MSU Players Talked About Bowl Experience

Several Mississippi State football players talked about their Liberty Bowl experience.

Senior Linebacker Gabriel O'Neal

You didn't have a curfew the first two nights, then Coach Croom allowed you to stay out longer than expected a third night. What is it like for your head coach to have that kind of trust in all 106 of you guys?
"He told us we were going to have a lot of fun, but who would have thought we would have two nights with no curfew, then extend the curfew the third night. But people conducted themselves in the right way. That was a reward for that."

Ok, Gabe, you are the jokester on the team, so what did you do during those no-curfew nights? And was everything legal (I said with tongue in cheek)?
"(Laugh) Everything was legal, but I can't tell you everything. All the guys got together, hung out and walked around Beal Street, went to the bars on Beal Street, ate, things like that. Yesterday (Wednesday), we went to the basketball games and we had the welcome party. Really, all the guys just really hung out and went places together and had a good time."

Have the practices and everything else about the bowl experiences been as much fun as you expected or even more fun?
"Practices have been like regular practices. But we are having a lot of fun because the guys are excited about the game."

You are a senior, so you have one practice and one game left in your college career. Have things been a little more emotional for you?
"I thought the Ole Miss game would be really emotional, but I handled it pretty well. Now, I have another opportunity to play a game, so I'm just thankful and taking advantage of everything."

Junior Linebacker Jamar Chaney

What did it mean to you that your head coach had no curfew for you guys the first two nights?
"He has a pretty good amount of trust of our seniors and our leaders on the team. And we worked hard over in Starkville. Then, when we got down here, the first couple of days we were supposed to enjoy the bowl experience. Now, it's time to get down to business and get ready for the game."

Which would you have preferred to do - come down early like you did or stay in Starkville up until Thursday?
"It didn't really matter to me, but I guess it was better for us to come up here Sunday and get our mind off of the stuff that is here. We have seen pretty much everything we want to see in Memphis, now we are all focused on the game. If we had come down (Thursday) you are still trying to see what is here, trying to go out and do this and that. But we have been out Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and a little bit last night. Now, we are trying to get back and watch some extra film tonight because we are focused on the game now."

Some of you got to go out and see a well-known rap group called Three 6 Mafia that has some members who are from Memphis. Did it surprise you when you saw that they were wearing Mississippi State clothing?
"It wasn't that much of a surprise that they had it, but we were surprised that they wore it on the stage. It was nice because they were giving us a shout-out while they were performing. It was a good, little situation."

How have these practices helped you as a returning player?
"It has helped me a lot. We failed to get here my first two seasons, but we are here this year. We are staying in sync because we aren't getting that layoff that we usually do. This will help us a lot when we come back in the spring and start working out in January."

How has this helped the young guys like the freshmen?
"They have come into a good situation with us winning their first year here. If you are a freshman at Mississippi State you are helping start something big and I'm sure they want to continue that."

Senior Center Royce Blackledge

I've asked this of the other guys. What does it mean to you as a person that your head coach trusted all the players enough to give you two no-curfew nights when you first got to Memphis?
"It makes us feel like Coach Croom can trust us. He puts a lot of trust in us. And we take a lot of pride in that."

And when the two nights were over, everyone did what they were supposed to during those nights and during the days.
"Of course, we are having fun while we are here, but everybody is getting ready for this ballgame. There are rules to go by and everybody followed those rules."

Junior Offensive Tackle Michael Brown

What are you, as a returning player, getting from the bowl practices and the bowl experience in general?
"It's not just going to help me, but the whole team a lot. We now know what we are capable of doing and what it takes to get to a bowl game. And we know what we want to be next year - we want to be in a bowl game again. Next year, we will go out and play every game one game at a time and try to win every game."

How has it helped the young guys, the freshmen and redshirt freshmen?
"They are getting confidence, getting a little swagger, they are getting up under themselves. And that is good because that will help us out in a long run because we have seniors leaving, so we have to have freshmen and redshirt freshmen step up and play big roles next year."

Coach Croom not only wants talented, athletic players, but high character guys. He teaches character all the time to the players. Is it to the point now where guys like you and Royce are also taking over that responsibility to an extent?
"Yes, I think so. Coach Croom always preaches that he wants leaders to step up and lead the young guys. And I think all 105 guys on the team are real good people off the field as well as good players on the field. That helps out a lot because you are around people that you love being around. And from the first game to this last game, we have been bonding as one family."

Sophomore running back Anthony Dixon

You are still one of the young guys. What's the bowl experience been like for you compared to the juniors and seniors?
"It's been fun, but I haven't been able to do a lot of things they had a chance to do because I am still a young one. But it's been a fun trip for me because I have never really been in Memphis for a long period of time. This is my first time to be here for extended days."

Coach Croom expects a lot out of you, more than you have showed up to this point. During the three weeks of bowl practice, have you learned some more of the things he expects from you
"I've learned a whole lot. I'm trying to mature my process of being a running back. I'm understanding what he is trying to get me to do. I feel like Coach Croom knows what is best for me. And I'm trying to take it and run with it. I'm trying to get better. I want to be the best."

What is it you lack, maturity or learning the reads?
"It's just that my game that I bring to the table, I take so much pride in it because I worked so hard to get it where it is. And when I'm running, I feel like what I'm doing is the best thing for me. I feel comfortable and get in my comfort zone. But I have to realize that everything I think is right for me, is not actually right the whole time. Coming up, I had people talk to me about football, but it was really just me going out there (in high school) and playing better than everybody else. People told me about football, but nobody really just taught me about the game. So, it was just me going out there, being physically better than everybody, faster than everybody - and doing it my way. And I've tried doing that up here, but it don't really work like that up here. So, I'm trying to get the little things like."

Is that a good way to say you are learning to be more coachable?
"Yeah, that's a good way to say it. It's not that I've been a problem with my team, but sometimes it doesn't sink it. I'm kind of hard-headed, but I'm learning to be better."

True freshman quarterback Wesley Carroll

How are you looking at the bowl game and the practices?
"The way we are looking at the game is as the first game of next season. And these practices have definitely benefited everybody on the team, especially those that didn't get a lot of exposure during the season. It's been a great experience for me because I can always use more and more practices. I'm not where I need to be physically or mentally. I know I can get better. These practices have allowed me to work on the little things that I couldn't do during the season."

What are some of those little things?
"I can work on the little things like dropping back and getting away from the center, getting the ball out faster. It's not anything major because you can't really do that so much during practice."

Are you to the point where you can help another true freshman quarterback, Chris Relf, with the little things?
"I really haven't had many chances to really work with him because we are normally in the same area during practice. We are roommates, and I remember back in the summer we were going over plays. He would ask me questions about what to do on certain reads or plays. And I know it will get to the point where I will be able to talk to him more and help him develop. He's got a lot of potential and capable of doing great things. He's a heck of an athlete."

Does having a guy like that behind you help push you to be even better?
"Oh yeah, with him coming back and Mike (Henig) and Josh (Riddle), that is only going to make our team better. It will be a batter, no doubt, for the starting position, especially with all the spring and summer sessions."

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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