"I want to be at least 300, or above," the Coldwater, Miss., native explained. "Because dealing with the guys in the SEC or whoever we play guys are going to be very thick on the inside."
Saulsberry will certainly be in the thick of the action come the 2009 season as he takes his stance at offensive guard. It's a new job for the third-year sophomore, who only last fall started all dozen Dog games as the right tackle and acquitted himself well. And he admits that there was some adjusting required during March drills.
"For a minute it was kind of crazy, coming from the outside to the inside. The guys are bigger and a lot quicker with their hands." Still when April rolled around Saulsberry had settled in nicely to what most observers always figured was his ‘natural' position on the field. Maybe so, he agrees.
But whatever it takes for my team and whatever my coach asks me to do I'm going to do it." Besides, he adds, "If you're a player you don't worry about where you're going to be, when your name is called you've got to be accountable."
Beginning, or rather continuing, with the ongoing June regimen of weekday lifting and running. While there hasn't been a Bulldog who pronounced these summer exertions as easy—if any does he'll likely be rushed to the training staff for observation—every indication is that Coach Matt Balis really does push Mississippi State players to their off-season limits and then beyond. It's as much about strengthening minds as bodies if not more, and Saulsberry likes this approach…even if he's not politically-correct in evaluating the goal.
"It's a man's game, it separates the men from the boys is all it is." And does so with an all-time, all-out competitive attitude Coach Dan Mullen demands from Dogs in everything they do. It hasn't taken a relative youngster like Saulsberry very long to grasp why, too.
"Anything, any situation, it's always game-time so you always want to be mentally ready."
Of course the body has to be prepared as well and Saulsberry is taking care of that business. Those 300 pounds are distributed just right for what a modern-day guard is supposed to look like, and spring scrimmaging showed Saulsberry was making the physical transition with minimal fuss. (Of course if one likes irony, remember he showed up in 2007 as a premier defensive line prospect. "I had a dream to be the next Titus Brown!" he laughs. "But my dream was already cut." So if he wasn't making tackles last fall, playing tackle was a satisfactory change-of-plan. In fact he wouldn't mind if line coach John Hevesy plunked him down at center.
"I like everything!" he said. "But it's not about you all the time, you have to get ‘you' out of the way. You have to give an account for you for the team." Thus when almost three weeks into camp the line coach took the brand-new right guard and flipped him over to left-of-center, Saulsberry didn't question the sudden switch a bit.
"Wherever your coach says you fit at, you don't ask no questions. You say yes sir, come into the meeting room and watch film, take notes, and do what you have to do."
Speaking of doing what a Dog has to do, when Saulsberry talks of ‘accountability' or variations of the word he means it. This has become practically his own by-word whether learning a new position(s) in spring or setting a team-tone in the summer workouts. Maybe he came to campus looking like a tackler, but the previous two years have revealed the mind-and-heart set of a blocker.
"My attitude has changed. You can't say ‘I'm going to count on the other guy'. Because the other guy might be counting on you! So you've got to be accountable to everybody and everybody has to take care of their own accountability. When you come in you have to have an attitude that I'm ready to go, ready to do whatever it takes to win."
And in the thinking of this new State staff, winning starts with how their players approach off-field assignments. Most obviously in Balis' bailiwick there in the Rouse Weightroom. Saulsberry agrees that it's a grueling regimen, yet this strength/conditioning coach has scored points so to speak with the players simply by explaining things. Sure, he could bark orders and everybody would respond accordingly, yet there's something about being treated as working partners in this process that has encouraged State players to give their all and maybe a little more.
"I was always taught at a young age you do everything for a reason," Saulsberry said. "And it's a good think I like about Coach Balis. As long as you stay on his good side you'll be A-OK! But it's OK to ask questions. Because if you're going to be led you want to know why you're being led in that direction, where it's going to take you. We've got a good understanding with Coach Balis." Saulsberry also understands that the notorious spring mat drills aren't necessary here in summer, and while he did them well he is not complaining either.
"Plunking down on the mat takes a lot of energy out of you! But I liked it, I like the say Coach Balis thinks and the way he wants everybody's work ethic to be. He stays on the o-line and d-line always because we're the biggest guys on the team." As well as where everything starts. It's no coincidence that Mullen pays particular interest in how his biggest Dogs are doing in the lead-up to 2009.
"The o-line and d-line have to be the sound part of this football team," Saulsberry said. "Like Coach Dan expressed the other day, it's L.O.S., line of scrimmage."
On his own side of the L.O.S., Saulsberry has hit it off quickly with Coach Hevesy and the "down to earth" approach to blocking. Hmmm, is this another sign that Saulsberry really was meant to play on offense, that being business-like appeals to him? And the soph now talks of group trust and unit chemistry like a much older hand. Yet he really is very much a work still in ongoing progress with his best blocking days ahead. Saulsberry says the best, if also most painful, lesson in how to survive and thrive on this side of the trenches was administered by Georgia Tech d-end Michael Johnson last September in Atlanta.
"I don't know him but I'd sure like to thank him for his talent he showed me. When you come in from high school you think you're ‘the man' but when you come to the next level you're a man amongst men."
Safe to say as he matures Saulsberry has every chance to be ‘the man' at this level. Especially because instead of assuming he'd proved himself with one year of every-game starting, he is that much hungrier to be better. "It's that I'm never satisfied. I never think that I'm better than anybody, I never think that I'm just good enough to do this.
"Because I was always told by my old defensive coach, Coach (David) Turner, you can't afford to take a rep off. So you can't ever say you're too good to do this, too good to do that. You've always got to have the attitude where you're never satisfied."
Which means back to work on getting stronger, getting quicker, and maybe getting just a few pounds bigger, too."