"It's just something I have to do every day," he shrugs at suggestions this is a lot on his ‘off' season plate. So, Relf just does it. With this crucial difference here in June 2010: whatever Relf does now is from the special status of a starting Southeastern Conference quarterback. He's used to workouts and unsupervised drills already, now he is getting used to being ‘the man' in Mississippi State's offensive gameplans.
Good news. Such stature seems to fit this fourth-year junior quite comfortably.
"Oh, I'm very confident when I get out there and do my thing," says Relf. "My team believes in me, I believe in myself, and that's the main thing."
Belief in Relf has grown all across Bulldog Country since his feats of last November 28, when he took over the offense and took charge of the Egg Bowl. In a second half State folk will fondly recall for years to come, the number-two quarterback became number-one playmaker. After halftime Relf ran 11 times for 75 yards and one touchdown, and completed three of his four passes with a pair of touchdown tosses. Six of his rushes moved the chains, too, as much key to State's victory as the actual scoring plays.
That one outing, as well as the fact he is the only seasoned quarterback on the 2010 roster, meant Relf would be atop the depth chart in spring. Fortunately for Coach Dan Mullen's plans the veteran practiced that way all camp and solidified his position. It is the same sort of theme Relf has in mind for summer, and so far all is operating according to schedule.
"It's going pretty good," Relf says. "We've been out here working hard each and every day. Everybody is giving 100% in workouts and it's going pretty good."
The structured workout regimen was described by strength Coach Matt Balis in a Dawgs' Bite story last week. Relf has obviously benefitted from this particular program. He says he is holding the weight steady at the spring practice number of 240 pounds, yet that bulk has been markedly re-shaped by Balis so well Relf could claim to be a linebacker and it would be believed. And he's not a bit bothered that he presses down the scale a few pounds more now than even Anthony Dixon did last year. That muscle comes in handy when it is time for Relf to tuck the ball and crash at a corner for hard yards.
But of course Relf's off-season objective is not honing his running skills. These summer days, morning or afternoon or even both, are about becoming a polished college passer. Which Relf says he is doing, as demanded by the coaching staff and teammates alike.
"Oh, I'm getting better each and every day. We throw every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and just come out here and do what I have to do."
There's lots of throwing and growing to be done. That Egg Bowl was easily Relf's most effective afternoon in the air (3-of-5 total, 43 yards). And for the whole year, in alternating duty with Tyson Lee, he was a 53.7% passer for 283 yards and a positive touchdown/interception rate of five to three. That latter fact alone is reason for Mississippi State optimism.
But then the other fact is SEC defenses would rather have Relf holed-up in a pocket and looking around for a target rather than rolling to one side of the other with the option of throw-or-go. Goodness knows tacklers would rather hit Relf in the backfield than get hit by him on keeper carries. The quarterback and his coaches know this, too, thus their emphasis on making Relf a more accomplished passer.
"It's just something we go out and work on, throwing on our own," Relf says. ‘We' being himself, redshirt freshman backup Tyler Russell, and June newcomer Dylan Favre. All three have been able to schedule their working days together so as to learn from each other…though naturally much of the learning is by the two younger triggermen from their old Dog comrade. Relf knows more is expected of him as a veteran, and he is taking advantage of his superior experience to practice different things than he did last summer.
"I'm working on my steps. I pretty much know the offense now, so what I have to do is come out and work on my steps." By ‘steps' he doesn't just mean footwork either, though that is never to be taken for granted. Relf is applying his on-field experiences to the progression of steps required of State quarterbacks by Mullen and position Coach Les Koenning. Relf has never lacked for athletic ability and something good happens when he has the ball in his hands and his feet are moving.
The trick now is becoming a true quarterback before the ball is snapped into those hands; before putting the whole offense in motion. Relf reports progress is being made in this aspect, too, as he calls real State plays for his summer receivers. "I just tell them the route to run and that's what they do, they run a route and I throw it to them." Fans will be happy to hear that the catchers are doing their parts to make this a productive practice, too. "Right now all our receivers are looking good. Leon Berry, Chad Bumphis, Marcus Green, all of them."
By the way, while all an observer would see would be thrower and passer…Relf ‘sees' something else out there on the field. Relax, it's not the summer heat causing visions; this maturing quarterback is envisioning another team as he sets up for the snap and calls that route. Really.
"That's what I do, try to imagine a defense out there and run plays against them and try to execute," he says. OK, then, out of casual curiosity, what color uniforms are those ‘defenders' wearing? Relf grins again. "I can't say right now…Memphis!"
A wise call indeed. But then that is just what is now expected from Relf as he steps up to the lead Dog job for the Mississippi State offense. So, while he takes care of that human growth and development class on campus, Relf will keep working on those other credit hours on the practice field with his MSU classmates.
"It's good, just to get your timing down. That's the main thing we're trying to do right now."