Lance Long Earns a Scholarship

Lance Long admits it was wishful thinking at the time. In his first season of game action as a Mississippi State receiver, Long managed to crack the two-deep roster last fall. Then a walk-on, Long played in all 11 games and even earned one start in the win over Tulane. He finished the year with seven catches covering 41 yards and hopes of earning a scholarship.

"I thought I might get a scholarship last year," said Long. "But then again, I kind of knew Coach Croom waits two years before giving (scholarships) to players. I knew I had been here for just one year so I figured I might get it going into my third season. You always hope you get it that first year but deep down I knew I would have to wait."

And then after Wednesday's practice session, the 5-foot-11 and 186-pound junior wideout got the official word that his scholarship was in the bag. No more worries about would it happen or not or whether or not he had done enough to earn the athletic grant.

"If I could have one word or a few words to describe it, it would be the biggest relief ever," said Long. "I was waiting for it for a long time but I just kept playing through the suspense and all. And once I got it, again, it was the biggest relief ever. Now I can just play football and not worry about whether or not I get a scholarship. I was just relieved to get it now."

Last season was also Long's first official game since his senior year at Utica Eisenhower High School in Shelby Township, Mich. After his prep career, Long signed with Toledo and headed to the Mid-American Conference.

Long redshirted during that 2003 season and then began shopping elsewhere to finish out his collegiate career.

Long's first attraction to Mississippi State and Starkville was the word of mouth he'd overheard about Sylvester Croom.

"I went to Toledo right out of high school and things just didn't work out," said Lance Long. "So I was just looking for a school to come down to. I heard about Coach Croom and how he was such a great coach and everything and knew it would be a new opportunity.

"So I thought I would come down here to State and play for him and give him some help. I knew he would need some help starting out and starting this program up again."

And there he was, playing against the likes of LSU, Florida and Auburn.

Despite the overwhelming feeling he initially felt, Long settled into his role last year and parlayed his efforts with a 10-catch, 114-yard and one touchdown performance in the spring.

"That felt good last year being able to play in the Southeastern Conference after walking on, playing in the best college league in the country," said Long. "I just went out there and tried to play the best I could. Playing in front of 80 or 90,000 people, you just try to block all that out. But after the game is over and you sit back and think, you are pretty proud of yourself for making it at this level."

Long had to make adjustments other than just the speed of the game.

He began the year catching passes from Omarr Conner in the first seven games and finished the year hauling in grabs from Mike Henig.

But Long noted that the differences between the two signal callers was normal, no different than he sees in practice with sometimes three different quarterbacks in Henig and redshirt freshmen Tray Rutland and Ty Evans.

"There is a difference with every quarterback," said Long. "Omarr had a really tight throw. Mike's pass is pretty tight, too, but it's a little faster. Omarr was fast, too, but they have two different styles like any quarterbacks do."

Displaying the habits that earned Long his scholarship, he has worked on his game before practice, at practice and after practice. Long regularly remains after practice just to get in 15 or 20 more catches, always finding ways to improve his pass-catching skills and route running.

"My biggest improvement is my route running," said Long. "When I first came here, I was kind of choppy and my steps were choppy. Now I am starting to open my stride up a little more and get in and out of my cuts a lot faster. I have also been catching the ball a lot more consistently this year."

Long also admits that "consistency" was something missing from the entire receiving corps in 2005.

In the offseason, Croom and his coaching staff brought in the likes of junior college receivers Tony Burks and Ryan Mason. The Bulldogs also inked up-and-coming Keith Mills out of the Louisiana prep ranks.

Plus, the emergence of Conner at receiver in State's final two games last fall carried over to the spring and fall practice.

Now the Bulldogs have dependable weapons on the offense, which wasn't the case the past two years.

Long has noticed the changes, not only in the talent on hand and the physical attributes, but also a mental change, and that could spell more success for Long and his receiving mates when the season kicks off Thursday against South Carolina in front of a national audience.

"It's funny you mention that," Long said when asked about the difference between last year's receivers and this year's receivers. "Last year, it seemed like we were all just trying to get through practice. But this year, we are more focused and there are a lot less dropped balls. You know, Coach (Guy) Holliday is a great coach. If we listen to him, we will be great.

"I don't know what it was last year, if it was just not being focused or being dedicated. But now we are all out here 15 or 20 minutes early catching from the jugs machine and then staying afterwards to catch more passes. We are having a lot more fun now and that's a big difference."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by website, the source for Mississippi State sports on sports network. You can contact him by emailing

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