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August 10, 2011Robert Elliott is possibly the highest-rated running back coming out of high school on Mississippi State's roster, but he's third string.
Elliott joined the team in 2007, yet he has fewer career carries than Vick Ballard, who has only had one season with the Bulldogs.
He committed to Sylvester Croom, but he's playing for Dan Mullen.
Surely, it's been an interesting four years for Elliott. But that's OK, he says.
"I feel great," Elliott said. "This is my last year, so I don't have any other choice but to feel good. It's either all or nothing for me right now, I'm just going out every day trying to get better every day and improve every day in everything I do."
He didn't always feel great in his career in Starkville, though. After redshirting in 2007, Elliott was finally ready to play in 2008. He didn't get a snap in the season-opener, but rushed 18 times for 61 yards and a touchdown and caught four passes for 53 yards over the next three games and one quarter. But shortly before halftime against LSU, in the fourth game of his career, Elliott went down to the ground grabbing his knee.
He didn't get back onto the field until 2009, when Mullen got to town.
Mullen knows the trials Elliott has gone through, but he's proud of his senior running back.
"Robert has bought in and believed in everything we've asked him to do here," Mullen said. "He's done a fabulous job of doing that and to me has had a very, very successful career here up to this point. Hopefully it continues. That's what we look for: guys who believe in the program, buy into the program and reach their potential. Robert is a guy who has worked hard to do that."
Elliott hopes it continues, too. He is upbeat about his final year on campus and was noticeably different in the open practices of MSU's fall training camp the last week. He was visibly leaner and appeared to be quicker and more comfortable.
Elliott says the change came from a long summer of work with MSU strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis, including dropping a few pounds to a healthy 210.
"Yeah, you know, Coach Balis always talks to us one-on-one in person, seeing where we want to be and how we feel, what's a good weight we can run at," Elliott said. "I talked to him. I'm not as big as I was last year, but I'm leaner and quicker, I'm faster and stronger."
Those are good adjectives for a running back, certainly, and Elliott said he and Balis worked specifically on increasing his speed, with Elliott even working extra on his own.
Elliott said he wants to impress the coaches and earn more playing time in 2011, but that's not his chief concern and he does not feel a burden to have a big senior year.
"I don't really feel no pressure," Elliott said. "But I feel pressure about helping the younger guys and letting them learn what to do. This will be my last year playing, so I want to help as many guys on the team as I can before I leave."
Teammate and fellow senior Ballard said it is that attitude that makes Elliott such a great teammate.
"Rob, he's pretty consistent, you know what I'm saying," Ballard said. "That's what I like about Rob. He's gonna go hard and you can always expect that out of them."
Elliott said he loves his teammates and he feels he fits in perfectly with the returning three-man rotation of him, Ballard and sophomore speedster LaDarius Perkins.
"We all feel good about that," Elliott said. "Having three running backs, in the SEC you really need about five or six because we take a pounding each game, you know what I'm saying? Just by the little carries I get, I feel like I was in a car wreck after these games. So we need everybody that we can get.
"This offseason, we just worked on our strengths, because all three running backs are different. We got Perk, the fastest guy on the team. We got Vick, a very solid leader on the team. We got me, a laid back player, I'm someone that plays good. We've all just got our different things that we're good at."
Elliott said he enjoys the competition between the three as they all want to play as much as they can.
"That's what everybody out here is trying to do, impressing coaches, because everybody out here wants to play SEC football, so every day we come out here we're competing against each other and making each other better, making each other better as a person and a player," Elliott said.
Did his career start out rough? Sure. But Elliott is happy where he is. He got 60 carries (221 yards) for Mullen last year, in addition to extensive special teams play, which is fine by him.
He said he won't know his role on the team until the first game is over, but Mullen said he has an idea.
"I thought he did a good job for us last year and we expect him to do a lot of the same this year," Mullen said.
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