Conner Feels He Is Back Home

Following Tuesday's practice, senior Omarr Conner was on top of the world. No more practicing with the quarterbacks and then the receivers for the Mississippi State's newest starting quarterback. But it wasn't new for Conner, who has started 17 career games under center.

"It felt good," said Conner. "It felt like I was back home again. The sun was out, everybody was ready to go and it was great. I got to go through all the different quarterback phases in practice just like I used to do. Man, it was just great."

Not only was Conner upbeat and excited, he could also tell a change of attitude from all of his offensive teammates.

"I saw everybody upbeat in practice," said Conner. "The offensive line looked great and was upbeat. The receivers looked great and there was hardly a ball dropped if any at all. I will lead this team and like Coach Croom said, bring a spark to this offense and just go out and make plays."

And making plays is what Conner did last Saturday night against Tulane.

After redshirt freshman quarterback Tray Rutland failed to direct the Bulldogs' offense on any scoring drives, head coach Sylvester Croom inserted Conner and it produced instant results.

Conner directed the Bulldogs to their first touchdown of the season on his first drive, and then produced another pair of touchdowns in the second half although State's comeback attempt fell short by three points.

But Conner collected 312 total yards of offense, including a team-best 71 on the ground.

"I think the first difference is his conditioning having played at wide receiver," said Croom. "He ran the ball better than he did the previous two years. People ask why you don't run Omarr. To be honest, I didn't think Omarr ran the ball well his first two years.

"Those were the kinds of things we anticipated with Omarr running the football (against Tulane). He is 10 pounds lighter now and has superior conditioning at quarterback. There is no question he was much quicker and his decision-making was quicker."

And running and throwing the football is what made Conner one of the state's top recruits following his senior year at Noxubee County High School. For a moment, Conner felt like he was back in high school.

"Man, I did have flashbacks to Noxubee County," said Conner. "I was making plays by running and passing the ball, just like I did my last year of high school football at Noxubee County.

"And on a couple of those drives, everything was right. I was running out of bounds for a few yards and there were no drops from our receivers, It was perfect and just right, making me feel like I used to on the football field, running and throwing and putting up points."

Yes, it's been an interesting career for Conner, who has also earned five starting calls at receiver.

Conner opened his collegiate career at receiver, then moved to quarterback the next two years.

Then Conner gave way to Mike Henig. But when Henig went down and Rutland struggled with inexperience, Conner was back in the mix at quarterback.

"It has been an emotional roller coaster," said Conner. "I had to lose the weight and then gain it back and then lose it again. But my mom always told me that just because things look good doesn't mean they are all good. Things change she told me and you have to find a positive in everything.

"And it was good for me to lose that weight, especially now that I am back at quarterback. Going through all these changes has helped me settle down and now that I am lighter on my feet, it helps me to run the ball better and make plays with my legs. Plus, going back and forth from receiver to quarterback helped me know this offense backwards and forwards."

It was also an emotional decision for Croom last season when he made the decision to put Henig in place of Conner in hopes of sparking the Bulldogs' lack-luster offense.

Croom admitted it was tough to pull Conner from that game last season at Kentucky.

But like always, Conner handled the demotion with class.

"When you go into a game, that's one of the decisions I have to make is at quarterback," said Croom. "Fans get involved and if you do that, you do it in a public situation. It was especially tough making it in Omarr's situation because I like him and have a great deal of respect for him and what he's done for this program. He is a team player and a competitor.

"He is a class act all the way and has done everything we ask him to do. Even after moving to receiver, he asked me what else he could do to help the team. Omarr at receiver helped us win the Ole Miss game last year."

And now he is helping the team once again at his normal position.

Conner realizes he will have a few butterflies when the Bulldogs' offense takes to the field that first time at UAB on Saturday night.

Yet it won't take long for Conner to feel back at home again.

"I know that first snap or two I will have some jitters, like all players do in college football," said Conner. "I just have to let the game come to me and go and make plays. And for the entire offense, we just have to execute and we can win this game. I think the guys have to use what the coaches teach us and I think they see that now. If we do the little details and execute those details, we can be a successful offense and a successful team."

When he starts at UAB, Conner will be State's third starting quarterback in four weeks.

And Conner understands that Henig and his broken collarbone will be fully healed and back for action in a couple of weeks.

Conner doesn't want a quarterback controversy when Henig does return. He plans to keep his same team-first attitude and whatever the coaches want is fine with Conner.

"I am just looking to finish out strong and help this team wherever Coach Croom needs me to be," said Conner. "If I am on a hot streak and Coach Croom needs me at quarterback, then that's okay.

"But Mike lost his starting job because of injury. When he comes back and they want Mike in there to make plays, then that's okay, too. If they need me at quarterback or back at receiver if Mike is back at quarterback, that's okay, too. Whatever they need, I will be ready to make plays wherever that may be."


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 pjones@cdispatch.com.

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