Outside The Helmet, November 9

Bully BarkLine, the radio show that is exclusively about Mississippi State athletics that airs every Tuesday night 7-8 at The Little Dooey in Starkville, has a feature called 'Outside The Helmet' which is produced each week by Bully BarkLine guest host Melissa Tomlinson. This past Monday, Melissa and I talked with football players Eric Hoskins and Quinton Wesley.

Melissa: Are we preparing for Alabama like they are just another football team?
Eric Hoskins - "Yeah we are treating this game like they are any other team because it's not about them. It's more about us trying to get ready mentally and make sure we go into the game focused on what we have to do so that we don't shoot ourselves in the foot."

Gene: Do you guys not even think about what fans and media are talking about - winning this game makes you bowl eligible? You are only human.
Hoskins - "Yeah, it's in the back of your mind, but, then again, you have to take one game at a time."

Gene: How do you take one game at a time?
Quinton Wesley - "We go out and mentally think about this week. We think about what we have to do all this week, therefore, we aren't thinking about next week. We are just thinking about Alabama."

Melissa: What are things you do other than playing football and taking care of your academics?
Wesley - "I watch BET music videos and hang out with my family and friends. That's just about it."

Melissa: Where is your family?
Wesley - "They are in Atlanta."

Gene: So, it's basically your friends here at MSU?
Wesley - "It's pretty much teammates, brothers basically ... brothers."

Melissa: That's what we hear over and over with each interview that we do. So, tell me about the brotherhood that you guys have here?
Wesley - "Right now, we are a lot closer than we were the last two years. If we need each other off the field, we will help each other. We look out for each other."

Gene: How did this team evolve into that type team?
Hoskins - "On the field you have to have each other's backs. And it just transferred off the field, not just football but personal issues, too. We feel like we can talk amongst ourselves and get the problems dealt with."

Gene: But what are some things that caused that closeness other than just having each other's backs?
Wesley - "It's like we wake up 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning and go out and run with each other. We have to push each other all the time. This year, during the off-season, we pushed each other. Everything we did was a competition. We competed in everything we did no matter what it was. Therefore, it made us form a bond."

Melissa: Quinton, I noticed that you have some marks on your jersey. Are those from today?
Wesley - "No, it's my practice jersey. There are some from today and some from the past."

Gene: Are some of them from Eric's helmet?
Wesley - "No, I haven't gotten a hold of him yet (both Wesley and Hoskins laughed)."

Gene: Quinton, you are from Atlanta, a city that's a lot bigger than Starkville. And you were highly recruited, so you could have gone to a lot of other places. Why Starkville?
Wesley - "Yeah, I could have gone to a lot of other places, but when I got here, Coach Croom, the rest of the coaches and the team made me feel at home. And I always told myself that I wanted to go to a small town and see how that feels. And the college atmosphere was great when I came on my visit. And I came more than one time. Every time I came I felt at home. Coming to Starkville I'm more calm and laid back; I don't hear too many sirens. In a big city you hear a lot of sirens. I don't miss those at all."

Melissa: Eric, we want to talk to you a bit about something that happened to you. The story is you had cancer. Tell us about that.
Hoskins - "Last August, I had gone on a routine physical at the team physical. And the doctor noticed that I had a knot in my throat. They didn't really know what it was so they set up a visit. When I went to the doctor they said it was a tumor developing. And it was throat cancer. When he first told me, I thought, 'cancer, I'm 20-years old and I have to worry about cancer.' That's a problem you think you will have when you are 50 or 60.

"After two surgeries, I went from 245 to 219. The only thing I could eat during that time was things like apple sauce, peaches, and grits - stuff like that."

Melissa: When you first found out, what were the first things you thought about?
Hoskins - "I thought football was over with. I guess you could call it being selfish because I had family to worry about, school work, but the first thing that hit my mind was football - would I be able to play football again? My mom helped me through it because I was depressed. My family surrounded me and they kept checking on me; they even came up here and I constantly talked to them about problems and issues. And my teammates and coaches. They were just right there the whole way."

Melissa: What did the doctors have to do?
Hoskins - "I just went in twice and they cut about an inch hole. The first time they didn't get all of it. I woke up with blood all in my nose. They told me I would have to go through it a second time. I really thought about it and thought that I have come this far so I was going to do everything that was necessary to get healthy. So, I went back the second time. Right now, I am still going through checkups every six months to make sure the cancer doesn't come back."

Gene: When did you have the two surgeries?
Hoskins - "I had two surgeries in August, 2006."

Gene: When were you able to play football again?
Hoskins - "In late September; a month later. I was going through full contact, but I wasn't full strength. I was a lot weaker after the surgery and a lot lighter."

Melissa: So, your main objective was to get back on the field. Walk us through what you had to do, mentally, to get back on the field in just one month.
Hoskins - "When I couldn't participate in contact work, I stayed in the film room. And stayed on the sidelines, watching what the guys did, trying to learn things to do. I couldn't do the physical part, so I tried to make up for it mentally, doubling my time in my mind to get ready."

Melissa: Have you even wondered why you?
Hoskins - "I guess everything happens for a reason."

Melissa: Avery Hannibal talked about his faith and how it helped him get through things. Did that happened to you?
Hoskins - "Oh yeah, I stayed in church. My mom makes sure of that. Her first advice to me was, 'tonight, get on your knees and pray about it.' And that's what I did. And everything just worked out."

Gene: Quinton, I noticed you were really listening to Eric with great intensity. What were you thinking?
Quinton - "I didn't even know about it. I thought he had mono. Personally, I don't know what I would have done. It is amazing that he did it. I had already thought of him as being a good man, but it made me think different - he is even more of a man because he was able to handle that. And like he said, everything happens for a reason. He kept God first and that is why he is in the situation he is in now."

Gene: So, are you going to hit him a little lighter than maybe you would have prior to knowing this (laugh)?
Wesley - "(Laugh) it's still the same, I am going to get him."

Gene: Quinton, describe Eric as a player?
Wesley - "I would say Eric is determined and he is dedicated. I have been thinking of him as dedicated because he is a walk-on player, first of all, and he's starting right now in the SEC. Every time I see him he is working hard. He's not cheating himself. Then, after hearing what he went through, that makes me believe that he's even more dedicated. He came back out here when he could have just given it all up."

Gene: Eric, describe Quinton as a player?
Hoskins - "He's a leader and, I'm going to use the same word, determined. I've seen some times when he was in a bad position where he could have easily given it up, but he didn't. And a lot of guys saw that. Now, he's starting to shine and be the true athlete that he can be. That is going to make the guys around him want to do the same thing."

Gene: What is your opinion of Coach Croom?
Hoskins - "He has affected my life tremendously. I was kind of a kid coming in here and he's made me a better man through the things he put me through. Even though he knew about the cancer, he never treated me different at all. If there was a task that he thought I could do, he expected me to do it. And I respected him for that. I've learned a lot since I've been here, more than any of my years playing sports - junior college, high school, everything. He's a great man."

Wesley - "I look at Coach Croom as ... like Eric said, he's a great man. I came in myself as a kid. And I went through a lot of things my freshman year. Right now, I look at everything different because of Coach Croom and how he takes us through things. That makes us stronger mentally. And that's what he is all about - being mentally strong. He's not only just a football coach, but he thinks about what is going to happen to you in the future and in life. He puts everything around life. He's making us think more than just about football, but what we want to do in the future."

Gene: Quinton, lets say you become an NFL player. Are you going to help Coach Croom and his program because of the things that he did for you?
Wesley - "Most definitely. I love this university. At first, I didn't like it too much because, like I said, I came from Atlanta and it was a small town. I didn't really like it when I first got here. But that was just being a freshman. As I've grown into the man that I am, I love this university. If God lets me make it in the NFL, I am going to come back and give back. If anybody sees me on campus, they see that I have a big number 99 Mississippi State shirt on. I love this place. Anything I can give back, I will. That's why we come out and work so hard. We want to give this university what it's never had. We are trying to make something special happen around here."

Gene: So, you are a Bulldog for life?
Wesley - "A Bulldog for life until death do us part."

Gene: What are your thoughts about that question?
Hoskins - "I have pretty much been a Bulldog all my life. To come in here on Saturday and see my brother (Dicenzo Miller) play, I was a big fan anyway. And the university is a big part of my life right now. Giving back, most definitely. I can't wait until I have graduated, then come here for Homecoming, back to a winning program that you know you had a big part in changing it. That will be a great thing."

Gene: Is that something you guys take a lot of pride in, changing a program that was down and is now on the upswing?
Wesley - "We take more than pride in that. It is a great feeling right now. But we don't let that get to us. We know we've won more than three games this year. Right now, we are trying to get these last three games, really last four games because we are going to a bowl game. We are trying to make some history."

Gene: Speaking of history, as an African-American, how important is it to you to know that you are helping another African-American be successful as a coach in the SEC? Do you see it as helping other African-American coaches yet to come?
Wesley - "I think about that a lot. Right now, me personally, I feel I am part of history because I am playing for the first black SEC head football coach. And he played for Paul 'Bear' Bryant. Coach Croom, he has a big name. When I'm home in Atlanta and I go see somebody, they are always talking about Coach Croom, Coach Croom. They always talk about Coach Croom. And the more wins he gets, the more love he will get."

Gene: Does Coach Croom talk about Bear Bryant much to you guys?
Wesley - "Almost everything he does is like Coach Bryant. He mentions him a lot. He has a lot of respect for Bear Bryant."

Gene: Fifteen years down the road, what will it be like knowing you were here when Coach Croom first started his career?
Hoskins - "It is not only going to be nice to talk about, but you can tell the people who want to know about him the things that we went through, personnally, and the way he changed our lives."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by email at swindoll@genespage.com.

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