By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Nice guys don’t always finish last. Sometimes they finish tied for first.
Mississippi State has a couple of nice guys at quarterback, Chris Relf and Tyler Russell. By all accounts, they get along swimmingly. Laughing at each other’s jokes, driving each other to get better each day, getting matching tattoos.
OK, not the last part. Far as I can tell, these guys are tattoo-free.
They seem angst-free as well, which you wouldn’t necessarily expect from two guys who are neck-and-neck for a starting quarterback’s position in the SEC.
Coming out of the spring, they were listed as co-No. 1 on the depth chart.
“I love Chris, and Chris loves me,” Russell said with a smile after an early Wednesday morning workout.
It’s an odd coupling at first glance. There’s Russell, the redshirt freshman and former Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year, the tall, golden-armed future of MSU football.
Then there’s Relf, the beefy (240 pounds), option-running veteran who is finally starting to realize his potential as a fourth-year junior.
Two years ago, then-coach Sylvester Croom said of Relf, “Chris has great, great potential, and I told him he’s either going to perform at the level of that ability, or he’s not going to be around here.”
Relf was third on the depth chart at that time.
Then Dan Mullen replaced Croom, and Relf improved significantly. He split time with the super-nice Tyson Lee last year and rushed for 500 yards, and so he knows how to handle the platoon system.
Relf has improved his passing game – in practices, anyway – and now is in good position to be the man under center.
Thing is, Russell isn’t going anywhere. He now knows the offense, and his talent is going to get him on the field. Mullen has said a two-QB system is the most likely scenario this fall, and it could well be a more efficient platoon that last year, when MSU ranked 11th in the SEC in passing offense (144.3 yards per game).
So the competition for snaps is fierce. And yet somehow, it remains friendly.
“Every time you see them, they’re always smiling at each other, they’re always pushing each other,” receiver Leon Berry said. “Every day we throw and stuff, they be out there laughing and joking about the plays and stuff.”
Is this healthy? Shouldn’t QB battles be inherently tense and contentious? Does the lack of even the slightest animus make these guys soft?
The flip side, of course, is that you don’t want discord on your team. It’s rarely productive.
“When he goes hard, I go hard, and when he sees me going hard, he goes hard,” Russell said. “It just brings out the best out of both of us.”
The nice guy images projected by Relf and Russell aren’t an act. They are genuinely optimistic about being a deadly duo this year and about what each can do on the field.
“When I get out there, I’m going to do my thing,” Relf said. “My team believes in me, I believe in myself.”
Relf is on point regarding his teammates. Senior center J.C. Brignone, who will be a third-year starter, said summer workouts have been smooth thanks to the QBs.
“You can really see it now, that when one quarterback gets in, nothing changes,” Brignone said.
Well, if it’s working, don’t change it. Let Relf and Russell keep playing nice.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.