By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – It could happen at any moment.
J.C. Brignone could be in the film room studying the Ole Miss defense. Or on the practice field working on his technique. Or, heaven forbid, on Scott Field during this Saturday’s Egg Bowl.
While Mississippi State’s junior center is toiling away in preparation for the season finale, his wife is set to deliver the couple’s first child. The due date for Millie Lane Brignone is Dec. 7, but Blair Brignone is 38 weeks into her pregnancy.
She plans on being inside Davis Wade Stadium with her family, unless Millie Lane arrives early to watch her first Egg Bowl on television.
“It’s a possibility,” said Blair, who married J.C. in May of 2008. “I’ve kind of been nervous about it. We’ve talked about it, and of course, if he’s on the field or in a game, we’ve talked about him staying there and just coming after he’s done. But of course, we don’t want that to happen.”
The Brignones made it through last week, when MSU had to travel to Arkansas, and with family coming in today, a contingency plan is in place if J.C. is tied up with football when the baby comes.
Brignone has plenty on his mind as it is. He’s taking 21 hours this semester, and he’s got to figure out what to do with 330-pound Ole Miss nose tackle Jerrell Powe, who had 1.5 tackles for loss and an interception in the Rebels’ 45-0 win over MSU last season.
Somehow, he’s able to keep from going mad.
“He’s focused on football during football season, and I try to take care of everything at home,” Blair said. “I try to tell him not to worry about things, like the baby coming. Everything will work out. I think God has a plan.”
That kind of support, J.C. said, is why he’s able to focus on the Egg Bowl.
“You can’t stop focusing about this game. This is a big rivalry game,” he said. “My wife knows it, and she’s behind me 100 percent. I’m there every night with her, trying to take care of her.
“But when I’m not, I’m either here watching film or getting ready for what we have to face this week.”
Growing up fast
Senior quarterback Tyson Lee calls Brignone, 21, one of the more mature players on the team. The 6-foot-1, 300-pounder from Pass Christian has had to do a lot of growing up in recent years.
His family moved to Georgia for his senior year of high school after Hurricane Katrina, and then his father died in the spring of 2008.
“He’s gone through a lot of things that some of us hopefully will never go through,” Lee said. “But he’s gone through things, and I think through that he’s matured, and that maturity has been given off to other guys, not only off the field, but the way he plays.”
And Brignone has played well. MSU is touting him for All-SEC honors, and he showed why last week as he helped pave the way for State’s 327-yard rushing effort against Arkansas. He recorded a 91 percent blocking grade in that game.
The line play as a whole has improved from last season, when the Bulldogs yielded 37 sacks and averaged just 15.2 points per game. Brignone put a lot of blame for the offense’s struggles on his wide shoulders, but new coach Dan Mullen helped him shake off 2008.
“We picked ourselves up, we changed our attitude, we come out and play ball every day,” Brignone said. “No matter what, we keep swinging, we keep fighting all the way until the end of 60 minutes.”
Lee said Brignone has become more vocal this season, and the other linemen have followed his lead in the weightroom, in practice and on the playing field.
“Most of the guys up front – and he’s the middle of that offensive line, keeps them together – they’ve played pretty solid this year for us, and helped us run the ball,” Mullen said. “I’ve been pleased with that. I think J.C., his maturity allows him to handle all the different situations that he’s presented with.”
Lee has grown particularly close to the man who snaps him the ball, and he hasn’t seen impending fatherhood cause Brignone to miss a beat.
“There’s not one day he’s out at practice or in the weightroom that he slacks,” Lee said, “and being able to do that and still having something like that at home says a lot of him, says a whole lot of him.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org