April 6, 2011 9:30:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- The tag "athlete" is common for high school football recruits.
While there''s value in a player who can help in multiple areas -- most play several positions in high school -- sooner or later he''s going to have to settle in at one position.
Learning a new position can complicate the transition for a freshman. Such is the case for Mississippi State redshirt freshman and former West Lowndes High School standout Brandon Hill.
At West Lowndes, Hill played wide receiver, linebacker, and some defensive end. That was more than a year and some 30 pounds ago for Hill, who has moved to tight end.
It''s a position he didn''t know he''d play until two-a-days last fall. Last summer, he was learning to play receiver and linebacker.
However, the need for depth and athleticism at tight end -- Marcus Green and Kendrick Cook will be seniors in the fall -- saw the rangy but quick-footed Hill make the switch to a position where he''d be doing more blocking than catching passes. That''s just one of the building blocks he has had to climb since arriving on campus.
"I don''t care what position you change to, it''s always a different animal than what you''re used to," MSU tight ends coach Scott Sallach said. "Good thing is we had bowl prep to get him a little more work. And with (tight ends) Marcus (Green) and Kendrick (Cook) being limited this spring, he''s gotten more work than he probably would''ve. It''s been good for him because he needs to play."
Learning the playbook and adjusting to the level of physicality of Southeastern Conference football are givens for any freshman, but Hill has had to learn to carry more weight while improving his speed and agility from when he was 205 pounds.
Doing so came with setbacks, particularly the stress put on his lower back, Hill said.
"In high school, I never squatted with a belt," Hill said. "When I got here, I started to use the belts, started to roll and stretch more. Everything started to come to pass as my body matured with the weight.
"I had confidence because I read coach Balis'' résumé, so if there was anything possible he could help."
When MSU''s coaches decided to move Hill to tight end, a big factor was how much weight his frame would hold. Hill said Balis and his strength and conditioning staff predicted how much weight he could gain without it putting stress on his joints, particularly in his legs.
At 6-foot-2, 235 pounds, Hill''s frame and build is similar to that of Green, who has dealt with season-ending hip and knee injuries. Like Hill, Green weighed about 210 pounds in high school before adding weight and moving to tight end at MSU.
Hill, however, doesn''t think carrying the extra weight and playing as an undersized tight end will affect him.
"Speed school and agility school (programs Balis runs in the offseason) have helped me feel comfortable with cutting and planting with the weight I have," Hill said. "We''re always doing things with our strength coach to make sure I''m healthy enough and can deal with it physically. I feel good with everything I''m doing now."
As a playmaker, Hill has shown flashes this spring of being able to make catches in traffic, to pluck overthrown balls, and to extend from defenders after the catch.
His skills will see him earn plays designed to go to him, as well as inside shovel-passes the MSU offense tried to make a staple with Green before he tore a knee ligament early last season.
Hill''s challenge will be to hold his own at the point of attack, as MSU''s run-based offense requires backs, receivers, and tight ends to be effective blockers.
"Everything inside the tackles moves so fast," Sallach said. "If you''re not used to seeing that, it all becomes a blur. I don''t care if you come from a 1A school or a 6A school, when you play in the Southeastern Conference it''s tough. (MSU defensive tackle) Fletcher Cox is a big man, and he moves pretty good. You don''t see that in high school."
Fortunately for MSU''s offense, which will enter the 2012 season with Hill as its most experienced tight end, Hill doesn''t have to be ready for the 2011 campaign.
"If he''s ready before that, it''s gravy," Sallach said. "He''s not where he needs to be yet, but that''s OK because we don''t play tomorrow. I''m happy he''s making progress."
MSU to announce ''significant gift'' toward team facility
The Mississippi State athletic department will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. today to announce a significant gift toward a football complex.
The news could be a step in the program announcing building plans and a potential start date for the complex, which would house coaches'' offices and team meeting rooms and be located adjacent to MSU''s practice fields.
MSU is expected to fund the football facility through the Bulldog Club, the private fundraising branch of the athletic department.
Bulldogs to pick Maroon-White rosters Thursday
As has become custom under coach Dan Mullen, the Bulldogs will draft players into two teams for their annual Maroon-White scrimmage during Super Bulldog Weekend.
MSU will make its picks, which will split the coaching staff and roster in half, Thursday.
"We match names, so if somebody picks (quarterback) Chris Relf, the other team gets Tyler Russell," Mullen said. "There''s some strategy to who you want, and who you might want the other team to have to take."
MSU also will announce its guest coaches, another custom in Mullen''s three spring seasons in Starkville, today or Thursday.