One-on-One With Coach Croom

One-on-one with Mississippi State head football coach Sylvester Croom.

Individually, how have your young starters on the offensive line - J. C. Brignone, Derek Sherrod and Quentin Saulsberry - done this year?
"Right now, all three of them are playing very well. We expected Sherrod to play well. The only thing that has hampered Sherrod this year is the infection that he got that caused him to miss three weeks of practice and lose about 15 pounds. That got him off to a very slow start for the first three or four games. But he has really gotten his strength back and played very well against Tennessee and played very well last week. He is grading a winner every week.

"Brignone played extremely well last weekg, but he can get even better. Right now, it's up to J.C. how good he is going to be. Is he satisfied with just being good or does he want to be great? He has a chance to be special."

How close is he to being special?
"I think he's only playing at 70% of what he is capable of playing."

What is he not doing?
"There is an attitude that you have to have to be a truly outstanding football player. You can never be satisfied with anything less than perfection. And I think right now he's satisfied with just being good. But we have to get that changed."

In college, you were a center just like he is. And you were an All-American your senior year after being a good player prior to that. Do you see the similarities between him and you in how you progressed and how he is progressing?
"He is ahead of me. At first, you just want to be able to play, to be able to get the ball to the quarterback when you first moved in there. Then, there is a process.

"Being around a great player like John Hannah is what motivated me. I wanted to be better than John. And I had no where near the ability. But I saw John go from being a good player to being one of the greatest to ever play this game. And it was all about his attitude. He came back the summer before his senior year with his body trimmed down by about 20 pounds and with the attitude that 'if anybody gets in my way I'm going to take their head off.' And I learned from that."

You had Hannah. Who does J.C. have to motivate him?
"J.C. and Sherrod have to do it on their own. I wish they had been here when David Stewart was here because David was that kind of guy. He was an absolute perfectionist. I've got to get J.C. and Sherrod to take the attitude that they are going to be the best that ever lined up there. And if they take that attitude there's no telling how good they can be."

Is Sherrod closer to having that attitude than Brignone?
"I don't think either one of them are there yet. I think right now they are just trying to be good players. But I think it usually happens after a guy has played two years. And both of them are playing in their second year. They are getting recognition from people that they are good players. But to get better you have to perceive toward greatest. If you don't do that, then you will go back to being mediocre."

How has Saulsberry performed his first year?
"He has made tremendous improvement. Here is a good who is not good yet, but who is getting better. And he works like he wants to become a truly outstanding player. He already has that attitude. His motor runs high all the time. but he's just got so much to learn. But there's no question in my mind, if he stays healthy, he will be an outstanding player in time."

That's potentially three great players on the offensive line. That gives you a good nucleus.
"We have a very solid nucleus with those players. And we have some guys coming in. And we have Addison Lawrence, who, ability-wise, we are very impressed with. But, as of yet, he has not shown that tremendous desire to be an outstanding player. But he's getting better through repetition."

What about Dakota Merritt?
"Dakota is getting better, although his ability is not on the same level as the ones we have already talked about. But what we want from Dakota is to maximize the ability that he does have. He is a tough guy. And that will serve him well."

D.J. Looney is another young offensive lineman.
"D.J. is very athletic. He is another guy in that good, young nucleus of guys on the offensive line.

"And we are going to add to that nucleus with our recruiting so that, hopefully, we will build a dominating offensive line."

We've talked about the young offensive linemen that you have. You also have some really good young skill players on the offensive side of the ball, but all three of them are hurt. How much has it hurt you to not have O'Neal Wilder, Marcus Green and Robert Elliott available this year due to their injuries?
"Let me put it this way. I think you will recall that I said the number one thing that we needed is speed on the offense. That was the number one thing that we were lacking. Well, we are still lacking it. Why? Because it is in the training room.

"O'Neal Wilder is one of the fastest guys in college athletics. And I haven't been around a faster tight end than Marcus Green. Remember the play he made in our second game of the season against Southeastern Louisiana with a pulled groin and osteitis pubis? He had all of that and still made a 50-yard catch and almost ran it into the endzone. We had all kinds of things designed just for him. But that went out the window as soon as he left the gameplan. Robert Elliott was just starting to be the guy that we thought he would be. And he was in a position where he would be doing a lot of things that Arnil Stallworth is doing right now. Arnil is playing very well but there is that difference in speed because Elliott has a lot better speed. Those are the three guys that we were counting on to give us that change in speed."

The positive is that all three will be back next year.
"They will all be back because they are young guys. And one of the things that we chose to do, rather than trying to rush them back we told them we weren't going to let them back out there until they were absolutely 100%.

"In the case of Marcus we went through that same type injury with Omarr Conner. It's a long healing process. And we thought that we brought Omarr back too early. And we weren't going to do that with Marcus. He's not going to do anything until he's absolutely 100% well."

Obviously, Elliott won't play the rest of the season. What about Wilder and Green?
"Robert won't. And Marcus and O'Neal are done. We will end up redshirting O'Neal."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the sports network. You can contact him by email at

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