Croom Evaluates 2006 Bulldog Season

The 2006 season wasn't quite 48 hours in the past and already Coach Sylvester Croom has taken stock of the year that was. And, more importantly, what his third season at Mississippi State says about the years to come for a developing Bulldog squad. Monday, Croom took time to talk with print media covering State for a full hour's talk. A complete transcript follows.

Q: How do you evaluate the 2006 season as a whole?

Croom: "First of all, when I look back over the season a lot of things happened. We had a lot of highs and a lot of lows. We won three games, and four others lost by field goals, a couple of them going down to the last play of the game. It's frustrating when you lose close games like that, at the same time when is step away and reflect on it, it's a sign that we've come a long way. That we're in the games against better competition all the way to the end. It's also a sign of the character that we have as a football team. That was one of the first things and I thought one of the most important things when I came here that we had to change, was our mindset, that we could compete with the better teams in the conference all the way down to the end."

"Now what we have to do is make that one or two plays. We talk about five or six plays in a game…even the other day, we call one of Omarr Conner's favorite patterns about two plays before we kicked the field goal, where Will Prosser is running wide-open. But we had a lineman get beat, we were one-on-one, and Omarr didn't have a great deal of mobility. But if we get that ball to Prosser not only are we not going to have to kick the field goal, we win the game. That's how close it came. The same thing at Georgia, there are two plays if we just go to the right person--we have a guy wide-open in the end zone the play before the last play—we win the game. That's how close."

"But now I think our players are starting to understand there's not a lot of margin for error when you play in the Southeastern Conference. Particularly for us this year because still, our talent level has improved considerably but we still don't have the explosive speed that we need. Quite often some of the better teams, you can miss plays but you have that explosive speed to make the difference. There were a couple of times the other day and during the course of the season I'm thinking what if #12 had still been here? He'd have taken that the distance because of the great speed we see when we watch the Falcons. So that's one of the biggest things in our recruiting we have address. We have got to improve our overall speed, in the skill positions on offense, in the secondary, at linebacker. And that will translate also into having a lot better kicking game than we have. Anybody could tell that was a thorn in our side pretty much the whole season and definitely Saturday."

"Another thing as we go through the season, I learned something this year. I knew we would be close, I thought we had a chance to get to a bowl game this year. And hey, take three points in four games it's real easy, we're there. But the other thing I learned is when you're dealing with young players no matter how much I want to speed up the process you can't. And I tried. I think it might have hurt us early in the season trying to speed up the process. Especially considering the injury to Mike Henig early, I think that started a chain of events when he got hurt on that first play of the South Carolina game we had to deal with the rest of the year."

"But I thought our players responded positively to all the injuries, starting different quarterbacks every week. We'd gone through similar things with the offensive line the year before, we go through it this year with the quarterbacks. We stayed reasonably healthy on defense. But the transition at quarterback, then finding a replacement for Jerious Norwood, that hindered us early in the season offensively. But I was pleased our kids on offense particularly stayed the course even though we were getting criticized horribly. Our coaches on offense stayed the course and we fought through that and developed into a pretty good offensive football team the last half of the season."

"The emergence of Anthony Dixon at halfback was huge, not only from a talent standpoint but a leadership standpoint. Here's a kid who as a freshman got six votes for captain; that hasn't happened since we've been here. Mike Brown, the emergence of Royce Blackledge at center gave us stability in the offensive line. Our entire offensive line, one of the weakest areas of our football team going into training camp, emerged as one of our strong points as the season went on and I think will be even stronger next year with the addition of guys like Mark Melichar and J. C. Brignone. Those guys are really going to help because their tough, tough individuals who do have some talent."

"So overall I thought our intangibles, discipline, character, work ethic, all of those things got better as the season went along, as we added more talented guys like Mike Brown and the emergence of Dixon. Losing a guy like Arnil Stallworth, that was a guy who proved he could be a good football player. The emergence of Mike Henig after he got hurt. When he didn't play I think there were still a lot of questions if he could lead the football team and win with him; I think he proved he has the abilities to do that. The emergence of Tony Burks and our receiving corps, which with some guys we redshirted like Ryan Mason and Brandon McRae should be even more competitive next year. I feel good we can be a real good offensive team."

"My big concern now is defensively. I say concerned, one thing I've learned is there's potential in the kids coming back. We're losing those three guys on the inside—Deljuan Robinson, Andrew Powell, Antonio Johnson—and Michael Heard. That's where you've got to start. But Quinton Wesley has ability. Kyle Love, he's got to get in great shape, he has outstanding ability for his position. We redshirted some guys; Rodney Prince we think is going to be a big-time player. Cortez McCraney who transferred in from Memphis State. Reggie Odom, we redshirted. So we've got a couple of young guys on the team, we haven't seen them play in the SEC yet and that's a concern. But I'm glad we've got those guys here in the spring, they've been through a fall and we know they have the ability to play. Now we've got to get that ability out of them. And we've got some junior college guys that are committed and that we're still recruiting, that I think will definitely give us some maturity and a real physical presence in the front as well."

"We've got a couple of linebackers coming in as well. We're losing Quinton Culberson, that's a huge blow but we know right now we're going to move Jamar Chaney to the middle, no question he's going there and we expect Jamon Hughes to take Chaney's spot at will linebacker. Of course we have Gabe O'Neal back, we have definitely got to increase our depth at linebacker spots. We'll address that in recruiting. That also will help our special teams, linebackers to me are the heart-and-soul of special teams. That's what we've got to improve."

"Secondary-wise we've got a void with Jeramie Johnson graduating at safety and David Heard at cornerback. We've got to get faster back there but we've got some young guys. Marcus Washington we think is going to be an excellent player (at cornerback). We've got some commitments, freshmen coming and I don't worry about freshmen playing corner. We know we can incorporate freshmen, just about everybody in the conference does that. If we can get the kids coming in, if everything holds and we think it is, these kids should be able to help us. We're going to move Keon Humphries. We were going to do it halfway through the season but we couldn't, we did for a week or so just to see last spring. I knew he could play it, he knew he could play it, but he didn't want to make the move. Now he is totally embracing the idea of playing corner. That will give us some depth there. Whether we move one of our corners to safety, or sign a junior college safety, is yet to be seen."

"But when we leave spring practice one of the goals is to have our starting 22, to know who those guys are going to be for opening day against whoever it is, whenever it is. That is the number-one goal, so whatever moves we have to make we're not going into summer or fall with any questions about any positions. Unless injuries of course happen. I want to know leaving spring who our starting 22 is going to be opening day. We have some ideas in mind and we'll finalize that once we get back and start our spring practice meetings. We've tentatively talked about some things but we won't finalize them until we get a better idea of who is coming in, particularly junior college players who might be coming in in December."

"The kicking situation, that's something we've got to improve. We've got two kickers, Adam Carlson and Blake McAdams, who we've got to get some things squared away with those guys. I've got to re-evaluate a lot of that area. Those guys have great ability but we're not getting it done, we've got to look at why. I know the talent level. I don't know if it's a technique problem or is it a confidence problem. We've got to figure that out and I've got some things I want to do but I won't go into details right now. But we've got to find out what the problem is. We've also got a new placekicker that we're going to sign that we think is a very good kicker. I figure if you can kick it doesn't make any difference if you're a freshman or not, if you're a good kicker you're a good kicker. And we're going to have some competition there. But right now my focus is getting these guys to use the talent they have, because they do have the talent to be excellent kickers and it's not happening."

Q: What is the schedule for spring practice?

Croom: "It starts the last Monday in February. The reason for that, of course we want to be able to end on a home baseball game, Super Bulldog Weekend. If we didn't do it then it's way over to the third week of April for another home game and we don't want to go that late. And I know some people start real early in the first place so they can really develop a good off-season program and carry it into the summer, have a little continuity. And have a little more time for healing after spring practice. That's almost a two-week difference from what we normally have so we'll see. And if we like it we may do it every year. I'm not opposed to experimenting with different things, I'm flexible. But the calendar is the main thing."

Q: How do you go about getting a team to make those one or two plays?

Croom: "One of the things we did in the season was get them to rather than focusing on long-range stuff we started talking about focusing on one play at a time. Our slogan was ‘One Play, This Play.' You know, ‘One Play, the Best Play.' Because when you're young it's hard to look far down the road. We started to play better. We started going OK, don't worry about the outcome of the season, don't worry about the outcome of the game, take care of this play. Because this play will determine the outcome of the game. That's how I wanted us thinking. It's all in the thought process. As we go into the off-season I want them thinking that this rep in the weightroom is going to be the difference in us winning the ball game next year. It's going to be the difference in beating Ole Miss, the difference in beating Alabama, the difference in us going to a bowl game next year. That's the way you think and it's all in talking to them and reminding them this matters right. You can't worry about the end, you have to take care of this right now. Keep doing that over and over and over again, that produces confidence."

"And that's one of the things we didn't have early. I tried to talk us into confidence over the course of the summer. And I thought we could be a good football team, the thing was there were too many question marks in August and September. Tony Burks, his first game in the SEC: question mark. J.D. Hamilton, question mark. Anthony Dixon, Stallworth, first game in the SEC. I knew they had the ability but they hadn't done it. And you can't talk them into it, you can't speed up maturity. It was me trying to speed it up because I'm an impatient person. But I've learned to be patient and I'm not going to be impatient with these kids any more. Nothing but time is work is going to change it."

Q: Although you saw progress this season, would you consider it still a setback that you just won three games?

Croom: "No. It was disappointing to me, personally. But not a setback. See, look at the programs that change. I never wanted to put a timetable on it because I worried if I said it's going to take five years to get this done, what are we supposed to do in the meantime? What are my players supposed to think, oh we can wait to five years from now? How do you go about recruiting? But the reality is how long did it take Wake Forest to turn that program around? How long did it take Rutgers? They're in that fifth or sixth year. Kentucky is all of a sudden starting to be a better football team, this is his fifth year I think. It's not going to happen overnight, guys. You have to look at it, our first year here was basically a clean-up detail. And I'm not going to into all that other stuff, but the reality is when I took the job I asked coaches who've been through this same process, they said don't even think about winning until after your third year. But yeah, I wanted to speed it up."

"So I'm not looking at it as a setback. I'm looking at those four close games as we're a lot closer this year than last year. So it's not a setback. We got a lot better and put ourselves in a position to win. Last year we weren't even in a position to win. Now, we add people, we get more explosive speed, we go in with a quarterback. I believed Mike could get it done going into the season but he was unproven as ‘the' quarterback, he hadn't started a full season of games as our quarterback. But we know now what he can do for sure. He knows he can do, the players know what he is capable of. And having a proven running back…but we've got to get more speed into the mix. Early in the season boy, I'd think if Norwood had been there, he would have made that play. With this offensive line and Norwood we'd have been a better football team. that sometimes crosses your mind but that's not there."

Q: Dixon had that long touchdown run against Arkansas…

Croom: "Surprised me! He hasn't got Norwood's speed, don't even think it! It's not only speed, now. You think about straight-out running, the real speed backs, guys who can run 4.3 40s, they can weave and move and never slow down. That's what I'm talking about. We don't have explosive speed at running back, or in the secondary, or at wide receiver right now. That's what we've got to get. Now we've gotten better. Tony Burks has a burst, Anthony Dixon has a burst, but I'm talking about taking-it-the-distance speed. That's different."

"A.D. is our guy. I'm talking about adding to the mix now. We've got our core people in place, but we've go to add to the mix. I'm talking about getting overall faster, more speed in the secondary so if we run up against guys like those two at West Virginia when they get on the edge we've got to have speed to where they can't outrun leverage. That's what that game came down to, they were flat-out faster."

Q: Is that speed you're looking for out there?

Croom: "Yeah, we think our speed will improve. We think we've got some coming."

Q: Looking back, do you think you might have put too much emphasis on South Carolina?

Croom: "No question, I did. That's what I meant by I tried to speed up the process. I tried to talk us into having confidence. It was a gamble."

Q: How much did it hurt losing Henig even though he played the first half?

Croom: "He wasn't out there. He had a concussion the first play of the game. I was thinking well, just lost that gamble! You're absolutely right, I knew I was treading a thin line because I knew we needed confidence as a football team. And our kids worked so hard in the summer. What happened was they worked so hard and didn't get the payoff. Soon as Mike got hurt I'm thinking oh my goodness…you could just see it unfolding. No question in my mind if Mike doesn't get hurt we win the game, because the kid had confidence. I had confidence in him because he'd had tremendous practices leading up to that game. Then when he gets hurt you know we've got a problem with the quarterback down and an unproven running game."

Q: Did the players prove something to you in how they reacted after the Tulane loss?

Croom: "That was the thing. The Tulane game, as bad as it was it was a little bit of a watershed moment for us. Because I'm going to be very honest with you guys—I was in the tank after that one. I mean, totally in the tank. I didn't like getting up Sunday morning with a For Sale sign in my front yard, either. I didn't like that one bit. I know in this business that's part of it, I know guys get fired. But my personal property? Say what you want about me in the media, criticize me on email. But my home? Hey, stay away from that. I didn't like that Sunday morning. And I'll be honest with you, that was the one day…I went to practice that Tuesday and my body was there but I wasn't there."

"But it was also a big moment for our team and me as well. Because I had to reach down that week and decide what I was going to do. I made up my mind by a lot of prayer and talking with friends that I was going to get it done, I'm going to lead these kids and teach them how to win. I'm not going to let somebody who doesn't have guts enough to look me in the face and say what they want to say discourage me from doing what I know can be done and what I believe in my heart I'm supposed to be here to do. And our football team at the lowest moment…and that's when you find out what kind of person you are and what kind of character you have as an individual and as a football team. That's when we found out. And as I looked back on it, even though we lost, that game was out of reach yet we fought right back and had three plays on the goal line. Make one of those plays and we win the game. Just one play. That close."

"But that's when I knew, even as disappointed as I was we lost a game. And it goes back to what I said about that South Carolina game, I really believe when we couldn't score points those first two games our defense lost confidence. As hard as these kids worked and there was no payoff. I don't believe any team has ever worked as hard as this team in the summer did and there was no payoff. So the confidence was gone. We had to get that back and those kids fought back to get it back. That's what I'm proud of. I was concerned right there if we don't get it back everything we've done to try to build a program is gone. But they responded and fought back. That was a huge win at UAB. I mean a huge, huge, huge win."

Q: Was this as much a learning year for you?

Croom: "I don't think it was as much learning. I knew going into the South Carolina game what I was doing, that I was taking a chance. I even told the coaches guys, we've got to be ready to recover because what would we do if we don't win the game. But I felt it was worth the risk. And that's one reason I liked the South Carolina game being where it was, even though it was a tough challenge I felt we had to work to have any chance to win and it was a motivating factor. But I told the guys the season is not the game, we divide the season almost into quarters. But I didn't tell them until late. Then we had to pick up and go on. But they believed and I did too we'd win the game. But I felt it was a chance I had to take."

Q: Would you be opposed to opening up with LSU, or would you rather open up with a confidence-builder?

Croom: "It would be easier. But there's another side to that. Scheduling, there's a lot of things that go into that. A lot of different things you have to consider. I try to get our players to understand let's line up and let's go regardless. But we might try to get Oktibbeha High to open up, I wouldn't mind doing that."

"I'm consulted on all scheduling. I wouldn't say I have the final say-so but I'm consulted. I'll have great input into it."

Q: Does opening with a SEC opponent help with summer and preseason motivation?

Croom: "That was part of the deal with South Carolina as well. And I think now we're farther along, I'm not as worried now about our confidence. That's one thing we have know, we believe we can play with anybody now. If we didn't get anything else accomplished we got that this year, our guys are not afraid of anybody now. It starts with the attitude of guys like Dixon and Mike Brown, those guys believe in themselves and have a great deal of self-confidence. But it's not arrogance, it's confidence coming from their ability and the work ethic put into it. If we end up doing that we're not going to be afraid of them, we'll line up and play."

"And to be honest, even though we lost at LSU that's when our passing game really started to develop. When we knew Burks could run by LSU's corners they knew they could run by everybody. He got open all day long, we just didn't protect well enough to get the ball to him a lot of times. That's when the players and us coaches, we said if we can play with these guys we can play with anybody."

Q: Have you considered making any staff changes at this point?

Croom: "I've already made one decision in the strength-training part. We're going to hire a new strength coach."

Q: What about the on-field staff?

Croom: "With as many changes (in other programs) first of all I'm concerned we might lose some to other schools, that's a possibility. As far as what I'm going to do, I'm going to look at everything, top-to-bottom. Whatever I feel I need to do to give us the best chance of being a winning football team that's what I'm going to do."

Q: You haven't made any decisions about staff changes?

Croom: "Not at this moment."

Q: Have you set a timeframe for evaluating changes?

Croom: "Definitely before spring practice. It will be in time for us to get ready for spring practice. I'm not going to make emotional decisions, that's one thing I've learned. I don't do it with our players, I'm not going to do it with our staff. I'm going to look at everything and give me time to back away from the season and look at things before I make decisions. And I'll address this, too. I know I got a lot of criticism when I said I would never make changes in our staff. I said that because I got a feeling there were a lot of people wanting me to do some things; I should have carried it one step farther, (that) that I would never make changes in our staff that I felt were unwarranted based on media pressure or fan pressure. I will make those decisions based on what I believe is necessary whenever I need to."

"Whatever I need to do to give us the best chance to win for this program, I'm going to do that without any hesitation or reservation even though I may not like to do it. I do a lot of things sometimes I don't like to do, but I've got a job to do and believe me, I've got guts enough to do it. I expect from our players and coaches, and myself, always to hold to the same standard. You've got to produce, bottom-line. You've got to produce. Any decisions I make, it's never personal. It's always what is best for the program, that always comes first."

Q: With so many early commitments before the season, what are they saying now after the season?

Croom: "We're holding strong. The things I get from the players, the comments after games—‘boy you guys play hard, you never quit.' Guys want to be a part of that. And we're very fortunate this year that we do have a good recruiting year in this state. If we weren't we may have problems."

"I really believe this, I've said it from day-one because it's important to our program: we have to do a job from a facilities standpoint, not only for our football but all our sports. If we keep the kids in Mississippi, if we get the guys in our state that can help us win, we will have a winning program. But we have to do things here from a first-class standpoint to give them a reason not to leave the state. If that happens, we're on course. I feel real good about where we are right now in our recruiting, our coaches are out; I made two home visits yesterday and they were very positive. My conversations with players it's still very, very positive. They know we're on schedule and what we're building."

Q: You said two week ago while recruiting you were also visiting people for fundraising projects. Are you still pursuing that?

Croom: "Yes. Larry Templeton and Greg Byrne can give you more details. But I'm making one visit Wednesday. And the whole time I'm out recruiting that's also a process, we want to re-do our practice fields. The academic facility is for the entire athletic department is the number-one priority. But I'm also looking at the possibility that somebody wants to donate a nice sum of money to help us renovate our practice fields, we will definitely appreciate it! We need about $2.5 million dollars and I would love to receive that check!"

"But we really need to upgrade our practice fields. The Palmeiro Center was a huge plus for us but in this whole process of competing with our other schools now, the point is we do the best we can do with the resources we have available among our alumni and fans to stay competitive. We can be competitive if we continue to upgrade our facilities. We have to because we've got a couple of neighbors in another stratosphere right now, another galaxy."

Q: How much do resources and facilities really matter?

Croom: "Well, have you ever looked at the expenditures of the different conferences? You can go on the NCAA website and look at it, I just looked at it last week. It almost mirrors the final standings. I really believed it before I came here and I'm convinced of it now more than ever, that it's about us being as good as we can be. And a lot of it is the chicken-and-egg deal: does the winning come first or do you do these things? I think it has to be a process of both happening at the same time. What I hope this season has done, we were close. Our fans, our alumni, we're going to be asking them to help us make the next step by improving our facilities. Not only for football, but for track and basketball, all these things. It's the perception that we're competing on a first-class basis with other institutions that needs to be out there, particularly with our players in the state."

"And it's about players. You've got to have players. All of a sudden Miami is having problems, for a long time that program had great players and they still do have great players. But all of a sudden you see a rise in Wake Forest and Rutgers. Where are those guys coming from, they're coming from Florida. Where had they been going, they'd been going to Miami. Why are they not going there? Miami has probably got the worst facilities in this part of the country. You can get away with it for so long but you're not going to compete if you don't have a great weightroom or a nice practice field or nice academic center. They won't do it. Facilities are huge right now, that is critical. I can't imagine where we'd be if we hadn't done this weightroom, it would be horrifying. And we're taking some time now to get the decorations and those type of things to re-do our players lounge and to celebrate our current pro athletes, former pro athletes, our all-conference players. Hopefully that will be done in the next month or so. That's from a gift from one of our alumni to be able to do that."

Q: You mentioned evaluating where recruiting was after the season, have you made any adjustments?

Croom: "Not really, we're waiting on grades. We're waiting on transcripts. And this is the tough part of recruiting. We've got some guys committed to us and we want them here but our first obligation is to have the best 26 players we can have on campus when we start camp in summer. If guys are still visiting other schools that is going to come into play; if guys did not do well academically in the fall semester that is going to come into play. And that's in the offer now, if at the end of this semester our admissions people cannot project with a reasonable certainty that they won't be able to get in, then we're going to turn to the next guy. I'm not going to roll the dice on that because this recruiting year is critical."

Q: How deep will you go into the recruiting season before making decisions?

Croom: "I'm going to look at the transcripts first. As soon as we get those we'll let players know where our feelings are, we won't drag it out. We won't go all the way to signing day on that, we'll make decisions and move on."

Q: "Why do you feel you need a new strength coach?

Croom: "I just decided to make some changes. It was a decision I can't go into detail on."

"I feel we're OK in the support staff area. That academic facility is the priority, we really need more people in that area."

Q: After the Egg Bowl you said special teams was a concern, what will you do to make changes?

Croom: "Our entire special teams area has to be improved. In all facets. Our kickers, our personnel, our schemes, how we organize practice, everything."

Q: Did you think about changing kickoff guys at any point?

Croom: "I thought about in practice, at every position. That's why we practice. We went through spring evaluating kickoffs, through practices we had kicking every day. Just like I evaluated who the best running back was going to be, the best quarterback, every facet of who was the best person to put on the field in kicking situations was based on practice. Our best punter and our best kicker were in the game the other day."

Q: Are you recruiting guys who can go both ways?

Croom: "Both ways? I'm not real big on this both-ways stuff. Because how do you get good at one thing? Particularly when you're talking about new and young players. I mean, you can spot a guy in there. I might as well answer the question, I know there's a lot of sentiment why not use Derek Pegues? Guys, again! We evaluate players every day in practice; the best players we had to do things were asked to do those things based on our evaluations in practice. Now what they did in high school…I've got to see it on this practice field! We had Anthony Dixon back at the quarterback spot to do some things because he did it well in practice. And had we not lost field position in the second half we were going to do even more things with him. We had a couple of plays we really thought we would have had a chance at if we'd gotten in the right field position."

Q: How concerned are you about Mike Henig having injuries and does that affect how you will recruit a quarterback?

Croom: "It's something I've thought about. Yeah, we've had staff discussions about that. He's got hurt but for one thing he's got to learn how to fall! That would help right there. I haven't seen anybody with a bad shoulder that the first thing you do is put your forearm on the ground to catch yourself! We've got teach him how to fall. And you're talking about 600 pounds coming down on him at that angle… I really don't believe and the doctors don't think it's something that we have a problem with. I'm not as worried about it, now what he has to do is get in the weightroom and get stronger and that's one of the things I'm going to talk to him about. He has got to get a lot stronger. But no, I'm not worried about it, particularly the way he moved around."

"The other thing that is going to help us is improving our offensive line. We've got a couple of junior college quarterbacks that we're looking at, but the problem with that is they'll be the same year as Mike. Bring one in, it will take a year to learn the offense, then you have a year to play. I'd much rather have a high school quarterback to invest that time in as a redshirt and still have four years to play. We've got two guys, there may be somebody else."

"If Mike stays healthy he's our quarterback. We expect Tray Rutland to develop into a good quarterback. We intend to sign two freshmen. We think Zack Harrington no question in my mind can be a solid backup from what I saw from him in practice. Had Omarr gone down we had special packages for him; going through a whole spring I really believe he can be a solid backup quarterback for us. He can't be on scholarship next year. After two years we can put them into the 85 without them counting as an initial, we're not a point to put walk-ons players in as initials because we need to get more high school players. The year after that he will definitely be eligible, and we'll see where he is. Once guys have gone through a couple of springs and played, guys like Jamayel Smith who we have to look at. I'm sure we will have more.

Q: Are players who want to leave other schools fair game for State to recruit?

Croom: "If a kid calls up and says he's interested and it's a guy we really want, yeah, we'll pick up the phone and call. I mean I've heard about one school for some time where one player was committed to that institution. If he's interested in us, yeah, I'm not ashamed of that! We've got a bunch of schools out there still trying to get guys committed to us and don't want to take visits, to take visits. Recruiting, it's a jungle out there!

Q: Do you use the internet to find players?

Croom: "Like his website?! Our coaches do. We did it last spring and we'll do it this spring, take the list of the top 100 quarterbacks and send them all a questionnaire. But we're not going to offer them based on who says the top-10 quarterbacks are in the country. No, we're going to look at them and evaluate them ourselves. There might be ten guys somebody else likes and we might like #50 better; we're going to offer #50. We might like #50 better than #1 to fit our offense. We do our own evaluation."

"Take Michael Gates, who we think is going to be an outstanding guard. Nobody offered Mike Gates before we did, we were the first. Because he was a basketball player! That's one of the things I've learned since being here, kids mature so fast. A guy is 175 pounds the day you sign him and by summer he's 195 pounds. That is what you have to look at and what having a staff that's been around long enough, because I'd been at a stage where a guy wasn't getting any bigger or stronger, he is what he is. That is not the case now (in high school to college), you've got to be able to project. And doing it that way you're not going to be 100%. You don't know how much bigger they're going to get. Right now I almost figure 20 pounds is a given. But this recruiting year is big for us."

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