Spencer Working For A 2007 Opportunity

At the moment he's listed as an offensive lineman. But what is Chris Spencer's true position? "I'm an opportunist!" the sophomore Bulldog blocker laughs as he readies for another summer day's workout in preparation for this third pre-season with Mississippi State.

A critical season that for Spencer. After a couple of freshman years, true and redshirt, working to both get into college football condition and to find his particular place in the picture, the Meridian native and former prep All-Star says it is time for him to turn potential into reality. And it looks like his best chance is smack in the middle of the muddle.

"The way I see it you have to get in where you fit in, and I think I fit in at center better than other positions. But honestly, I'll play wherever I need to play." Indeed, center is where Spencer finished spring training, behind senior starter Royce Blackledge and redshirt Johnny Carpenter. It's taken a while for him to settle in as over his two falls and two springs Spencer has, literally, practiced at all five blocking positions. And at times looked capable of performing each of them.

Spencer says he isn't looking to crack the starting five just yet. "Royce is going to be starting regardless," he says, "Unless a bomb goes off in the huddle!" He simply wants a bigger and more regular role come game-days this sophomore fall. "So I have to go get it. Hopefully there's an opening for me."

At the same time nothing is going to be given anyone, especially on an offensive line that after years of struggles and shuffles is finally rounding into a consistent shape. Though based on spring evaluations there could be some further pre-season shakeups on the not-entirely-set right side, Mississippi State will have a respectable two-deep ready for August. Whether it matches who lines up for the season-opener is always another matter of course, but even this is an encouraging state of affairs. Where the last three years fall camp moves came from desperation any changes this August will be a matter of finalizing the rotation.

Spencer badly wants to be in that number and has worked for the right. First, he's closer to SEC-shape. "Right now I weigh in at 303. I want to get down to 295…though if I had my way I'd get down to 280 so they can't say anything to me!" That's a joke, of course. But it's no laughing matter what Spencer and his cohorts have done to lop off enough combined pounds to build a whole ‘nother lineman with. It's been brutal at times but the blockers understand.

"Coach (J.B.) Grimes looks for the best in all of us and wants the best for us," Spencer says. "He knows with extra weight we can't perform at our peak level, therefore he wants us light and trim. The epiphany that really made him want to get us down was when he saw how much, or I should say how little DeBrickashaw Ferguson weighed. He wants us to be like that. We have to be able to move our feet. Being 320 it's hard to do that because you can't carry the extra weight."

Now, spring grades showed State football players are mostly competent students. But it's a rare Bulldog in any sport who tosses around words like ‘opportunist' and ‘epiphany'. Spencer has a gift of gab to say the least, and supposedly-neutral reporters openly want him to win a place in the lineup so he can provide pithy post-game quotes. Spencer would love to do so himself…but first he has to become a regular player.

And that means putting some little bit of extra, intangible oomph into crossing that line visible only to his coach. Grimes has openly wondered if Spencer truly ‘loves football' the way one must to be really, really good at a grinding position on the line, where sometimes love of the game and teammates is all that keeps a blocker blocking.

"I like the game," Spencer insists. "I really do like the game. But one of my downfalls is my highs are so high and my lows are so low. I'm very inconsistent. You have to be honest with yourself and I'm inconsistent. When I get that part down I'll be a better ballplayer."

If anything Spencer might be a bit too critical of himself for his own good. "Honestly if you have any pride, if you have a bad day you're going to beat yourself up. You go back to the room and think about the bad day you had and try to get it out of your mind. But it's hard, baby." So, how does he transition to becoming consistent and beating up the guy lined up against him?

"It comes from mental toughness. Coach Croom preaches that and tries to instill it in us. The mental toughness factor. I try to have it every day but some days it works and some days it doesn't." The consistency thing, in other words.

Still the Spencer observed in late-spring work really was a more consistent blocker and an improved competitor, good signs for his immediate future. And things are getting pretty darn immediate for Mississippi State linemen, a group that could very well be the most-improved on the team if not in the whole league. They're far from a finished product but the outlook is all-positive for Bulldog blocking…especially since Blackledge, Mike Brown, and J.D. Hamilton are the only seniors.

"Royce is a heck of a guy, a good athlete, he knows what he has to do," Spencer says. "And he's a leader, he's proven he deserves it." As has Brown, an All-SEC candidate at left tackle. The rest of the two- or three-deep is underclass in age, not in ability. Anthony Strauder is a greatly improved left guard, and while on the right side there are still issues to settle there are veterans to work with in tackle Craig Jenkins and guard/tackles Hamilton and Mike Gates. Those two spots will have some fun August competition and a redshirt or two might be shuttled in for early camp looks just in case.

Who Spencer is really competing with now are redshirts Mark Melichar, J. C. Brignone, and soph Johnny Carpenter, and oft-injured but now healthy Roland Terry. "Quality depth," Spencer calls it. "In my opinion all the backups are solid."

The key now for him is not ‘solidifying' as simply a career backup, but staying in the race to ultimately move into the rotation and then full-time lineup. Spencer has also seen the list of recruited offensive linemen, and is now getting a look at some of them in July workouts. It's a change for the Bulldog-better, he agrees, if that much more pressure on every individual.

"It's almost a do-or-die thing. Early in our careers if you were a freshmen you had a chance to start. Now that we're getting talent in the only edge we have is we're older and stronger. If we let them catch up with us you almost get lost in the shuffle. You've got to get it where you fit in or get pushed aside."

Spencer doesn't intend to be pushed aside or around. He plans on doing what it takes over the next two months to prove he is consistent and motivated enough to deserve duty in the trenches for Mississippi State. Will he get it done? "I hope so, definitely!"

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