This time a year ago, Mississippi State's Vick Ballard was just trying to find his way into the program. He spent many hours cramming down the offensive playbook and then trying to take what he learned in spring practice and put that knowledge to use.
Fast forward to this past spring session and Ballard admitted it was a difference experience. No longer was the Bulldog senior running back just trying to fit in and find his role in the offense.
"Definitely the playbook," said Ballard of his biggest difference this spring. "Last spring I was just out there running around and didn't know much. This year I didn't have to just focus on the playbook and it gave me time, like I said, to work on the little things and a lot of the small stuff that can make my game better."
After rushing for 968 yards last year and a school-record 19 rushing touchdowns, there is little doubt that MSU fans now have higher expectations for Ballard this fall. Naturally, going from an unknown tailback to a school record-holder will do that.
But concerning his final spring practice at MSU, Ballard still holds himself to a high standard and is his biggest critic.
"It went okay," said the 5-foot-11 Ballard of spring ball. "This spring I wanted to really focus on the little things. I got some of them done but not all of them done and that was my fault."
With offseason workouts right around the corner, Ballard will shift his focus to the weight room again and try to add a little more muscle and weight to his frame.
"I am anywhere from 215 pounds to 220, just depending on how much I ate that day," said Ballard with a laugh. "But I think 220 is probably a good weight for me this year."
Ballard was one of several veterans in the MSU backfield this spring and was joined by the likes of senior Robert Elliott and redshirt sophomore LaDarius Perkins. However, there was also a new face taking reps - redshirt freshman Nick Griffin.
After being the new kid on the block last year, Ballard found himself as a leader this spring and offering advice to the younger Griffin. Before he tore his ACL late in the spring, Griffin was getting regular snaps in the offensive backfield and had stamped his presence in the rotation.
"Nick helps out a whole lot because it adds depth and adds another playmaker," said Ballard of Griffin. "He is a guy that can make plays and we welcome that at any position on the team. With the way Nick works, we all expect him to be back and give us a good boost this year."
Last fall in his march to a school record, Ballard played behind a veteran offensive line and a few familiar faces return up front again this year. The key, said Ballard, will be the progress of the younger linemen and how well the older guys take on a leadership role.
"We have some spots to fill and we have some young guys up there," Ballard said of the O-line. "But we have some veterans, too, and those veterans will compensate for the youth we have up front."
And while Ballard experienced some change this spring in his increased knowledge of the game and the playbook, one thing did remain the same. Known as one of the quiet leaders on the team, Ballard earned the respect of his teammates and coaches alike last year. He still has that confidence in his abilities and just as important, last year's success has not affected his work ethic. In fact, it's pushed him even harder.
"I've just always had that mindset," said Ballard. "You are given a good opportunity to play in the SEC and I feel blessed. So I just give it everything I have every day. No matter if I rush for a 1,000 yards or just 20 yards, I am going to be the same guy and still work hard."