By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – When Mississippi State’s four tailbacks gather in a meeting room or film room, an undercurrent of competition is always present. But that’s not the overarching vibe in the room.
The four players – LaDarius Perkins, Nick Griffin, Josh Robinson and Derrick Milton – bring four distinct personalities and styles of play to the mix, and they all mesh well together. While they are all fighting for playing time, they don’t talk about it.
“It’s more like an unspoken competition,” said Griffin, who’s battling Perkins for the starting job. “We don’t really see it as that. Of course you want to go in Day 1 and be that guy, be that starter, but we don’t really see it that way.
“We just try to come out, get our reps, do the best we can and push each other, make each other better.”
They make each other laugh, too. Griffin and Robinson in particular have a keen wit, with the former having gained a reputation for his sense of humor on Twitter.
Some recent tweets: “The defensive players so annoying,” and, “Some of y’all didn’t know a 5 a.m. existed.” Griffin’s Twitter handle is MacGrifferous, bestowed upon him by teammate Jamerson Love.
“I try to be myself,” Griffin said. “I’m not just some stuck-up football player. I’m a normal person, too. I like the little things in life.”
Griffin, a third-year sophomore, likes big things, too. Like being an SEC running back. At 6-foot, 220 pounds, he has the frame of a power runner with a healthy dose of speed.
He found limited playing time last year after coming off a knee injury. He’s fully healthy, but the challenge now is having confidence on that knee.
“If you feel good, you’ll do good. It’s all about confidence,” Griffin said. “If you don’t think you can make a play, you won’t make a play.”
Perkins (5-10, 190), a junior and the most experienced of the group, is known for his speed – he’s convinced he could beat his fellow tailbacks in a footrace – but has to prove he can handle a high-carry load.
“I know I can,” Perkins said. “I’ve been working pretty hard over the summer and the spring. I have gained weight, and I’m in top-notch shape.”
He’s become the leader of this group. After a backup role – both on the field and in the locker room – Perkins has become the guy that keeps the group centered.
“He helps us to keep our head on straight, learning the plays and learning the system. He keeps us focused,” Griffin said.
At 5-9, 215, Robinson looks more like a fullback than a tailback. Head coach Dan Mullen said that if you tap on Robinson’s belly, “it’s like hitting a table.” His teammates describe him as a “bowling ball.”
He has surprising speed, which was on display in the spring as his reps increased. He’s currently a solid No. 3 on the depth chart.
“Josh, you look at him, you might not think running back, but when you see him with the ball, he’s real explosive, and he knows how to get low and break tackles,” fullback Sylvester Hemphill said.
Robinson draws comparisons to former MSU tailback Anthony Dixon because of his bubbly personality.
Robinson said he and Dixon, who’s now with the San Francisco 49ers, talk often.
“He’s always kind of bubbly and wanting to play the game, a high-energy guy and that makes him fun to be around,” Mullen said.
‘like A stable’
Milton, a redshirt freshman built similarly to Griffin, hopes to get some carries, too. It’ll be tough with the three guys ahead of him.
Whatever role Milton plays, he’ll do so without complaint, just like his fellow tailbacks. They recognize the collective strength and variety they possess.
“We’re like a stable,” Robinson said. “We’ve all got different characteristics. So we’ve all got different things that we’re going to bring to the table.
“What more can you ask for?”