Finally Finds a Home

With the exception of the secondary, Mississippi State's Avery Hannibal has lined up at every defensive position. Early in his career, the LaGrange, Ga., native took a shot at linebacker. Then there was a move to the defensive line, mainly in a back-up role to the likes of Deljuan Robinson, Andrew Powell and Antonio Johnson. Five games into his senior season, Hannibal has finally found a home.

"I like playing defensive end," said Hannibal, of his new position. "Playing defensive tackle, I had to use all my strength and all my power. After a while, that will wear you out, especially when you get late in the game. I like being a defensive end because of my speed and I can do what I do best."

The 6-foot-1 and 245-pound Hannibal often faced mismatches in the middle of the line. But head coach Sylvester Croom was determined to get his talents on the field, somehow, someway.

"That is a guy we had a hard time finding a position for," said Croom. "We tried him at linebacker, and then on the line where he was undersized. But we just knew Avery was a winner and we found a spot for him and he's been a tremendous asset for us."

Which has been very evident in State's 3-2 start this season.

Hannibal has collected 10 tackles, including one for a loss. More importantly, Hannibal and fellow defensive end Titus Brown has spent a lot of time in opposing back fields.

Of the defenses' 23 quarterback hurries, Hannibal and Brown have combined for more than half of that total with seven QB hurries each.

"Titus has taught me how to work my speed more and to take care of my side," said Hannibal. "I am still working on certain things but Titus has helped me a lot."

The solid duo of Hannibal and Brown wasn't an overnight success story.

It's process that started months ago as the two defensive ends stepped in a larger leadership role.

"Really right now, Avery and Titus Brown are the two hardest-working defensive linemen we have," said Croom. "You look at what they've done in the spring then overcoming nagging injuries in the preseason, those guys have come to work every day. Any success we have has a lot to do with them. They are two guys that have a direct impact on our success. They are senior leaders and the best we've got."

For the past three years, Hannibal has been prepping for his shot in the starting lineup.

But he's also been preparing himself for his life once his football-playing days are complete.

Hannibal is set to graduate in December with a degree in sociology and criminal justice.

"One day I want to be in the FBI," said Hannibal. "It is something I have always wanted to do, ever since I was a little kid. I always wanted to catch bad guys, which is what I am doing now in football."

As noted above, the defensive line entered the 2007 campaign with a few question marks.

The talented trio of Robinson, Powell and Johnson graduated, not to mention the loss of defensive end Michael Heard.

Hannibal noted of the urgency this summer, not letting up on the new guys in the trenches.

He knew whose shoulders the new responsibilities would fall upon.

"Titus and I pushed these guys in the summer and told them we have to do this," said Hannibal. "We knew in the past that our D-line was pretty strong and very good. We told the other guys to push hard and to hope for the best. So far we have done it. The key now is to not let up. You come to work everyday with the same focus on working hard that day. That is something you can always control and dictate."

Hannibal gives his former high school coaches the credit for his instilled work ethic.

Yes, he learned valuable lessons on the gridiron during his prep career at Troup County High School. But it was on the mat where he learned how to work hard.

"My high school wrestling coach, Coach Daniels, always taught me to work hard," said Hannibal, a former Georgia Class 4A wrestling state champion. "He said the guys that work hard will finally get it and reach their goals. He taught me to keep after it."

Keeping after it could definitely sum up Hannibal's career as a Bulldog.

Of course, Hannibal didn't exactly work with the scout team his first three years.

Along with senior tight end Dezmond Sherrod, Hannibal has played in more career games – 39 – than any other Bulldog.

Hannibal entered his senior campaign with 24 career stops, including four sacks and two forced fumbles.

Through it all, Hannibal never got discouraged. He simply did his job every time he heard his name called.

And on August 30th, Hannibal saw his persistence pay off in a major way. He earned his first career start on August 30th against LSU and has started every game since.

"It makes you feel good (starting as a senior)," said Hannibal. "I have always worked hard, ever since I was a freshman and I first got here. I know that hard work does pay off and I see that by starting. Eventually, you get what you are after if you work hard."

And it's a role that Hannibal is not about to let go because his starting position is something that did not come easy and a spot that Hannibal will never take for granted."

"The thing about sports is you never know what is going to happen," said Hannibal. "You can get hurt at any time, have a good game or have a bad game. Just because I was a senior, I knew nothing would be given to me. I wasn't sure if I would move up or whatever so I just kept working hard so I would not get embarrassed out there."


Paul Jones is a writer for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. He can be reached by email at pdjmsu@yahoo.com.

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