Because it had been two seasons, since mid-2006, that he had been on field as a starter, and then as a halfback. Now he's lining up in front or beside that position-player…and is happy to do so. "It means a lot to me," Stallworth said. "Coming in as a freshman I played mostly running back and then getting injured, trying to come back after that, it was kind of hard to find my spot on the team. When I actually found it, it's a great experience playing both fullback and running back. It's a good experience for me and I'm glad to do it."
Especially since it's taken so long to find his best role. Stallworth played in eight games and started three times as a true '06 freshman. An injury knocked him of the last three games that year, off-field issues dogged him during the off-season, and in 2007 he had to settle for reserve snaps on offense and kickoff coverage duties. Besides more health problems last spring Coach Sylvester Croom also thought that Stallworth pledging a fraternity contributed to the distractions this Daphne, Ala., native was dealing with.
Now Stallworth has battled his way back into the picture, and lineup. "Just hard work, trying to impress Coach," he said. "And I guess I did a good job impressing him." Really though Stallworth had been doing that for a month. Since the LSU game, when he was barely kept out of the end zone on a ‘hot' route catch, he has pulled in nine balls for 120 yards and a 13.3-average that is better than most MSU wideouts. He has yet to take a handoff, but that is likely coming ‘back' his way again.
"With Arnil in there that gives you added flexibility, to play your base formation but also to break it or to go in motion," Croom said. "He's playing better than he has before. He's smart, he's always been a good receiver and a good route-runner. And he just has a lot common football sense. He knew with Anthony Dixon at halfback he wasn't going to play a lot there, but having him and Dixon on the field at the same time he's been able to slip out and do some things."
Such as a ‘wheel' route Stallworth ran in the MTSU game that had him open on the sideline. Lee didn't have a chance to make that throw under pressure, but it's sure to be used again. And don't be surprised if Stallworth lines up as a true halfback at some point again. "We use him as a utility guy and as we've started to improve on offense he's been a large part of that," Croom said.
Stallworth says he isn't concerned which spot he takes a stance in, though it's easy to tell which he prefers. He'll play fullback as needed, though "The blocking aspect…" he says. "I'll do it! I like running back more because I played it more, but it doesn't make much of a difference to me."
Then again, why not let the 235-or-so Dixon line up ahead and block for the 200-pound Stallworth, just to be fair? "We mess around in the meeting rooms about that!" Stallworth grins. "We came in the same time, it's a great experience. I love the guy, he's a fun guy to be around and he's a hard worker. He brings a lot of energy to the game."
NEED FOR SPEED: With the redshirt removed, WR Arceto Clark is being worked further into Mississippi State's offensive plans for these four remaining SEC contests. Whatever the fuss over his coach's decision, Clark himself had no reservations about going into this first college game last Saturday. Nor does he now.
"It felt great, a freshman to get out there and help the team out. Once I got the first play out of the way, the butterflies or whatever, I was ready to roll." That first play turned out to be State's third offensive snap against MTSU, with Clark coming from his slot-position to take a handoff. It netted just two yards, and Clark didn't touch the ball again, though at least two pass plays were called for him but the Raider defense was wrong both times. Still stats aren't any reliable indicator of the plans for this rookie.
"He's a guy who with the ball in his hand can hit a home run," Croom said. Which was exactly why Clark was activated so late in the freshman year. State had hoped to get big hits, or plays that is, from TE Marcus Green, HB Robert Elliot, and WR O'Neal Wilder. Injuries mean none are available for November, so Croom called on the most promising young body available to fill the velocity-void.
"Last week he told me I was going to get a little playing time," Clark said. "I was very excited and just ready to go. I'd been working hard at practice and when he told me he believed in me and I believed in myself. All season I was thinking yeah, I'm getting ready for next season or whatever. And it just came up on me, it was my time. I'm fine with that."
It's not as if Clark hasn't had to adjust college-course already. He was signed with the idea of putting his speed to best use as a cornerback, and Croom believes Clark would be a good one. But looking over high school tapes during the spring, the coaches also saw how productive he was working out of slot-sets. Cornerback depth was already good for 2008, so…
"He called me over the summer and asked would I play receiver," Clark said. "I said anything for the team. It was a little tough but it's going pretty good right now."
And should only get better, Croom thinks. Clark wasn't as advanced as classmate Delmon Robinson in August camp, so the other freshman got the first nod. Since then though Clark has come on strong as a receiver, and as a candidate to return kicks where he has practiced for weeks behind Derek Pegues. Croom says he won't force-fit Clark into either situation too soon, but he shouldn't have to either.
"And he's got a ‘quiet arrogance' about him," Croom said. "We need guys like that involved. He wasn't ready to play earlier, it just takes time. I don't see any risk in playing him, if it is a risk it's that practice to game is different."
SEEING RED(SHIRTS): Of the 21 scholarship true freshmen on the 2008 roster, eight have seen action. Clark was the latest to be activated and it had been three games since a true rookie debuted, TE Kendrick Cook at Georgia Tech. DE Sean Ferguson, a four-game starter, six-game starter TE Nelson Hurst, and rotation WR Delmon Robinson are seeing the most action, while S Charles Mitchell is a backup ‘nickel' safety and regular on kickoff coverage. LB Bo Walters plays on some special teams and in the last game stepped in at middle linebacker for a couple of snaps when the starter was hurt. DT Josh Jackson has played in two games, though since then State's defense has gone almost entirely to a three-man line and his opportunities have been fewer.
"We're playing eight, and three of that eight we didn't intend to play," Croom said without specifying. He likely meant the need to use Cook, Hurst, and now Clark due to injuries that have meant lack of depth, or some skills, at their positions. At the same time Croom is frustrated that players like Robinson, Mitchell, Jackson, as well as a number of second-year freshmen linemen on both sides haven't been able to see the field as much as hoped.
The reason is obvious: State has either trailed in games or not been far enough ahead in wins to substitute freely. Thus, "We haven't had a chance to get a lot of our younger guys playing in game situations."
First-year frosh who have yet to play are: WR Terrance Davis, DB Louis Watson, CB Corey Broomfield, RB T.J. Patterson, DE Nick Bell, LB Mike Hunt, DE Trevor Stigers, DT Devin Jones, OG Tobias Smith, OT Templeton Hardy, WR O'Neal Wilder, WR Charles Bailey, and DE Shane McCardell.
OG Smith of course is out for the year after a serious ankle injury in August; he would have been running #2 at guard barring the bad break. Wideouts Wilder and Davis have lesser injuries but fell far behind as the season progresses. Watson and Bell have dressed for games without playing, yet.
INJURY UPDATES: OG Mike Gates is still in limited-yellow but was taking part in more drills as the second right guard. He hopes to play this week after missing the MTSU game.
WLB Karlin Brown (shoulder) was also limited in Tuesday work, but is expected to start this weekend. TE Nelson Hurst also has a mild shoulder separation and was red-cross status today, not practicing with his unit. LB Terrell Johnson was sidelined another day by the scratched left eye.
PK Eric Richards (hip) did not practice again today, nor was he in the training room. S Derek Pegues (thumb) has not missed any work the first two days.