Henig Plans To Hit Camp Running

If Mike Henig had hoped to receive any sympathy when he limped into the conference room at SEC Media Day, his coach had already spoiled that plan. "I think he's trying to get him a date, get a girlfriend out of it," Sylvester Croom quipped earlier of the still-gimping Bulldog quarterback.

Happily, Henig brought his sense of humor to league's annual press-fest. Told of Croom's comment, he grinned. "Hey, if it would get me one I'd take one!" What Henig did not bring to Birmingham, or at least to the interview, was the protective boot he has been wearing since surgery four weeks ago to repair a broken left-second toe.

Instead he had on stylish tan loafers…though the left one kept warping outwards as Henig walked to the table. The image of a starter, more pointedly the starting quarterback, not being 100% just days before preseason camp raised both eyebrows and questions. But, Henig insisted, all is well again.

"I'm good to go," Henig said. "The doctor cleared me. I'm still riding the bike and I've been running in the pool, doing a lot of exercises. I've been out there throwing with my cleats on, it's gets sore and swells up but I play through pain."

Which eases a good bit of preseason pain for State's coaching staff. "The doctors have released him and told him to get out and practice," Croom said. "Expect for the (pre-camp) running test, we think he can do everything." The head coach added that Henig will not get the typical quota of practice snaps the first couple of weeks as he rehabs, but that would have been the plan even if Henig was healthy.

"We know Mike can run the offense. We really want to see Tray Rutland and Ty Evans, we want to find out who is going to be number-two."

For his part Henig is comfortable being the number-one. He earned that status last November, taking over midway of the Kentucky game and starting the last three contests with a season-ending victory over Mississippi. That let Henig go into his spring as the starter, and nothing happened to change that status.

Nor will it, if Henig has his way. He intends to both start and finish this job, and earn a stature beyond his years. He is, after all, The Quarterback. "You've got to step up and show the other guys, the seniors you're a leader. And we've got a lot of leaders."

Henig told media State also has a lot of potential to produce. Acknowledging that the Bulldog defense carried the whole team the past two years, he believes this time around the offense can and will do its part. First, they know the system at last. Second, they saw what it is capable of when run—and thrown—properly, as in the Egg Bowl. "Coming off that win over Ole Miss, we're still on that high. We're going to try to continue that streak."

But there is something else only a player can truly speak to. Coaches can talk about changes in attitudes; the guys in uniforms live it. Henig sees a very different team today on the practice field and in the locker room than when he arrived in 2004. All the change has been for the better, too.

"I think we uprooted a lot of those guys that didn't want to change the program. Now we've got guys that want to win and know what we're trying to get done at Mississippi State. They guys that don't believe we're going to win, they're gone."

The guys still around, and those who signed on as 2006 newcomers, are convinced they can win games. And these Dogs are definitely pointing to their opening opportunity. Henig agrees that the South Carolina contest has been on MSU-minds since the schedule was announced. "Not only does it mean a lot to us players but I think it means a lot to our fans. We want to give our fans something to be proud of. You can't dream up a better opportunity than Thursday night, August 31, under the lights on our home field."

It's an opportunity the quarterback wants to take full advantage of. Henig makes no attempt to excuse the previous two seasons, nor does he downplay how far the program has had to come just to rebuild an attitude. Actually putting points on the board and wins in the books is the next stage and obvious questions remain to be answered.

Still, the starting quarterback will say on-the-record that things are about to change for the better. "We know we've had bad years and we know what Coach Croom wants to get done at Mississippi State," Henig said. "We're going to have fun this year. We expect to win."

"We've been taking baby-steps, it's always been a teaching thing. Now the patience is over, it's time to hit it running. Wednesday when we go out there to practice it's going to be full-speed."

That includes a quarterback who had to watch his steps just walking to a press conference only five days before camp. Not to worry, Henig grinned again. "I'm not going to be limping, I'm going to be running full-speed, I promise you!"

Now, about getting his love life 'booted' up...

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