"The most important thing was the fact that we got to go to a bowl game and experience what that's like. We couldn't have asked for a better situation than it was in Memphis, especially Thursday and the Friday before the game. The fan support was outstanding. Everywhere we went, when our buses pulled up, there were people lined up yelling and cheering for the players, patting them on the back, giving them hugs. And those kids needed to see that type support.
"Then, winning the way we did showed the character of the kids we have here. And the pride that brought to the university was very obvious after the game. That will carry forward to next year.
"And winning the bowl game against a good conference champion really gives you leverage going into next season. And winning eight games is also a great feeling. I think our kids can do even more next year. That gives you bigger goals for next year - winning more games and, hopefully, going to a New Year's Day bowl or even beyond that. Then, get a big win in that bowl.
"(Overall) it gives you a lot of excitement going into the offseason, especially when so many of our key contributors are coming back."
You lost three seniors at your primary position of tight end, so you've got an inexperienced group coming back. Spring practice will be a bit different for you as a coach, won't it?
"(Laugh) Yeah, I'm actually going to have to coach. When I was asked to do special teams last year, one of the main reasons I thought I could do it was the fact that I had such good, experienced players at tight end. I knew I could focus a lot of my attention on special teams because I knew my guys knew what to do. That fact alone said really good things about Jason (Husband), Dez (Sherrod) and Eric (Butler). And not only are they good football players, but great kids. Two of them have already graduated and are in their Masters program. And Eric is graduating in the spring. I'm really pride of that. It's a tribute to them and the type kids they are.
"Going into this spring, without them, it's going to be a little different. But I think I have some guys who are going to be able to play and play well. Brandon Henderson really had great bowl practices. He has really started to prove that he's ready to play at this level. But he's still got a lot of work to do and doesn't have game experience. Marcus Green also had a really good two weeks of practice. He's still learning because, since he moved to tight end during the middle of the season, I really haven't had a chance to teach him the rules and the offense from the tight end position. He's kind of had to learn on the run, but he's a good learner and picks things up fast. So, the effort is there. And it's amazing the type talent he has to be such a big kid. And we have a kid coming in this spring that we are really excited about. I think he is the type player who can come in and contribute right now."
You mentioned the young guys in your group and how they practiced during the bowl practices. Did Coach Croom use the bowl practices to give the young guys more work than they normally received during the in-season practices?
"Absolutely. During our first eight bowl practices, it was like spring practice. What we did was get all our work done with the guys who were going to be playing in the game, then, after that, we spent about 20, 25 to 30 minutes doing individual and team work with all the redshirts and the guys who don't get that many snaps in the games.
What were your impressions of the freshmen and some of the other young guys?
"We are really excited about what we saw from the guys who we are redshirting and even some of the redshirt freshmen who didn't get to play a lot this year. They are going to provide good depth. And a lot of them are really, really good athletes. Our team speed is going to increase just from this freshmen group that will play next year. I know that Robert Elliott had a great two weeks, just as Marcus Green and Brandon Henderson did. And Wade Bonner was all over the field. And Zach Smith also contributed. He's improving every day. Damein Anderson is going to be a good player. And all those young linebackers are going to be really good players.
"We had a lot of depth at offensive line, but we also have a lot of good young players such as J. C. Brignone and Derek Sherrod. J.C. is going to be a good player and Derek, who we saw a lot this year, has a chance to be great. And moving Quentin Saulsberry to offensive line during the two-week bowl period was great to see. He has a chance to be a really good player because he has the hands and feet and the mind to be a great offensive lineman. D.J. Looney is going to be good player. Dakota Merritt is probably one of the strongest players on the team. And Addison Lawrence had a really good two weeks.
"These young guys expect to play and they all showed the fight to want to play. I know we have a lot of guys coming back, but they will be pushed. It's going to be fun to watch them compete in the spring. We are really excited about all of them.
When you were on the Bully Barkline Show earlier in the season you gave your observations about what you saw from this year's freshmen that were being redshirted. Two players that intrigue me are cornerback Damein Anderson and running back Robert Elliott. You were high on them when talking about them. What is it about them that you like so much?
"Robert has been impressive since he's been here. There are some things that he definitely needed to work on before he was ready to play on this level, but he brings something to the table that we don't currently have. I don't know how to explain it other than to say he has the ability to find little, bitty cracks in the defense and hit them. While he's probably not a 4.4 guy, he has this amazing ability that makes people miss. And he's a home run threat, because he can also make people miss him in the open field.
"I like Damein because he's a bigger corner. And he played quarterback in high school, so he understands the game of football. He's a great athlete who loves to compete. That was obvious in one-on-one drills and seven-on-seven drills when he went against our ones. I really think he has the mindset to be a really good player."
Damein wasn't highly recruited as a high school senior. What did the State coaches see in him that you liked so much?
"We saw him as a quarterback running around and making smart decisions. And we saw him in person and liked his size and liked how he carried himself. He's a high character kid who is easy to talk to. And he expressed major interest in wanting to play at Mississippi State. And that's one thing we want - we want kids that want to be here. While we will recruit kids very hard, it's always good when you find good players like Damein who want to be here."
How did it make you feel to see one of your kids, Dezmond Sherrod, earn the MSU Liberty Bowl Scholar-Athlete award?
"I was extremely proud and excited for Dezmond. He's graduated already and is getting his Masters in business. And I got my Masters in Business here, so I know how hard it is. And I think he had a 3.89 gpa. The amount of time he puts into games, practice, meetings and study halls, then to have above a 3.5 gpa in a Masters of Business program, that shows what type kid he is. And he's been that way ever since he has been here.
"Dezmond is, by far, the best blocking tight end in this conference. And from one of the (NFL) scouts, he feels he is one of the best blocking tight ends in the country."