we can get from freshmen is a bonus."
All three JCs, and Burks, stayed on campus after spring and will have put in an entire summer getting ready for fall. And while he hasn't practiced in maroon-and-white gear yet, Hamilton is already projected as the starting left tackle.
"Right now he and Calvin Wilson are going to fight it out over at that spot," Croom said. "But it's J.D.'s spot to lose."
With all the cleared-in-time frosh here and working with their elders, the Bulldogs essentially are an intact team getting ready to get ready. Croom repeats his satisfaction with the summer's workout reports. "We won't be good, we will be a great conditioned football team. I think we've been in good shape the last two years but we'll be in great shape this year.
"We have a plan in place to work extremely hard the first two weeks of training camp, then after the second scrimmage we're going to pull back on the guys who are going to start against South Carolina and play the bulk of the game, give them some rest and get them ready to go."
And the getting-ready starts in three weeks. Naturally coaches can always think of things to fret about, as having the starting quarterback hurt himself by kicking a stair points out. And there are a few old Dogs who have to take care of normal summer course credits to maintain their senior eligibility, though Croom said there is only one (unnamed but often reported elsewhere) academic case he has any concerns about. Still for the head coach this has been the most productive and promising summer yet at State.
"If we can get through the rest of the summer and Mike breaking a toe is the worst thing that happens, then we'll be OK!"