Hoskins: "It's Full-Force Back In There"

The coach couldn't resist the casual teasing quip…and the player had the right answer ready. "Coach (Woody) McCorvey was telling me I didn't think you were going to play this year," Eric Hoskins related after crossing paths with his coordinator this week. "I said Coach, I ain't going nowhere! I'm out in the sun sweating, I'm in the weightroom banging hard. I ain't going nowhere."

Nowhere, that is, but back to active and likely starting status. Because if Hoskins keeps up the recovery pace he's shown, Mississippi State will welcome the him fully back to fullback duty for 2008. It's an encouraging summer story for the Bulldog offense in general and this senior in particular. Not that the script is entirely set, of course. It will be camp contact that proves whether Hoskins is entirely recovered from the shoulder nerve injury of last November.

But all indications are positive to say the least. "I feel great," said Hoskins following Wednesday's workout and informal seven-on-seven session. "I'm there doing everything from lifting weights to running, with no strings attached. It's full-force back in there."

That indeed is good news. Because the nature of the injury, suffered against Arkansas last season, was—and really, is—such that nobody can safely forecast how long recovery requires or how fully the damaged nerve will function. Even the fact that Hoskins doesn't feel anything from that area of his left shoulder when banging iron or catching passes is not necessarily good. Or, bad. It's a nerve after all. Still Hoskins takes lack of discomfort as a good sign.

"The only way to judge is when we strap on the pads in August when camp gets here!"

Watching Hoskins running routes and snagging short tosses Wednesday, there certainly seemed no apparent issues. He reports full range of motion, which gave clearance to resume workouts after being sidelined all spring. Complete workouts, too.

"No limits," he said. "Pretty much everything everybody else does, I can do." And do it very well. Hoskins reported a squat of 515 pounds—better than some linemen and well over twice his own weight—and said his power-clean meets Coach Ben Pollard's approval. "The only thing that isn't back is my bench. It's 300 pounds, I've caught up to where I was (before the injury) but haven't improved like I wanted to."

Ahh, but he has improved one key area. "I've got faster!" he bragged. Yes, while unable to work weights Hoskins was told to run, and run, and run some more to keep the condition up. So don't dare call his down-time a ‘layoff,' Hoskins takes that personally. "Coach Pollard put it on me, he ‘unloaded' the upper body and over-loaded the legs!" As a result the 234-pound fullback can consistently turn 4.7 and 4.8 forty-dashes now.

"It was about speed, speed, speed. That's going to play a big part in the fall." Now when was the last time speed was an item of stress among State fullbacks? It's yet another sign that McCorvey has some interesting things in mind for the Bulldog offense this coming season. More on this later.

The real speed was how quickly Hoskins made up for the time lost after that freakish injury. "It was the second play of the game, as soon as it happened I knew I was hurt. I went in and hit a linebacker, and my neck went back. They said it was a nerve contusion, it spread all the way from my neck to my wrist. It was a sharp pain, a real burning sensation."

And a real pain for the offense, because Hoskins was a surprising find the second half of 2007. A second-year walk-on, he was not even listed in the media guide going into the year and played just once in the season's first five games. But lack of production by scholarship fullbacks, and Hoskins' own efforts in practices, convinced the coaches the junior deserved a shot. And against UAB he pulled in a swing pass for 15 yards.

The next four weekends produced two catches each game, and almost every one seemed to net a first down. He banged the shoulder in the Alabama game yet kept going, but then came that bad hit-angle at Little Rock to end the season early. "It was just a tough break, I guess." More than that, it was an injury to threaten a career.

"And all I could do was just pray about it and work hard. It was a nerve thing and I couldn't do anything about it, it just had to heal on its own."

Now, apparently, it has. The qualifier has to be included because again nerve issues are always liable to recur without warning. Hoskins chooses not to worry but to take advantage of the opportunity. "I can do every motion. It's God's grace. My shoulder won't be an issue."

Coach Sylvester Croom surely hopes not, because just about every spring practice day his evaluations included concerns about lack of reliable fullback play. It was an indication just how much the head Dog missed Hoskins, and how badly everybody wants him in the '08 lineup. That's why even with status unsettled, Hoskins is still listed first in coach's minds.

"I just pray that won't anything happen," Hoskins said. "And I'm glad they have that much trust in me when I missed the whole spring and I'm still there. I'm still in the playbook, and patiently waiting to get on the field." He's not kidding about the patience, a virtue Hoskins learned while battling to escape walk-on obscurity and get a chance to show how he could help the offense run, and pass. "That waiting was a value there!" he can joke about 2006-07. "I had no idea I'd be doing it again. But I'm just going to be patient and see what happens."

Then again Hoskins might not be quite so patient this time, because he badly wants to be a part of this fall's gameplans. "This offense is going to do some great things this year, I want to be back and a part of that. I don't want to miss out. It's a lot of possibilities. And we haven't showed the capability we have to be a versatile offense to this point."

Hoskins isn't alone in wanting to be a part; teammates are unanimous on the topic, too. Anthony Dixon loves running behind a Hoskins lead-block; Wesley Carroll enjoys the extra security this fullback provides, whether blocking or floating out in a ‘hot' passing zone. Not that Hoskins needs more motivation, but offensive cohorts do keep up their own encouragements.

"Oh, they stay on me and want me to do extra stuff to make sure I get it right! And I don't want to let them down, let my team down. I kind of felt like I did when I went out last year. I look around and our talent level is so much higher than it has been. Everybody is just hungry to get back there on the field and win."

But then Hoskins has already scored just getting back to this positive point. Now there is one more key goal line to cross. "The shoulder pads." Yes, not until he pulls on padding and takes true contact to the shoulder will the crucial question be answered to satisfaction of team doctors. "They're going to do the best thing regardless," Hoskins said.

"But if I get out there and take a couple of licks and nothing is wrong, I'm good to go!"


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