"Today was probably the best lifting," he explained. "Upper-body with my shoulder, with my chest, back, triceps, biceps, and everything. Coach (Ben) Pollard will tell you he was impressed! He said let's just put it on there and I was repping the most weight I've ever done with ease. I said if nothing goes right the rest of this week I can fall back on that, that pumped me up for sure!"
Naturally there's something more to this day's story than a still-maturing ball player just happening to have an unusually productive trip to the MSU weightroom. Remember, only a year ago Carroll arrived on campus only seven months removed from shoulder repair surgery; a repair that took part of his hamstring to patch damage done in a winter high school all-star game. Carroll was very limited in pre-season weight training, such as ‘bench pressing' with dumbbells on the floor for example. Not until this past spring was he cleared for literal heavy lifting.
"Now I'm doing full bench with heavy weight and sufficient reps," Carroll said. As well as all the standard lifts he could only partially perform in 2007 if at all. And on the field? "My hamstring feels good, my legs are the best they've felt. I ran the half-gassers in good time."
Understand that all those half-gassers (a trip back-and-forth the width of a football field) is a full-force test of Bulldog conditioning. Pollard's summer program for the varsity, redshirts, and December signees—the freshmen won't report until July—began one week ago. Carroll reported that everyone involved, save just a few still re-habbing from spring surgery, has hit summer running and lifting at full-speed.
"I mean, it feels good to be out here. Our team looks like they're in real good shape for this time of year. As a unit and as a team we look real strong and real conditioned at this time of the year." That is thanks to the past semester's exertions, neatly divided into two near-equal periods either side of spring practicing, when Pollard focused on building up overall strength. That aspect continues through the first part of summer, though as the temperatures climb conditioning comes to the fore.
Unlike 2007, when the Dogs would lift and run on alternate days, Pollard has juggled the working schedule this summer. And, lengthened sessions a bit. Carroll and his group were assembled and stretching at 1:00 and walked off the field at 3:15.
"It's a little over two hours," said Carroll. "We got a good thirty minute agility-and-stretch in, just to get us loosened up. Then we went hard in the weightroom working out for about an hour, then we went out there and ran 20 half-gassers straight. Everybody, the whole team at the same time." In this case the ‘team' was about 20 players in the 1:00 shift. Yet there was indeed a ‘team' approach in the quarterback's description.
"The thing is Coach Pollard is not separating offense and defensive skill players, mid-skill, linemen. He's doing everybody at the same time. And you know, I think that's good because everybody pushes each other whether you're a skill guy or a big lineman. Everybody is pushing each other and we're getting it done." While at first this might seem a contrary sort of attack, since big guys will own the weightroom and skills guys the running, it actually means both groups are ‘winners' every day at something! "As long as everybody is encouraging each other and we're getting it done one way or another," adds Carroll.
"You don't argue with what the boss man tells you, you just go out there and do it! The fortunate thing about this team is everybody has a positive attitude and is ready to get after it. Whatever, he can tell us to run 20 half-gassers and then run 20 stadiums; we'll say OK, tell us when and we'll do it. This team is just so hungry and so eager to go out there and play."
In fact if Carroll can be credited, these Bulldogs are still motivated by memory of just how rewarding it was to finally experience their long-wanted breakout achieved in 2007. Or put another way, it's not just the early-June heat that State players are flush with, it's the sense of lingering success. All well-and-good, the quarterbacks says…while putting it in another perspective.
"When we went into last season it was more like ‘get ready, because we have to win and we have to show everybody that we're capable of playing in the SEC'. Now that we're capable of playing in the SEC we have to keep that up and go to the next level and be one of those top-tier teams in the SEC. And go to a bigger bowl, go to that SEC Championship. So we have higher aspirations this year.
"You can never stay complacent. You can never be satisfied. Like I've said, like Coach (Sylvester Croom) has said, like everybody will tell you, the Liberty Bowl was great but that was just a stepping-stone. We want the conference championship and we want a BCS game bad. And everybody in this weightroom, everybody out there on the field running will tell you the same thing." Or if they don't some veteran will explain the situation, quickly.
Speaking of speed, a popular summer query will be about how much velocity Carroll is getting on his throws now. Coming off the operation a lack of arm-strength was allowed for in 2007. Now the second-year starter is expected to add a fastball or two to his repertoire that was all about control as a freshman. In spring ball the results of four winter-work weeks showed as Carroll really did have some new zip on his shorter throws.
He said post-workout passing drills with teammates demonstrate further progress. "Oh, just from spring I've improved a lot. I've been throwing every other day and long-toss a couple of days a week. I'm throwing 60 yards with ease, which is good, and building from there. And throwing on a line. And everything in our offensive package is just going to open up more hopefully because of what I'm capable of doing."
At the same time Carroll isn't the only passer on the field this month. Redshirt Chris Relf and junior transfer Tyson Lee are in his workout group and doing the same informal and invaluable drills. Instead of being insulted that other quarterbacks are trying to claim his job, or at least some snaps, Carroll is glad for the company and the competition.
"Because that makes everybody better, it makes everybody push. I mean, Tyson and Chris and I work out together in the weightroom, we run together, and we throw together. We're constantly pushing each other. And it's not like a cut-throat thing, I'm putting up more weight than you! We encourage each other and there's no animosity, no hostility. It's a fortunate situation and it can only strengthen the team."
Which is not to be interpreted as Carroll offering his starter-status for free. "No, I will always fight to have that job! But whatever needs to be done for this team to be successful I'll do, and either other quarterback will say the same thing. Nobody on this team is selfish enough to say I want to start, I don't care what everybody else does. Everybody wants to win."
Carroll insists that the only times he thinks about his remarkable transition, from a likely redshirt to surprise SEC starter and now successful veteran in just one calendar year, is when a writer brings it up. Still, he agrees that the timing was unexpectedly right for him in 2007. "I can't lie to you. I wasn't coming in here hoping to take over be a major part of the winning season we had. I was just coming in here hoping I could learn and rehab and mature with a year sitting out. But I guess I matured even faster, getting thrown in the fire.
"I know I didn't have a clue and these guys didn't have a clue. But one thing I do know is everything happens for a reason. I mean, I know that God has a plan for what I do and where this program is headed. He didn't send Coach Croom here for just no reason, he came here on a mission. Guys coming in here the last few years that are Coach Croom's guys are coming here on a mission. I just have to stay on the right track and follow it."
A track that right now has Carroll and company taking the next step. Or rather, running the next half-gasser. "It's just a matter of coming in here and making each other better. It's not a matter of going in the weightroom for yourself, you're going in there for your team. And when you see other guys working hard it motivates you to work even harder."