I talked to several players - Chris Woods, Golden Coachman, Jamil Hubbard and O'Neal Wilder. How do you think they will do in the upcoming regionals?
"They are the heart and soul of our team and represent two events and two relays. Our fate at nationals will be determined by those major events - the 400, 800, 4x1 and 4x4. Those four guys are very, very critical to us in those events, but they have performed all year."
Talking about specific athletes, what about Golden Coachman?
"Golden has the most experience as far as life is concerned. He was in Iraq being shot at. He also ran for the US. And has run in two major national championships and won a gold medal for the US. As far as being experienced and being able to handle the pressure these kids are under, he's been through it. When you stand out there, you feel like you don't have any clothes on in front of 40,000 people. If you have a bad race you think everybody notices. If he doesn't run what he wants to run or what he thinks other people think, he's going to get criticized on the internet, be criticized by spectators who are fans of track and field. So, he and (sprint) Coach (Steve) Dudley are under a microscope now. But he's handled it pretty well."
"Jamil is a kid who has had a great support system that got him here. His mom has sacrificed a lot to get him to Mississippi State. Jamil has done what we have asked of him. And we are very hard on all of our athletes. And not only that, but the SEC is a tough conference to be in. But, at the same time, we are right there supporting them when they need us. The thing about Jamil, as with Marrissa Harris, is he has joined a very elite club - they are SEC champions. When he is 64-years-old he is still going to be an SEC champion."
"Chris is the pulse of this team. He is a leader. He's inspirational. He's our student-athlete on the advisory committee. He's been consistent. He's an All-American. He's the kind of kid if you put a stick in his hand on the 4x4, he's going to give his best. 800 meter guys on a 4x4 or a mile relay are dependable."
Your freshman, O'Neal Wilder, has also done well.
"O'Neal Wilder is the most talented track and field athlete that plays football that I have ever been around. And I've been around Sammy Smith, Dion Sanders, Dexter Carter, Martin Mayhew - all guys that have played years in the NFL. No matter what Dion looked like on television, he worked very, very hard in track and field for us at Florida State. O'Neal works very, very hard also. We haven't had anybody at Mississippi State who works as hard as he does.
"As far as raw talent, I think this kid could be something special. Right now, he's leading the world among all juniors, which is 19 and under, in the 400 meters. He's the number one junior right now with 45.54 in the 400 meters. Now, he's going to have to get faster to hold that crown, but he's got a chance to be a world champion. The junior world championships are in Poland. He's got to go to Oregon and make the team, but right now he's the odds on favorite to win the 400 for the US, then turn around and win it at the world championship. And he can also run the 4x4 in the world championship for the US.
"Those kind of things will prepare him for the future. He's potentially got olympic teams in the future. I'm not a football coach so I can't speak for them, but he has a world of talent. He's fast. If you want to compare him to someone, as far as the way he runs mechanically and with those long legs, he's a lot like Randy Moss. I don't want to say he's the next Randy Moss because that's not fair to him, but just the style of runner he is, he's similar to Randy Moss. This guy has already beaten two guys who were (track) national champions last year and this year. And he only got to train half a year here. He's proof that Mississippi State is the best place that I've ever recruited to.
"I recruited a national championship team at Florida State. And it was easy selling Florida because that's like selling Christmas. But Mississippi State is in the best conference in the country. This is a 17,000 to 18,000 student university that is competing against 30,000 to 50,000 student universities, but we are, academically, one of the best places that I have recruited to. With track and field athletes you sale them on academics and on the environment.
"I've been a coach at the University of Kansas, Florida State and St. Louis University. And to me this is the best school, academically, of all of those. And we also have great people here. Medical people like (MSU trainer) Paul Mock and Dr. Collins are great. Tyler Hill in academics. (Track) Coach (Steve) Dudley has done a phenomenal job with him, not just as a coach, but also taking care of him on a daily basis, just like (football) Coach (Sylvester) Croom has done. We have everything you need to contend for national titles. And it's a great place for an athlete."
How did Marrissa Harris become so good in her event?
"There are different trains of thought on the multi events. You either try to improve their worst events or try to make their best events better. I go with the latter.
"And she is probably the most coachable athlete that I have ever had in all of the years. She's also adapted to the training system pretty well. She listens and understands the sports pretty well. And that can go back to the fact that her parents and her brothers have been involved in track."
She's also got a chance to make the Olympics as well doesn't she?
"Yes, she's got the B standard for the olympic trials. There is an A standard and B standard and they will take the top 18 athletes. And she's one of the top 18 athletes right now. I think she is 12th."
It's a pretty big deal to make the US olympic trials isn't it?
"It's huge qualifying for the olympic trials because our they are better than the olympics. To make the United States team is harder than the games themselves because of the competition. Our guys that won't make the finals in, say, the 400s would be the No. 1 runner on every olympic team in the world."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by email at email@example.com.