Bulldogs Assemble For Fall Camp

He's been through this sort of thing often enough; five times to be exact. And still Will Prosser can find something special about the opening of another preseason. "You still get those butterflies like when you first started," the senior wide receiver said. "The routine is the same but you still get excited about it."

The routine, and the excitement, began Tuesday afternoon as the Mississippi State varsity and eligible newcomers, totaling 100 players, reported for the official start of fall camp. These were 78 scholarship players and 22 walk-ons, with State staying under the 105-player NCAA limit for pre-semester practicing. The rest of the walk-ons cannot practice until classes begin.

Deadline was 4:00 but the bulk of the August roster had made their rounds by then, being weighed, measured, and fitted with gear. The team had a 5:00 meal and at 6:00 began a three-hour schedule of meetings. The on-field practicing starts at 5:00 Wednesday, with drills closed to the public. Practices are starting an hour later than usual because this is the final week of the second summer semester with tests Thursday and Friday.

Mississippi State kicks off the season in just 30 days, hosting South Carolina on August 31. It's a full month, but the Bulldogs expect it to fly on by.

"Well, 30 days will turn into hours and hours into minutes and then it's gametime," said safety Keith Fitzhugh. "So we're getting ready for it."

Actually, most Bulldogs have been getting ready since spring practices. All but a couple of veterans and redshirts were on campus for both summer school semesters, as well as the junior college transfers; and those incoming freshmen certified in time joined them for July. So Tuesday's official ‘report' was more technicality than reality for these players. "I've been here since the 31st of May," transfer receiver Ryan Mason said, "working and training, trying to get ready for the season and get myself better."

"I came the second semester," true freshman Anthony Summers said. "The older guys got the start on us but we're going to catch up. It's a little bit nervous just trying to fit in and find my role and where I can play at." Summers will open practices at free safety and while he begins at the bottom of that depth chart he plans to be dressing out for the season-opener. "I'm waiting on that South Carolina game, really."

At the moment MSU coaches are waiting on updates regarding other new players. Three February signees, all true frosh, did not report Tuesday as expected. Wide receiver Alex Carpenter and running back Courtney Jones have not been certified by the NCAA Clearinghouse for freshman eligibility yet. Coaches do not comment on uncleared players as they still fall within the ‘prospective' category in NCAA eyes, but reports are that Carpenter's clearance is merely a matter of paperwork. Jones' case involves passing the mandatory Florida state high school exit exam, which is required for graduation. Without graduating, a scholarship player cannot be eligible for college participation regardless of his transcript and grade average.

A third rookie, linebacker Chasman Davis, has reportedly chosen to delay enrolling until January as to not lose one of his five years-to-play-four, or in current parlance ‘start his clock.' Davis is rehabilitating from a senior season knee injury and would not play this rookie year anyway.

A fourth freshman signee, defensive lineman Alex Dekle, was not eligible for college and is enrolled in junior college. He must receiver a JC degree now before being eligible for college football. Also, running back Christian Ducre is not eligible to report for camp until he has been re-admitted to college. The Tulane running back, who redshirted in 2005 as a freshman, is transferring after the school dropped his major. But as of last week he still needed a reported five hours to reach the standard required of a second-year student-athlete. Ducre is taking those courses elsewhere.

If and when Jones, Carpenter, and Ducre join the team, there will be two camp spots left with a couple of walk-ons reportedly in line to fill them.

Meanwhile, the eligible and cleared Dogs get to work Wednesday. And the roster is nearly 100% healthy. Starting quarterback Mike Henig is supposed to be on the field for day-one, having had a month to heal and rehab the toe broken in late June. Prosser, who has had his share of aches and pains, could only shake his head about the quarterback's absurd incident. "But he's supposed to be back and will be fine. As long as it's not me I'm happy."

Even with the stifling conditions the squad is happy to be assembling for something other than lifting and running. "We've been working every day to get mentally and physically prepared," said Fitzhugh, who wore the regulation summer workout tee-shirt reading ‘212 degrees.' At times it has definitely felt as if everyone was going to boil away this summer, Fitzhugh agreed. "But we're going to be boiling and everybody coming here is going to get boiled by us!

"Everybody's just really ready to play against South Carolina, they went to a bowl game and we feel like we should have went to a bowl game. We're ready to fight against everybody in our path and South Carolina is the first one in the path."

The Bulldogs, coaches included, have mentioned that opening game so often it seems they have been practicing for it practically since March. And in a sense that is the fact because State wants to make a statement on the first Thursday night of the 2006 college season with the country watching. So while there is the routine of early-August to get out of the way there is very much a game-week sort of attitude to this year's camp.

For that matter this is a different attitude to this team, according to a Dog who should know. Prosser is impressed with the tone his senior class has been setting. "You can see this year after running and stuff we've got the majority of the seniors staying out and doing things on our own and pretty much running practice as if the coaches were out there," he said. "And that's something that hasn't been here in my six years.

"We're putting pressure on ourselves to run practice as it should be run. When the coaches get out there they're going to see how hard we've been working, and I think it will carry over."

The attitude has rubbed off on the pups also. Summers joked about having to adjust to getting up on his own in summer mornings now; "I've had to grow up a little bit!" That's the case for all the freshmen, too. "I think we've got a good freshman class, we've just got to learn the system and the roles. When we do that I think we can contribute a lot."

"Checking in is quite different than junior college at Mississippi Delta," said Mason. "But it's quite interesting and I'm quite excited getting the season started off going into two-a-days. And I'm ready to help take this team to a bowl game, get us a SEC Championship, and start it up next year."

Next year is far enough away; this year is here now. And just in case the summer-Dogs think they worked hard getting ready for camp, well… "The coaches really stressed they're going to try to put it on us this first week, it's going to be tough," reported Prosser.

But as rookie Summers already understands, this is supposed to be tough stuff. "This is what everybody's been looking for, trying to get off that 3-8 hump."

Practices will be once-a-day for the first five dates, then there will be three twice-a-day workouts scattered (as per NCAA rules) the next week until fall classes begin.

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