Love Labors Toward Senior Year Kickoff

So what if his name isn't on the published list, much less the payroll? Kyle Love is still happy to accept both the unofficial title and the real responsibility given by his position boss some practice days. "Coach Turner tells the young guys ‘go listen to Coach Love, go talk to him, Coach Love go get ‘em'!" the senior relates. "And I'll grab them and tell them what to do and how to do it!"

OK. Defensive line coach Turner hasn't exactly turned his tasks over to a player. Nor does Kyle Love sit in on staff meetings and assist in game-planning. But it's a sign of the confidence Mississippi State in both the experience of the elder defensive linemen, and the potential in the underclassmen, that Dogs like Love are allowed to both make a play and have their say.

Or maybe it's just that Turner knows Love and senior classmate Charles Burns are tough guys to keep quiet for too long anyway. "Yeah, we are the oldest," says Love. "But we help the young guys out a lot, try to help Coach Turner out and make his job a little bit easier, and bring the young guys along. They're under our wings." And if one wonders… "Yeah, they listen to us!"

As he prepares for the 2009 season Love has a lot of good things to say. Just as importantly, he has many fewer discouraging words about his own senior situation. Because after a frustrating junior year in the Bulldog trenches Love likes his chances for a big upperclassman campaign. ‘Big' being an operative word given his listed 310-pound bulk which Coach Turner can line-up at either of the interior tackle positions. Love might start the season a bit under that weight, but he's surely in the finest condition of his college career after the rigorous summer sessions.

More to the point, he's feeling his very best too, as in pain-free. Practically. "Just a little bit," he says of those notorious big-toes that have caused such big problems for the big Dog. Doctors did what they could in 2008 to repair long-time issues with those digits, and Love played every game (two starts) in the rotation with a couple of sacks and two hurries.

But "I was in incredible pain last year," Love says. Now along with the old operations, the training staff has found a special pair of cleats that take some of the incredible pressures a 300-pound lineman puts on big toes with every step, much less every snap. Yeah, there are still twinges from the toes even in this footwear, Love says, but nothing compared to the past pains.

"Everybody sees it. I guess you could say it's painless now, I forget about it totally now because it's not as much pain as last year." Which in-turn means Love intends to be a pain to opposing offenses in 2009, whether stuffing his gap or giving a pass-rush push up the middle. Amazing how much better a big guy can play when he feels a little lighter on the toes, eh?

"It feels real good. Because I know last year wasn't a great year for me, I didn't do as good as I wanted to. I played the whole season through pain. This year, pain or no pain I'm going to play through it. The shoes are helping me so I'm going to give everything I've got and more for my last year."

With kickoff now less than two weeks off Love reports that the whole Dog defensive front has much more to give in '09. Thus far in camp Love and Burns, the old hands, have made up one tackle rotation; usually on the left-slot. That's just for listing purposes though because Turner wants his big bodies prepared to play either side of center, or for that matter right on top of the ball. During a summer talk, Love expressed his love for the odd-man front State showed occasionally in spring training. Now he reports that his wishes for more of that set are, at least sometimes, coming true.

"Oh, we've been doing a lot of three-man line in practice. We're pretty much going to be ready for anything that the offenses throw at us. If we go three-man we're going to be ready, if we go four-man we're going to be ready. So it doesn't matter right now." What matters is that after a few August weeks of added installments to coordinator Carl Torbush's playbook the defense has settled into something resembling a practice routine.

"I'm really relieved, because you can focus on simple things. It's easier for us." Just, he adds, not easier on the other guys. "It's going to be a lot of different looks. A lot of offenses aren't going to know what's coming at them a lot of times. It's going to be a lot of guys flying around."

Including a lot of interior linemen. Coach Dan Mullen has oft stated that his idea of a ‘starter' probably doesn't fit the traditional notions, and Love agrees that the tackle taking the first snap each series probably hinges on the situation more than anyone's individual status. What matters is State can put several big bodies in the middle of the line—or for that matter at either end—and get the dirty job done. Which is why Love doesn't mind at all sharing his spot with Burns.

"It's going to be a real rotation in games between me, him, and (Pernell) McPhee. Regardless of who is playing we're going to keep fresh bodies in, keep people rotation. And sometimes McPhee might have to go at defensive end, you might see McPhee, me, Charles, and (Brandon) Cooper or Ferg (Sean Ferguson); you never know what you might see." Well, other than some big Dogs going all-out after the ball. Especially transfer McPhee, who has more than lived up to junior college billing.

"I call him ‘Fire' because he's added fire to the defensive line!" Love laughs. "He gives us a whole lot of different looks against the offense because he's so versatile. He does a whole lot of things for us, we could put him at the end, we could put him at nose guard, anywhere and he's going to go play."

Love is ready to go play some football himself, saying how hard the coming dozen days will be to wait. A coolish turn in the August weather helps, as does a practice regimen that hasn't over-worked the defensive linemen. Not that these Dogs don't have to stay in game-shape when they do participate in drills. Love has come away with increased camp-respect for how Mississippi State's offense operates after chasing his counterparts around these past three weeks.

"I can tell you this: you're going to be in shape! You have to run, this offense makes you run, that's one thing I can say. They give us a lot of different looks; they give us power, they give us speed, so we're going to be ready for anything and any situation."

At the same time these Dogs continue preparing for as much as practical here in August. Including a couple of kids, if sizable specimens like Josh Boyd and Fletcher Cox can be called that. It requires a big ‘wing' to take these pups under, but Love has enjoyed the opportunity to play mentor for two talented youngsters. Very talented, he says.

"I love them! As freshmen they're on another level than most freshmen, they play at a high level right now and I'm happy that they are because we're going to have to use them. They're going to be up-to-par, put it like that!" Almost as much as he likes the trust his coaches show in letting Love do some player-to-player coaching. To the senior it is just repaying State for the patience shown him the past three seasons by various staffers.

"It feels pretty good because Coach Turner taught me so much. I thank him because he made me know the game. When he sees me talking to other guys he can trust me, I won't say I know everything he knows but he can trust what I'm telling them."

Something that Love freely tells is his desire to get on Scott Field and play a real game. It's a natural attitude after an intense preseason; just one that the real coaches are keeping on ‘mute' for the moment as final installation and polishing continues the remainder of this week. Love says he just has to be patient a little bit longer.

"I've been telling everybody I can't wait two Saturdays! But it's going good, Coach is not really killing us that much. He's keeping our feet under us and keeping us fresh, so right now we just have to keep moving forward, get the offense and defense going, and just get ready for the next game."

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