"We have to come in with the right attitude and right enthusiasm, and just want to be competitive about everything. Every drill, every weightlifting station, we just make it a competition."
Hart should understand about competition of course. He goes into his fourth and final college fall battling for a senior-year starting job as fullback. When spring practices ended the issue was far from settled, even though Hart got the great majority of first-squad snaps. He was the 2007 starter four times including for Mississippi State's bowl wins over Ole Miss (Egg) and Central Florida (Liberty).
Still when practices resume in August, the old guy in the unit must re-earn the responsibility. "And I'm always up for a challenge," Hart says.
"I feel like I'm doing real good. I'm a senior now and I know this is my last go-round and I've got to put everything I've got into it. I feel better than I've ever felt since I've been at Mississippi State and I'm just looking forward to helping the team."
Hart indeed looks better, hence the strength coach's comment to which the object doesn't object at all. "It's the first time I ever felt like this, for real. I weigh 230 and I'm faster, my body feels better," he says. Then, with another glance towards the intended target, "Thanks to Coach Pollard!" The coach's program has shaved ten pounds off Hart's winter weight.
While sheer speed isn't a priority at fullback any extra zip can only help Hart in his case for regular 2008 duty. Certainly he had plenty of spring chances to convince the coaches that his old issues with consistency of both execution and effort were being addressed. In fact Hart got more work than planned, as 2007 surprise-find fullback Eric Hoskins was sidelined by a shoulder nerve problem—his fall status is very uncertain still—while converted halfback Arnil Stallworth missed days with nagging injuries. And redshirt Ethan Stockett struggled, to the point he left the program after the semester.
So while Hart got banged-up himself in camp, he had to keep plugging away. "I didn't really have the spring I wanted due to injuries, and with some of the other fullbacks hurt it was a lot of wear-and-tear on my body, too. But it's all for the good, everything happens for a reason and I've just got to make up for it." Showing up for work while hurting did make the right sort of impression on his coaches, too, and gives Hart an extra step going into preseason. He'll need it.
"It's just a big competition, really. All of us are going to get to play, I'm not worried about that. The best man for the job and can get the job done, that's who deserves it. I'm just worried about winning."
But then Mississippi State would struggle to win offensively without a reliable and productive fullback. Coach Sylvester Croom often expressed his concern about the position before, during, and after spring camp, because a good fullback makes so much possible for higher-profile teammates. In fact coordinator Woody McCorvey's plans to expand the gameplan include giving the fullback more than just blocking duties; he is to be a factor both running and catching the ball this fall.
If, that is, the right man emerges. Hart understands the focus his coaches are putting on his position. "It really just makes us stand up more. It's put the spotlight on us and we know we have to come through in clutch-time, he's depending on us.
"So we have to get the job done, and I know without a doubt we will get the job done. Because we like to run the ball so much and do so many things with the fullback, it's a big part of our gameplan. So it's a key position every down. We have to step up and take care of business."
Will they? "We're going to have it before fall," Hart affirms. Meaning, he wants to have it in fall. Not just for whatever chances he has to touch the ball, either, but because Hart sees the play-making potential in the projected 2008 lineup. Especially in the runners he'll be sharing the backfield with. Anthony Dixon, Christian Ducre, Robert Elliot, Wade Bonner…all halfbacks any fullback would gladly throw his body into traffic for. Especially Hart who himself began college as a halfback before making the position-move forward a stride.
"It feels good because you know you've got the home-run play right behind you. As long as everybody does their job you've got the man in the backfield that can take it the distance. And you know I'll be down there with them to share the moment!"
For this final-season opportunity, then, Hart will give his very best off- and pre-season efforts. "This really is what I've been waiting for. And I'm going to go all-out, give it all I've got and see what happens."
Speaking of seeing what happens, Hart truly believes that his strength coach spends the evening hours imagining new ways to work the Dogs. It's gotten to the point Hart and teammates report to the Shira Complex just to see what Pollard has planned today.
"Oh, all the time! It seems like we never do the same thing week-in and week-out. He always seems to come up with something different. That's what makes a good strength coach, though." And is a fine way to keep some freshness in a business that could easily become a summer grind. "He's a very challenging coach and every week it gets harder and harder for us. And we look forward to the challenge because we all just want to get better."
Except, there's one worrying thing. After Friday, the players have ten days-off from working out for the ‘tween-semesters break. Which means Pollard has until July 7 to devise different challenges for the varsity, along with the cleared freshmen enrolling for the next month. That, Hart says, is a lonnnnnng time.
"He's going to have something very interesting for us!"