Blackledge: Steady at Center

He came in as a 6-foot-3, 264-pound freshman who was a little on the quiet side. Since then, Royce Blackledge has grown into a 6-foot-4, 295-pound, fifth-year senior who has become a very confident, somewhat vocal leader on what may turn out to be one of the best offensive lines Mississippi State has had in years.

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"I was a pretty quiet guy when I got here, but I think one of the biggest things that has changed since then is my confidence," said Royce, who had scholarship offers from not only Mississippi State, but also Ole Miss, West Virginia, Southern Miss and Memphis as a senior at Northeast Jones High School in Laurel, Mississippi. "I have gotten a lot of confidence since I've been here because of playing and starting the last two years. I started feeling confident at the end of '05. And last year I felt even more confident. This year, I feel even more confident and I feel like I can compete with anybody at this level."

And newcomer Dominic Douglas, a linebacker from transferred from Hinds Community College this past spring, agrees with Royce.

"He is a driven person. He goes hard every play," said Dominic, who faced Royce several times during the spring. "And as a player, he has helped me with my pass-rushing because he has really good speed with his hands and gets on you quick."

Royce's position coach, J.B. Grimes, also likes what he sees from Royce.

"I feel good about Royce Blackledge," said Coach Grimes. "He got almost every snap a year ago at the center position. And I feel he made good improvement during the course of the spring. And he's a fifth-year senior who is tough and is a great character guy. He hurt his ankle during the Alabama game in the third or fourth play of the game and didn't miss a beat. So, he's got some toughness and grit that we really like."

Royce gives Coach Grimes a lot of credit for the type player that he has become.

"Coach Grimes has helped me out a lot because he is big on fundamentals and technique," noted Royce. "Sometimes when you don't have the size, speed and strength, your technique can win a lot of reps for you. And that's one thing he is really big on - every little detail has to be perfect. And when you get everything perfect or as good as you can, that really helps out. I'm an example of that. When I came in I wasn't the biggest, fastest or strongest guy on the team, but over the years, with Coach Grimes working with us everyday on the small things, you really make up for a lot of that."

And Royce is seeing the dividends not only pay off for himself, but for the entire offensive line, a veteran group that, for the most part, has been playing together for the past couple of years.

"This year I feel like we have an offensive line that really bonds," he said. "And for an offensive line to work well together, you have to have relationships with the other guys. Everybody needs to be on the same page. You also have to have experience and depth. You have to have two full units that can play at this level. And this year I feel like we have that."

One player that has helped the offensive line become better is Mike Brown, a tackle who started about half of last year's games after transferring from the University of Florida.

"Mike Brown has helped out a lot," said Royce, of the highly recruited youngster. "When he came in I think he surprised a bunch of folks as soon as he played. He's going to be a big key in our offensive line at the tackle position this year."

And Royce feels just as confident in the overall Mississippi State team.

"I also feel confident in the team as well," noted Royce. "This team has come a long way since I got here. The attitude of the guys that are here now is a lot better. It's like they really want to win now, although I'm not saying that they didn't before. Just from being around here (the past five years) the guys are working like they want to win."

And he expects that attitude to show up on the football field this coming season.

"I can almost guarantee that this team will win," said Royce. "This team had a good spring and saw a lot of good things happen. We are headed in the right direction. Everybody is all about working toward a championship."

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

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