"This year we know we've got a good chance to win the SEC, so we're just working harder and harder every day," Ducre said Monday following a strength-conditioning session that lasted nearly two hours. "Everybody is getting stronger and faster and we're working harder."
Count Ducre in that number. And, as an example of how hard work in this program can pay off. The former transfer from Tulane went into last season still searching for his niche in State's offensive gameplan, having been limited to little more than special teams appearances in 2006. By the end of '07 Ducre had emerged as a reliable alternate to Anthony Dixon…and for that matter the better choice when the Bulldogs needed to seal a victory with safe ball-control running.
"Well, I worked hard the whole summer and the whole camp and I guess that just paid off," Ducre says of his '07 experience. Which is why he brings that much more motivation into this summer's assignments, though of course the same can be said for all Dogs laboring away this June semester. They all like being on an ‘accelerated' calendar.
"About this time last year were about a month behind where we are now," Ducre explains. "Because last year we were down from the season before. But we got the win in the Liberty Bowl and that's going to keep us up, and we're going to keep working hard." Running hard, too, which is one area Ducre can provide hard evidence of annual improvement. "Last Tuesday we ran 24 half-gassers and that's the most we ran all summer last year. We did that a whole month ahead, and everybody made their times."
Such bar-raising is obviously an encouraging sign of the state of State here in '08. Yet if these players show they can keep getting better, doesn't it bring the risk of the staff just setting the strength and condition goals ever higher? Of continuing to demand more of the Dogs? Sure, Ducre smiles.
"But we're ready for that this year! And we just have to handle it."
Ducre certainly has proven he can handle the responsibility as alternate halfback. Last fall in 13 games—with starts in wins over UAB and Alabama—he picked up 487 yards and averaged 4.3 each time the ball was handed him. Dixon netted 3.7 by comparison, though the usual starter also scored 14 touchdowns.
Except Ducre had a hand in two of the season's most notable fourth-quarter TDs. With the Dogs driving from behind at Auburn it was Ducre called in to put the ball in the end zone with the winning points. Six weeks later at Kentucky, he clinched victory with a 34-yard burst. His third touchdown was at West Virginia. And it isn't just his knack for the crucial score that makes Ducre valuable. He takes care of the football while advancing it as needed.
This is why Ducre is far more than a backup Bulldog. "Whenever A.D. needs a break they can just put me in and I don't think that's a major drop-off at all," he said. "I think we complement each other real good. When I get tired he can go in, when he gets tired I can go in. Just like that." That ‘complement' part is very accurate. "We have our strong points, and we have our weaknesses. We just feed off each other. I think my strong points is running between the tackles and driving through defenders." Where Dixon, who can also pound the line, is more apt to angle at the corner and either hit an open seam or turn upfield. And, Ducre admits, "He might not look it but he has more speed than me!
"It's alright, we're two different backs. And I'm quick at making one cut and going up the field, he has more straight-away speed." Not that Ducre is exactly slow, of course. But he realizes where his strongest point is, reading and reacting on such calls as the play-action and the straight draw. It's how he scored at Auburn, and ran out the clock against Alabama. "That's pretty much my favorite play, the little sprint-draw," he said.
"The draw, you can pick any hole that's open where on regular runs you have one side to pick. That's why I like the draw more because you can pick either side." Besides, he adds, "It really just comes natural to me."
But Ducre isn't limited to relying just on natural instinct. He says that mentally he is "a whole year" ahead of June 2007 and has a good grip on the whole playbook. "Where last year I was still learning because I had that year off. Physically I'm ten pounds heavier but I'm in better shape. I'm about 230 right now, and I've kept my speed."
Will he keep his status as State's ‘other' halfback? Coordinator Woody McCorvey and backfield coach Rockey Felker have more choices than ever now with juniors Dixon and Ducre, along with redshirt frosh Robert Elliot and Wade Bonner. In a hopefully-expanded offense the carries will have to be distributed to keep everyone content. Except in Ducre's case another opportunity might be presented. Coach Sylvester Croom has suggested the halfback could find himself lining up a step closer to the front. As a fullback, that is.
Ducre is willing if it comes to this situation. "I'll do whatever to help the team. I like fullback, I like going out on routes, I like blocking." He'd even like blocking for A.D. "That'd be perfect for me!" he grins. "I think he'd do that for me." Sure, the fullback doesn't get the same carries…but in this offense he can still touch the ball as a short receiver able to go a long way. Besides, Ducre understands, when Croom says someone has the right stuff for fullback, well…
"That's an amazing compliment to me. Because he thinks I can block, I can catch, I can do anything."
Wherever Ducre takes his stance this season, he forecasts a much more productive offense for Mississippi State. And it's about time, he agrees. "The first year we were real behind. We barely had a running game and barely had a passing game. Now we have all the weapons at receiver, we have Wes Carroll and Tyson Lee in there now so we have two quarterbacks who can play. And (QBs) Chris Relf and Tyson will run around all day…Chris might even run somebody over because he's about 250!"
An exaggeration, of course, but also an insight into this team's summer attitude where strong statements about teammates and team are the norm. Thus the intensity observed in the weightroom and on the field, with Bulldogs pushing each other to do more and do it more often. Oh, Ducre adds, this applies to summer schooling, too. "Coach Croom keeps on us about our classwork here just before classes end, so we can keep everything going."
That explains Ducre's regimen this month quite well, in fact. "I'm taking statistics," he said. "And weight training!" And making the grade in both venues as Ducre and Dogs take are of their pre-pre-season business.