I really thought you had several great scrimmages during the spring. Do you feel you accomplished what you wanted to during the spring?
"I thought I had an alright spring. It could have been a lot better. I could have improved on my speed a little more."
You are backing up senior T.J. Mawhinney. With you two, MSU should have a pretty good combination at that position?
"T.J. is a pretty good linebacker. I think I'm pretty good myself. So we should be really strong at the middle linebacker position."
Coach Cooper started something called the Black Shirts. Is that going to be something all you guys on the defense will be striving to make, sort of like the Iron Dogs?
"Yes, it is sort of like Iron Dogs. It will be something that will make us work harder and want us to get better. It will be a good feeling to make Black Jersey."
Will it be something that is just a spring thing or will it also be done during the fall?
"It will done throughout the fall, too."
Did he explain how you can make it?
"He didn't really explain how you make it. I think all of you have to vote on you. You have to show hard work and that you can be a player on the field who can make plays."
During the first spring practice of the year, Coach Cooper stopped practice and disciplined a defensive player who was on the sidelines at the time for saying something to one of the offensive players after he dropped a pass. Was that his way of showing you guys that MSU would be a more disciplined team this year?
"Yes, he brings a lot of discipline to the table. It has been a lot different. We are expected to be disciplined throughout the program, in the weight room, cleaning up the locker room, and carrying it onto the field.We know we have to be more disciplined. The more disciplined we are, the better we will be as a team. "
You came from a big-time winning program, Clarksdale High School. Was discipline something that they had that helped them become such a winning program?
"Yes, it was pretty stiff at Clarksdale. Coaches didn't tolerate missing practice, or you not doing what you needed to do in school, off the field. They would discipline you in a heartbeat."
As a linebacker, what do you think about the new scheme that Coach Cooper has brought with him?
"I love it. It gives the linebacker the chance to make a lot of plays."
Couldn't a linebacker make a lot of plays in the other scheme, too?
"You could, but it just feels different, trying something new out. Having the four d-linemen puts more pressure on the quarterback and that takes pressure off the linebackers. With Joe Lee's defense, a lot of the blitzing came from the linebackers. With the 4-3 defense, the pressure that came from the linebackers comes from the four front."
Based on the spring, it looks like you are thriving in the new defense.
"Yes, I love it. It puts a player in the position to make plays. The more plays I can make, the better."
How much will you guys miss the leadership of Mario Haggan? Will you guys be able to take up that leadership slack?
"For sure. Although Mario was a great leader, we had other great leaders. And we have emerging leaders coming up such as (juco transfer)Chris Swain. He is a great leader. Darren Williams is a great leader. Jason Clark is another one."
Last year, the players were talking about how MSU would have a better team, but you still only won 3 games. How do you convince MSU fans that this team really will be better than last year's team?
"The attitude. One three-win season we could deal with, but two three-win seasons, we can't deal with that. Having a third three-win season, we can't have that on our backs. This has put us in a position where we have to win so that we can get this program back to the heights where it was. We won't settle for less."
Have the new coaches help you start believing more in yourselves?
"Yes, each coach brings a new dimension to the game. They bring great discipline but they bring their great knowledge to MSU. It is a better overall atmosphere."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher and owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial site for Mississippi State sports since October, 1996. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org