Media Days are typically regarded as ‘kickoff' to the new SEC pre-season, and for his part Mullen used this edition to expedite Relf's own preparations. Call it getting him in ‘post game shape' since whatever the final score the quarterback is supposed to meet the press afterward. Thus the head coach tabbed Relf to face several hundred media members prowling the Wynfrey Hotel in literal packs. Give the fourth-year junior credit for handling the pressure with aplomb, not even calling on starting offensive guard Saulsberry to provide any protection.
"I feel like today starts my introduction," Relf said. "It's a challenge that I had to face; starting quarterback, everybody looks at me. I don't really care about the attention, but the attention is going to be on me anyway. They're always going to look at the quarterback. I have to always be a leader, on and off the field."
That is a 2010 fact. Demands on any college quarterback are stout enough already, but in the case of Relf there is a special level of responsibility. After two varsity seasons as a redshirt reserve, then a substitute-turned-alternate in '09, now he is taking control of the Bulldog offense. Note, truly taking, not simply being handed the top slot on the depth chart by virtue of being the only game-experienced triggerman on the roster. Relf solidified, then strengthened #1 status with an impressive spring session and has continued to set a new, confident tone all summer.
"I feel I'm more of a vocal leader, whereas last year I was like a laid-back type of guy. But it's something about me when I step on the field. I just have a passion for football, you know. I want to be that vocal leader, I think it's time for me to step up. On and off the field, doing everything right."
Certainly Relf would have gotten the vote of Bulldog fans following his superb second-half showing in the Battle for the Golden Egg. He'd subbed-in during the second quarter and steadied the State offense already; but after halftime Mullen put the outcome in Relf's hands. Feet, too, as he rumbled through the Rebels for 131 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. The openings on either corner were wider because of two timely, if also lucky, touchdown tosses in the third period.
Mullen carried the Golden Egg, and later Anthony Dixon earned the state's top college player trophy. Yet maybe the biggest winner that day was Relf himself. "It meant a lot to me," he said at Hoover. "And it meant a lot to get that Egg back! It gave us a lot of confidence." Interestingly, though, Relf claims he already had full faith in his ability to play and win at this level. He is almost insulted by media queries suggesting it took winning that end-of-year game to earn his place in the program's plans.
And he surely had a lot of chances at the SEC meet to be so insulted. The implication is that to league media at least he still has much to prove. Again to Relf's maturing credit, he shifts the emphasis into what he has to improve now that he is top Dog on offense. "When that game was over I just wanted to work hard. That's why we're working so hard in the summer, to try to make it to a bowl game. Better yet, to try to challenge for the SEC championship."
"I still think I'm the same guy. Confident. Out of the ten games I played I was confident when my time came I was ready to go out there and make a play."
Just don't get the idea Relf takes starting status for granted. After three waiting and working for this job he is not relaxing now that his name is first on the position chart. Whether in the weightroom, on the track, or in unsupervised practicing, there are a couple of younger pups to keep the veteran on his cleat-toes.
"I'm giving 100% every day and competing with Tyler (Russell). Because it only makes me better. And it makes him better too. He's getting better by me going out there and competing each and every day." What about the newest kid in town? Yeah, Relf is impressed. "Dylan (Favre) has developed and I think he's going to be great. All three of us are competing, you know. And may the best man win!"
With pre-season only 11 days away there is no doubt among those close to the program who is the best quarterback going into training camp. For that matter most regard Relf as the best running back on the '10 roster; he netted 500 yards even last year with a 6.6 average gain that outpaced even Dixon (5.4). By the way, Relf is actually bigger now than Boobie.
"I'm 245 now," he said, which is up five pounds from his playing weight last fall. "But I'm about 15% body fat." That career-best condition somehow makes it look as if Relf has actually slimmed-down a bit; not so, he's just moved the muscle around his 6-4 frame. The result is impressive to say the least. "People can't believe I play quarterback. They think I play defensive end or something like that." Which he could, you know; Relf did play that position in junior high after all, along with some tight end. That was when father Dennis advised moving to quarterback.
Well, ‘advised' isn't a fair description of how the former Miles College player motivated his talented younger son during long summer days in Montgomery. "He always pushed, pushed, pushed, pushed me. And I was in love with football. My Mom told me go for your dreams and give 100%, and that's what I did." The Relf family literally conducted their own two-a-day camp with morning and evening sessions, and on his own Chris would throw the football in trash cans. "Dad told me one day I was going to thank him for that!"
It's Mississippi State which now should be grateful. By the way, the then-Bulldog staff of Coach Sylvester Croom was in so early on Relf that he said he had his offer in the 11th grade; thus recruiting never became too distracting. The irony is that staff signed a prospect who had practically no experience in a pro-style offense, with intentions to long-term develop.
So consider it a great break for Relf when Mullen took charge and introduced a spread scheme far better suited to his talents. "The offense in high school was kind of similar to the one I'm running now, it's just a little more advanced. But in high school we ran kind of a mix of the wing-T and the spread." Never mind the technicalities, the valid point is that Relf is an easy fit into adaptable spread concepts.
Funny thing, though. Relf is still coping with critics of his pure passing skills. It all began way back in seventh grade and continues today. In fact Relf insists he is as much a passer as a runner.
"I never had any questions about my throwing ability because I know what I can do." His goal is now to prove it to the SEC-world by doing a lot more in the air; to that end he has thrown at least three days each summer week refining timing and technique alike. "I think throwing is just a mechanical thing, something you have to practice each and every day. So I work on following-through, slapping my hand out of the way just as Coach (Les) Koenning tells me to do. Just doing the little things to get better."
This matters because it reminds that Relf does not rate himself a finished product after just one year in Mullen's gameplan.
"Being a quarterback you never stop learning. And I think I had to learn a lot the past few years. I think I've developed myself into a SEC quarterback now."
Based on his Hoover performance those trends are encouraging. OK, he admits he was "a little shaky" on the flight over, not aided by well (?) intended teammate's linguistic advise. But over the course of two whole hours making the Wynfrey circuit, talking by-turns to on-air and in-print interrogators, Relf kept his poise in the press-pocket and didn't even break a visible sweat. If anyone was looking to score a scribe-sack they left empty handed.
"It's exciting. Also a little frustrating, all the questions," Relf admitted. And the best part? "It's over!"
Yeah, ‘cuz with Media Days obligations over Relf's attention can turn totally to preparing for the real games. The post-games, too.
Video of Chris Relf at SEC Media Day -