Over the summer those spurs were shaved-down to at least reduce the friction. Still nothing can be done with shoes or shots to prevent pain. The best medicine is rest, which Love gets a good bit of during practice weeks.
"He does what he can on a day-day basis," Coach Sylvester Croom said, adding that just keeping the big guy in condition has been a battle. But Love's feet just cannot be over-worked for the time being. "Two weeks ago we shut him down trying to get him feeling better. He was on a limited basis." Which worked as in limited snaps against Auburn the junior got two tackles, both for losses with one his first sack of the season. "He showed what he could do at 100%," Croom said. "Is he ever going to be 100% this fall, I doubt it. It's tough to carry all that mass just walking around, it will keep it tender. But he played well, I'm pleased with his performance."
Love says for the first several snaps the toes hurt. "Real bad. But once the game goes on they kind of warm up and start feeling better. My teammates keep telling me we know you're hurt, you've just got to pick it up, keep your head, stay focused and keep playing hard. So that's what I do. I really hurt, but I've got to play. And my guys play with me."
BACKS IN FULL: Good thing Eric Hoskins reported to Bryan after his coach's press conference. Because had he heard Croom's comment about making more use of Bulldog fullbacks, the senior might have cheered aloud. He was happy enough when informed by a reporter.
"It's great music to my ears!" Hoskins said. "I mean, we block, block, block. Throw a bone to the Dogs and we take it as a treat!" Turning more serious, though, "But we know if we get the ball we've got to take care of it. It's not many times and we have to capitalize on it."
Croom appreciates the self-sacrificing roles played by alternating fullbacks Hoskins and Brandon Hart, and reminds that first of all they are asked to, yes, block, block, and block some more. But, "When they've had their hands on the ball this fall they've done a pretty credible job. We need them to touch the ball a little more on a regular basis, I think they can give us a spark. Because as you get in the flow of a game I'm sure the defense ignores them."
In fact that was what State's offense was counting on in the third quarter against Auburn, when on 4th-and-1 and in a power-run formation QB Wesley Carroll rolled out right and looked to flip to Hoskins. Only Auburn hadn't ignored the fullback and detained him from breaking out into his route long enough that Carroll had to settle for a tough throw at TE Brandon Henderson which went off the hands. If not for one alert, or lucky, Tiger the play would at the least have moved the chains…which is what Hoskins did so well last October and November before damaging a shoulder. For a stretch just about every ball he caught in 2007 was a guaranteed first down gainer.
And folk haven't forgotten. "My younger brother wonders ‘why don't we run the Eric Hoskins play?'" older brother said. "I think about it, every time they throw me the ball just try to make the catch and go straight upfield and get as many yards as I can."
As this season has developed and the offensive plans adjusted, State actually has halfbacks running routes that last year went to fullbacks. But Croom hasn't forgotten Hart and Hoskins by any means. "They're very valuable, especially talking about in special teams." Now the coach wants to increase their value in more offensive aspects…if the defense allows that is. Hoskins thinks last year's flashes of success have alerted the other side to keep an eye on him.
"I think it kind of has. But hey, I'm just one of the options. I'm just trying to do my job and get open. But I think they are watching me. I'll take it as a compliment!"
TOUGH TICKET: This is ‘homecoming' weekend of sorts for several Dogs who call the Atlanta area home. Such as WR Jamayel Smith, an East Point product and Riverwood High alumnus. Some home folk did get to watch him two years ago when State played in Athens, but this is an even bigger event for Smith.
"This is going to be the first time my whole family, my friends, my coaches, just everybody will get a chance to see me play." If, that is, they can gain admission to Grant Field, and as of Tuesday that was no sure thing as Smith has scrounged every available ducat from generous teammates. "It's real hard. My Momma has been calling people from Georgia Tech to see if they can get tickets. But everything is going to work out."
Smith certainly hopes the rest of this senior season works out better than the beginning. Through three games he has a pair of receptions for ten total yards. That's a far cry from his junior-year production when he tied for the team lead at 33 grabs and led the whole corps with 510 yards. And the season began with a bad night in Ruston when Smith dropped one pass and fumbled a ball away…nothing like what he expected of himself.
"Like I was always told every game is not going to be a good game. Once you have a bad game you've got to let it go and learn form it. Right now I'm just following in the footsteps of Brandon McRae, Aubrey Bell, and Co-Eric Riley, and just trying to hang in there."
Maybe Smith should take some comfort from the fact that his 2007 efforts have made him the wideout to watch early this season. Certainly he draws more attention from defenses, which naturally has opened the door—or at least some routes—for those comrades to make the catches. "Yeah, they say that all the time!" Smith says, able to enjoy the success of others even if at his statistical expense. "That's a good thing. We're just trying to win."
Still he, and the whole offense, realizes that for this squad to maximize the available talent and experience, Smith has to return to the big-play and big-game production of the past. Mississippi State is throwing the ball around a lot more this season, and might do even more of it this week if HB Anthony Dixon isn't able to play at Atlanta. Regardless though the goal is to balance things out so this offense can play up to the potential they see in themselves.
"Because I know we've got a good offense and I'm pretty sure a lot of other people know we've got a good offense," Smith said. "It's just up to us as a group to stick together and do what we have to do."
INJURY UPDATE: Going into Tuesday's afternoon practice, Croom listed HB Anthony Dixon again as day-to-day with his strained groin. TE Marcus Green (hip) and KO Eric Richards (hip tendon) will not play for a second weekend.
HB Christian Ducre (sore knee), SLB K.J. Wright (ankle) are expected to play. WLB Dominic Douglas (Achilles) is being limited this week.