A Q&A With Sophomore Center J.C. Brignone

A question and answer session with Mississippi State sophomore center J.C. Brignone.

Alabama has an experienced offensive line, including their tight end, that consists of 3 seniors and 3 juniors. Mississippi State, on the other hand, will probably start an offensive line this weekend that consists of 1 true freshman, 2 redshirt freshmen, 2 sophomores and a junior. And Coach Croom considers the Alabama offensive line to be the heart beat of this year's Alabama team. So, I guess you could say the young Mississippi State offensive line is the heart beat of this year's MSU team. Does that scare you a little bit considering how young the line is?
J. C. Brignone "When you point it out like that, yeah, it could be a little scary, but it doesn't scare me because we have been this young all year. We might have had our ups and downs playing the guys who we have been playing, but as young as we are, we are taking care of the business that young guys are supposed to take care of. I think the more games that we have played, I think the offensive line has grown up a lot for being how young they are. That's just like the Alabama line - they have been there for the last three years. They were in the same situation that we are in. We look forward to being an offensive line like Alabama's in the future."

Why do you think this MSU offensive line can be as good as the Alabama offensive line in the near future?
"I think with the experience that we are getting as young guys, you can't get anything but better. With more experience and as we get bigger, stronger and faster, I think we can be one of the best offensive lines in the country."

Coach Croom thinks you and Derek Sherrod can not only be good offensive linemen, but you two can become great offensive linemen like David Stewart was. But he doesn't think you two realize that yet. If you agree with his assessment, what do you have to do to become great?
"I had a meeting with Coach Croom and he said the same thing to me that he told you. I don't think I have hit on all cylinders and I'm still playing like a young guy. I haven't played at 100% yet. I still have bad snaps. That's one thing I really need to work on is to be able to snap the ball where it's second nature to me. There's also times I didn't get a block when I knew I could make the block. When you get to the point where you want to be the best, you have to believe you can beat the best. And when I had the meeting with Coach Croom, it really caused me to turn loose. And since then, I've tried to be the best center in the country."

What are you doing to help you become the best?
"I don't think it was my playing that he was talking about but my mindset of what I wanted to be and how far I wanted to take this. Our offensive line has had a lot of ups and downs. I think he believes I can become one of the leaders of this offensive line and could help them keep from having those ups and downs. To do that, I have to become a stronger person with my mindset."

A few fans on my website write that this MSU offensive line is simply not very good. How do you answer that comment?
"I read the forums on your website. A lot of people don't realize that a lot of the players do look at the forums and read what is said. I understand what they are saying, but it still hurts. But being a fan of an NFL team, I get upset when that happens and they lose. So, I see, as a fan, how they feel.

"But I know one thing about our fans and that is they still see that we are playing and are not giving up. That's one thing that I have read. And we haven't given up. We still want to be the best. It hurts to lose. We don't like to lose. Adam (Carlson) doesn't miss field goals on purpose. I don't miss a block on purpose. Tyson (Lee) doesn't make mistakes because he wants to. We are trying to do the best that we can. And as a young offensive line, we are doing our best. We are trying hard. We are going to play our hearts out. No matter what happens on the field the rest of the season, we are going to play our hearts out. We haven't played our best game yet. And when we play our best game, they are going to know we have."

Do you think this group of players on the offensive line not only have the heart, but the talent to be a great offensive line?
"I do. I think the young guys that we have coming up with Tobias Smith, Templeton Hardy and Phillip Freeman, I think there will be enough talent to have two offensive lines playing next year. And a lot of teams don't have that. Experience is a big thing, though. And a lot of us still have to get that experience. I still have to get more experience playing center. I've only played nine games at center."

I don't really know if it's due to the offensive line, the tight ends or the quarterbacks or a combination, but there have been a lot of sacks this season, 23 total. What causes a sack to happen?
"In the SEC you have big guys who can run, guys that are 290 pounds and run like receivers. When you have a defensive end that lines up against a young tackle, a young guard or a young center, it makes you nervous. Those guys are good and they are going to make plays. But we try to make our blocks. But somebody is going to win or lose."

Why is it so tough to play offensive line in the SEC?. Why is it that experience is so important at that position?
"I don't like to make excuses. If you give up a sack, you give up a sack. If you make a bad play, you make a bad play. But we play against some of the best players in the country. Most of the guys who we play against will play in the NFL. We are a young offensive line playing in the SEC and we are going against guys like Tyson Jackson, Terrence Cody, people who are pre-season or mid-season All-American candidates. It takes time for us to realize our potential. You can't just throw people in the fire and expect them to be good. It takes time. But we will play as hard as we can while we get there."

Since you read the forums you know that some people are critical of Coach Croom. How do you respond to that type criticism?
"I see some people on the forums who say hateful things about him. But last year he was the SEC Coach of the Year. You don't go one year knowing what you are doing to not knowing the next."

So, what is the difference between winning 8 games to winning 4, 5 or, at the best, 6 games?
"I think we have the same teams this year and last year, but my freshman year we lost a lot of games by 1 or 2 points, games that we should have taken advantage of but we didn't. We have to be able to finish teams off."

You say the teams are the same, but that doesn't factor in all the injuries and players being suspended or removed from the team. Is that not a factor on this year's team?
"It is a big factor, not just due to injuries but to dumb things as well. But like Coach Croom said, we are treating it just like they were hurt. It's football - you always have the chance of losing your best people. And you have to do what you can with the people that you have."

But when you include all the injuries, the players who are suspended or were kicked off the team, about 25 to 30% of this year's two-deep depth chart have not been available.
"In a nutshell, with all those 30% gone, another 30% of young guys have come in and are stepping up. And with these young guys who are getting playing time right now, they will be veterans next year. They will be ready to go. They won't be nervous. They won't have that freshman feeling. They won't hit that wall because they've already hit it."

One of those young guys is freshman tight end Nelson Hurst. In your opinion, how has he done this season?
"He has done a lot for us. He came in early and did what he had to do - learn the plays. I know it has been tough for him and (true freshman) Kendrick Cook. For two young guys to play tight end, that's a big deal because a lot of the plays in our offense are based off of our tight ends. And to have a big, blocking tight end is a big deal for us. Those three guys that we had last year, they were very experienced. And that's what we are trying to build with the young tight ends that we have. Nelson and Kendrick have very bright futures here and are going to be big-time playmakers."

Getting back to what a few fans are saying about Coach Croom, does that personally hurt you?
"It does a lot. One of the main reasons why I came to Mississippi State was to play for Coach Croom. He is an awesome person. He has been there during everything that I have gone through with (Hurricane) Katrina, with my Dad dying ... he has been there like he was another father. My wife knows that, my whole family knows that. When they talk about firing him or getting rid of him, it hurts me real bad because I want him to be my coach. I want to play for Sylvester Croom. And I think all the guys want to play for him.

"He is an awesome person and an awesome coach. We aren't having the best year, but that doesn't mean we have to get rid of our coach. I think he has turned this entire program around into something that this program needed. We needed the good character people. We needed people writing letters about the good character of the players. That means a lot not only to the football program, but to the entire university."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by email at swindoll@genespage.com.

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