August 14, 2010 11:10:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State football fans will never know how good of a running back Montrell Conner could have been.
At least in maroon and white.
The redshirt freshman''s sudden departure and transfer to Copiah-Lincoln Community College leaves a small, but fillable void in the backfield just three weeks from the Bulldogs'' season opener.
Citing having a two-year-old son in his hometown of Monroe, La., and feeling unhappy at MSU, Conner leaves Robert Elliott, Vick Ballard, LaDarius Perkins, Nick Griffin and Adrian Marcus to split reps.
It''s a scenario that would have been this season even if Conner had remained on the team, MSU head coach Dan Mullen said Friday.
"It''ll be fine," Mullen said. "We''ll just rotate the five guys that are there. We were going to rotate backs probably this year, so I don''t think (Conner''s transfer) really means much to us."
Perhaps the reason Conner hadn''t separated himself in the tailback race during the spring or in fall camp was because of his unhappiness and failure to settle in Starkville.
A much heralded running back out of Quachita Parish High School, Conner had scholarship offers from Alabama, Oregon, Southern California, Florida and Oklahoma. He was a part of Mullen''s first recruiting class, a consensus Top 25 haul, in his first season at MSU.
Conner said he didn''t want to "waste his time or the coaches'' time" because he knew wouldn''t perform at a high level because of his unhappiness.
"There were days when I was looking sluggish, just dreading this and that," Conner said. "The coaches understood I wasn''t happy. When you''re not happy, you''re not going to perform to the best of your ability.
"I feel bad and I feel like I let the guys down. Blood, sweat and tears with my teammates, and I look at those guys like brothers. That''s the worst part about it all."
The other "big name" running back on MSU''s roster, Elliott insists the Bulldogs'' backfield is still strong and versatile.
He said he''d recovered no indication of a current leader, reminding the media of the multiple two-back sets the Bulldogs employ.
"We''ve got a young guy, (Nick) Griffin, he''s coming along and is a workhorse," Elliott said. "We''ve got Perkins, the fastest guy on the team. We''ve got Vick Ballard, whose a solid running back, and we''ve got myself. Then we''ve got Adrian Marcus who''s proven himself that he can run the ball and catch the ball.
"We''ve got good chemistry with each other."
What''s lacking in the group is experience, as Ballard and Perkins are first-year players for the Bulldogs.
Running backs coach Greg Knox said the running backs are improving daily with the amount of information and responsibility thrown at them. And despite Ballard''s inexperience at the Football Bowl Subdivision level, Knox considers the junior college transfer a veteran.
The progress in fall camp has been satisfactory, Knox said.
"I think they''re taking it all in, I think we''re taking baby steps right now," Knox said. "I feel good about where we''re headed, though."
With no clear order and the backs still going through playbook installation, Knox will keep track of each player''s growth in areas besides carrying the ball.
"They''ve got to get better in blocking." Knox said. "The one with the best hands might have the edge."
1. EMCC, Mississippi Delta leave past behind them COLLEGE SPORTS
2. Mullen balances calling plays, running team COLLEGE SPORTS
3. No. 9 EMCC routs Mississippi Delta COLLEGE SPORTS
4. Shorter hopes Noxubee County can follow 2015 path HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
5. Columbus awaits region showdown vs. No. 3 Tupelo HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS