McPhee Ready To Re-Win Role On Dog Defense

SEC Tournament? Hmmph, minor league stuff. The NCAAs? Merely something to keep those short britches boys busy during spring break. No, if its serious basketball you're after there was only one event of any real meaning this March. It was the hardcourt tournament for Mississippi State's football squad that concluded Tuesday. And won by the Goon Squad.

Seriously, that was the name of the squad which emerged victorious from the eight-team league. Centered around Pernell McPhee the Goon Squad rolled through their ‘postseason' to earn locker-room bragging rights far more meaningful than any frivolous net-cutting or trophy presentation. In fact McPhee was almost insulted any outsider had to ask, who won?

"Oh, of course my team!" the senior defensive tackle smiled, as if he'd just sacked a quarterback and recovered a fumble in the same motion. "We were 4-0 in the tournament and were 8-1, we only lost one game to K.J. Wright's team."

For public record, the 2010 Goon Squad roster consisted of McPhee in the middle with Marcus Green, Rob Elliot, Nickoe Whitley, Karlin Brown, Adrian Marcus, Sam Williams, William Shumpert. Whether or not there will be any trophy handed out or a banner hung was a tantalizing unknown. But rest assured, the Bulldog football squad took this event as seriously as any bubble-riding bunch in the country is conference tournament week.

"It was real exciting," McPhee said. "A lot of guys were really competing. Last year it was a big bang so this year people were dreaming of it. I couldn't sleep last night, thinking about waking up this morning and playing basketball!"

Soon enough the thoughts of McPhee and all Bulldog gridsters have to turn entirely to their main game, of course. In less than two weeks Coach Dan Mullen will put his spring squad on the practice fields for their 15 working days of 2010 camp. The session begins March 23 and concludes April 17 with the Maroon-White Game at Scott Field.

And lest any misunderstand, the Bulldog Basketball League may have been informal in nature but organized with a very real goal in Mullen's mind. Since taking charge of the Mississippi State program Mullen has stressed a competitive approach to anything and everything the Bulldogs do. Whether this meant challenging each other in the weightroom, keeping score of who was first and who wasn't every sprint, or which pairings achieved more in unsupervised throwing-and-catching drills, everything the Bulldogs do have a winner and a whole lot of guys who have to do better the next time, next drill, next day.

Yes, even on a basketball court.

"He told us we've got to compete no matter the situation we are in, for the win," McPhee says. "And we did more competitive stuff out on the field, like different teams. Coach was trying to get into our heads no matter what is going on we compete; no matter who we play against we compete. If it's some team we've never heard of we must go out and compete and protect everybody."

But when the Bulldogs return from next week's spring break the competition kicks up to a different level. Remember last spring when Mullen told his first State squad that there was no ‘history' for any of them and every job was entirely open? The same theme is being applied this second time-around, even for proven play-makers like McPhee. For that matter the senior d-end has a double-challenge in this regard because he is also making the on-field acquaintance of both a new coordinator in Manny Diaz, and his new defensive line coach Chris Wilson.

So, here he goes again, having to impress guys who don't really care what he's done in the past. In fact, McPhee said—only half in jest—that isn't even assured of being at his listed end position at this point. "Coach Diaz said he's going to let me play defensive end," he grinned. "At 285. I weight in yesterday at 283 and I've got to be at 285 by tomorrow morning."

Of course getting to 285 won't be any big, so to speak, challenge. It's staying there over summer which has McPhee already making his dietary plans. "Eat real good, stay in shape, don't eat all that fat food. I've got to stay off the steaks and chicken and try to eat a lot of salads and stuff like that." If one wonders how he regards this, no, it isn't a sacrifice at all. Because just last week McPhee was watching the NFL combine and judging what the top defensive linemen looked like. Being in that sort of shape is a fine motivation. "When you think about the money those guys are making, it's worth it."

With two new bosses on defense McPhee can't offer too many details about the spring practice planning. Though, fortunately, the theme is a good bit simpler for the big guys up-front than what the linebackers and defensive backs are going to be learning. In fact Diaz himself has said his general scheme-them is straight-forward, that his job is lining up the best combination of defenders and saying sic ‘em.

"I know we're going to be a more aggressive, attacking kind of defense," McPhee said, another grin answering the question before asked. "Yeah, I like that!" So should every veteran Bulldog from a unit looking to improve their low SEC (though respectable by national standards) finishes in yardage, points, conversions, turnovers, etc.

"I think we've got like eight starters coming back, I know we've got a new defensive coordinator but he's putting it in basically like last year. I feel we're going to be real confident because of everybody we've played with and a lot of starters returning. And we're going to be way more experienced than last year."

Maybe a big bigger, too, despite the loss of Kyle Love and Charles Burns. Mullen and staff secured some sizable signees over the winter, most notably huge James Carmon. But McPhee cautions that anyone expecting the junior transfer to be just a space-filler is in for a, ahem, big surprise. "I can't wait to see him in shoulder pads. He moves pretty good without equipment on, he's toned-up and I didn't know he had that much speed.

"We played basketball this morning and he's got a little athleticism, he can jump. You'd be surprised a guy 6-7, 340 can dunk. He's pretty good. He says he's ready to go." It's saying something by the way that McPhee's team won the matchup because Carmon was a prep basketball star back in the day, too. That makes the victory even sweeter.

Just like the one with which Mississippi State capped Mullen's first season. Oddly, though, McPhee is one Dog not taking Egg Bowl memories into this spring's labors.

"I mean it's the past. You can't live off one game, just one game. We're looking for a bigger picture. We're looking for a SEC Championship or at least a big bowl game. I mean I loved it and hopefully we win it again next year. But to me, I try not to sleep on things like big wins, I try to let it go and prepare for the next year and the next game."

Next football game, that is. Though if the NIT is short a squad next week, there's a bunch of Goons who might be available…

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