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MSU coach ready for new season

By By Marty Stamper / EMG sports assistant
Aug. 5, 2003
STARKVILLE Mississippi State head football coach Jackie Sherrill awoke Monday morning shortly after 5 a.m. ready to put back-to-back three-win seasons behind him.
"This is a time when everybody gets excited, but I'm more excited that this day is here than in a long time," Sherrill said at Monday's preseason press
conference on the MSU campus. "There are a lot of reasons, but the best reason is I can get lost in coaching players from the time I get up in the morning 'till the time I go to sleep.
"The anticipation of confirming what you think some of these players have done this summer, how much they have improved, which players of the newcomers will have a chance."
A 6-17 showing over the last two years is hardly any reason to generate
enthusiasm about the upcoming season. Last year's season highlight was a
29-17 victory over Memphis. Throw in NCAA visits to Starkville and it's easy
to see why hitting the field again would be a welcome relief for the Dean of
the SEC Football Coaches.
Sherrill, 73-65-2 in a dozen years at State, expects the 2003 Bulldogs to
reclaim their swagger from the late 1990s. A housecleaning among his staff
is one reason for renewed hopes for MSU.
Sherrill has performed resurrections before.
After going 3-8 in 1995 and 5-6 in 1996, State put together a four-year
string of 7-4, 8-5, 10-2, and 8-4 seasons.
"We have more ingredients today than we did back then," Sherrill said of a
similar turnaround this fall.
"This football team dressed out is a good-looking team. We'll be a
good-looking team stepping off that bus. We've just got to play like it."
All of State's players reported Sunday with the exception of incoming
freshman Rickey Wright from South Panola and 2002 team member Kamau Jackson.
Wright has yet to be cleared by the NCAA, while Jackson awaits an NCAA
ruling on receiving a hardship year after playing in just one game as a
freshman at Copiah-Lincoln Community College before returning home to help
his ill mother.
"Rickey is a matter of getting the correct information and I feel very good
that he will clear," Sherrill said.
"We are awaiting a decision on Kamau. Hopefully, they'll go ahead and let
him come. The ruling was that there was no precedent, but that's not the
case. After studying it, they found some basketball players that they did
this with.
"If they don't (give a hardship year), they have a lawsuit maybe that they
can't defend."
New NCAA regulations limit the number of two-a-days and prohibited freshmen
and other newcomers from reporting early.
"The camp will be different than any time before, it's like a new era,"
Sherrill said. "I like that it gives you more time to coach. It also gives
you more time to evaluate, gives you more time to make sure the younger guys
have an opportunity to play. In the past, you brought them in for those
three days and worked them. Then, all of a sudden, when the rest of the guys
came in, you kind of forgot about them. That doesn't happen now. Everybody
is being coached the same. They're in the same groups.
"Really the reason that they did it was to make sure we watched the players
in the heat. Certainly, it will make them a lot healthier.
"You are going to spend more time in meetings than you normally do, there
is more time for group work. There will be more one-on-one time."
Many of the younger athletes may find playing time quickly.
"This freshman, sophomore, and redshirt freshman class is going to win a
lot of games before they leave," Sherrill said. "The one area where they
could step in and play is in the secondary.
"I think we have more depth, we have some young players. Most of the time
players improve more between their freshman and sophomore years than the
rest of their careers."
State opens its 2003 season at home against Oregon on Aug. 30. The Ducks
cruised to a 36-13 win over the Bulldogs last year.
"We break our season down into months and it is the only game in August.
Therefore, it is important to have a winning August," Sherrill said.
"What you're looking for is to make sure the train has turned around and
how far has that train come back up the tracks. You want to measure how the
kids perform.
"It doesn't make any difference what you did last year. It doesn't make any
difference where you lined up in the preseason. What really counts is what
happens when you finish the year and that's important."