August 6, 2011 10:07:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- Michael Carr may display the difference of being a confident sophomore instead of the confused freshman in a college football program.
At this point last season, the four-star recruit from West Point High School was having trouble on and off the field. Not only was Carr trying to get academically qualified, he also was struggling physically with the other newcomers who had gone through conditioning drills in the spring.
Last August, Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen was seen giving Carr water through a squirt bottle and trying to maintain whatever confidence was left intact for The Dispatch''s 2009 Large Schools Offensive Player of the Year and 2009-10 Athlete of the Year.
A lot of fans that expected big things from the highly recruited prospect would consider the 2010 season a lost year, but Carr disagrees.
"That humbled me and showed me everything was different now," Carr said. "Everybody took it as a bad thing, but I had to turn it around as a positive. That moment helped me develop as a player."
Carr went seven games without touching the football, but he had three tackles on kickoff coverage and a forced fumble to help preserve a 29-24 victory against the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Carr capped the 2010 season with three catches for 65 yards and a touchdown in a 52-14 victory against the University of Michigan in the Gator Bowl on New Year''s Day.
"If you work hard then you get opportunities like that," Carr said after the 2011 Gator Bowl. "It''s all about starting from the bottom and trying to find a way to get to the top."
This spring, Carr earned more opportunities as a flanker with the first-team offense as he continued to learn the playbook and to develop timing with senior quarterback Chris Relf.
"Michael has a much better understanding after coming in late and
there are still things we''ve got to clean up," MSU receivers coach Angelo Mirando said after a practice April 1. "Each scrimmage he has to develop into a five-more-snaps-a-game guy. He needs to be competing for a starting job this summer."
Entering his second fall camp, Carr has matured physically under MSU strength coach Matt Balis. That development has helped bring out the natural on-the-field talents he showcased while leading West Point to the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A state championship in 2009.
"Our team did a great job getting me better prepared, and I''m just thankful for the God-given talents I have," Carr said. "We''re looking forward to doing great things in 2011."
With MSU working in practices the past two days, Carr has become a favorite target for backup quarterback Tyler Russell on deep routes down the sidelines.
"(Carr) has done really well and he''s got a lot of improving to do,"
MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning said. "He''s working hard to get it done. It''s the first day he''s had pads. We''ll let you know."
MSU fans may see Carr touch the ball in the return game early in the season. Carr has shared kickoff and punt return duties with veterans Chad Bumphis, Johnthan Banks, and LaDarius Perkins in camp. Last season, Carr had 49 yards on three returns in games against the University of Alabama and the University of Arkansas.
"The coaches have done a great job of building my confidence, and I love them for that," Carr said. "Everything has gone back to normal and just clicked for me."