July 22, 2010 8:16:00 AM
David Miller -
HOOVER, Ala. -- Chris Relf doesn''t say much, and he''s fine with it.
Admittedly laid back and mellow, the Mississippi State quarterback is a beast when he tucks the ball to run. But even as he''s dragging defensive backs for extra yards, there''s never a sense he is overzealous or gets caught up in the moment.
Quiet confidence exudes as Relf enters his junior season looking to cement his place as MSU''s No. 1 quarterback.
On Wednesday at Southeastern Conference Media Days, Relf answered just as many questions about his even-keeled demeanor as his improved passing mechanics.
Being a vocal leader is essential for a quarterback, but Relf said he''s in control when he''s on the field.
"There''s something about me when I step on the field," Relf said. "I just have a passion for the game. I think I''ve been a vocal leader all the time."
To Relf, his lack of vocal presence on the field is a misconception, one in which he doesn''t put much stock.
After rushing for more than 500 yards and accounting for seven touchdowns last season, Relf feels more onus should be on his production than his vocal leadership.
"I''m going to always have to be a leader on and off the field," he said. "Out of the 10 games I played, I didn''t start. I sat on the sideline. But I was confident, and when my time came I was ready to go out there and make a play."
Relf''s shining moment last season came when he rushed for 131 yards and threw for two touchdowns in a 41-27 victory against the University of Mississippi in the Egg Bowl.
Most people remember the option runs that helped MSU rush for 317 yards that day, which pushed the Bulldogs to the top of the SEC rushing table.
That performance, combined with splitting time with Tyson Lee as the "running quarterback," helped Relf earn a label he has been trying to shake since he stepped on campus.
"What they''re trying to say is I can''t throw," Relf said. "I just use it as motivation. I always thought I could throw. Even in seventh grade, I was out there throwing to trash cans trying to get my accuracy down."
MSU coach Dan Mullen''s history of tutoring quarterbacks has lured a pair of Parade All-Americans to Starkville, creating a quarterback competition in which Relf is the elder statesman. The increased competition from redshirt freshman Tyler Russell and freshman Dylan Favre, coupled with Relf''s performance in the season finale, has created a more focused quarterback, Mullen said.
"After the last game of the season Chris has been completely different person," Mullen added. "His workouts, his approach to offseason conditioning and academics, his whole approach in January, and (his) demeanor has changed, and he really turned the corner after the last game of the season. He''s ready to attack his future."
MSU guard Quentin Saulsberry, who started every game last season and played with Lee and Relf, said Relf has the edge at gaining the starting job because of experience. The fact Mullen opted to bring Relf to SEC Media Days, an event that attracted more than 1,000 members of the media, is a signal he wants Relf to utilize his natural arm strength and rushing skills and become a dominant quarterback, Saulsberry said.
"There''s a lot of expectation," Saulsberry said. "Coach Mullen helps us with that and pushes us to another level where we have to take personal responsibility to set standards for ourselves. I see (Relf) coming in day in and day out, working with the receivers and he and Tyler going back and forth with each other. We have to care more and invest more than the coaches do, so I''m comfortable with whoever is playing quarterback. I''ve got confidence in both of those guys."
Confidence is the theme whenever Relf is mentioned. It high throughout the entire team and Relf''s improvement is a product of the energy in the program, Mullen said.
Mullen wants Relf to continue to push himself and to embrace all the aspects of the position. He said the success he realized last season should help him unlock his potential.
"I think when I got there, Chris just thought I show up when the meetings start, I go to practice, I play football, then I go home," Mullen said. "Your quarterback position shouldn''t be the one you''re having to push as a coach. Your quarterback position should be the one that''s pushing everybody else on the team. I couldn''t tell you one time this offseason where I had to look at Chris Relf and say, ''You need to pick it up.'' He was the one that was winning a lot of the sprints. He''s the one that''s pushing for extra reps and everything he did."