MSU’s gentle giants visit Batson Children’s Hospital

Trash talk from one school, bragging by another, arguing over All-SEC, questioning preseason talk by talking in the preseason – there was sort of a lot happening this week, what with the 1,247 credentials issued at SEC Media Days and the impending start to college football, amplified for a Mississippi State team who opens the schedule with an in-state foe to the south and closes the regular season against the rival to the north.

All that action and expended energy is fun, sure, if not a touch overwhelming with two weeks still left before fall camps even open. Rivalry makes sports fun, though it can bring out the worst, too, and often as much disdain as support.

unnamedSo it was nice on Thursday afternoon, nearing the end of a crazy-by-design week, to go somewhere immune to all the noise. MSU’s football team visited the Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital in Jackson, a trip it takes annually, and one which is humbling to be a part of it. Inspiring, too, cheesy at it may sound.

It’s good to be reminded why sports are important; why they matter.

Ironic, perhaps, but worth remembering the quote from Nelson Mandela which SEC Commissioner Mike Slive used to open Media Days back on Monday.

“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.”

Dillon Day, MSU’s senior center, is 300-plus pounds of muscles, tattoos and long blonde locks straight out of a hair band. He’s far from business casual, especially with the addition of some blue streaks to his mane.

unnamed-1Unsurprisingly, kids love him.

On the fourth floor, little Taylor came into the game room on her wheelchair and turned a bit shy as her family swept her up to the table where a bunch of massive men in football jerseys were playing Scrabble.

“I like your pink hair,” Dillon told her. She had a couple feathers tied into her blonde hair. “I’ve got some blue in mine,” he unnecessarily demonstrated. “It works well for you with that thick hair you have. Mine’s thin so it doesn’t look as good.”

At the same time he was the last person expected and the most obvious choice to find common ground and make Taylor feel comfortable.

unnamed-3Downstairs in the cancer ward, Dillon ended up in what was likely a surreal situation. He was bombarded with kids who had found copies of the poster he’s featured on and wanted his signature. They didn’t even know who he was, they just knew he was on a poster, so he must be famous. Plus, he’s got all those colorful tattoos and that long hair with the blue streak in it.

Dan Mullen would be the star anywhere else, as the head coach always is, but in this world, the massive 22 year old who looks like something out of a comic book was the focus of all attention.

Some kids were in there for a short time, some were more long term, nearly all had parents with heavy eyes by their side. For this period of their young lives, much of which they’ll likely forget by the time they’re older, they don’t get much to smile about.

But you’d never know it as they laughed, talked, danced and sang, crawling over people who must have looked like giants. They have no clue what offsides is or how overtime works. They may only know “football” as that foam thing they’re told to be careful with when throwing. Their parents could be lifelong Ole Miss fans, die hard State fans or nothing at all. It doesn’t really matter. The visit isn’t meaningful because of games or trophies won, just as it wasn’t when other teams stopped by earlier that summer and won’t be when others make the visit later this year.

Dillon and Jakiriah

Dillon and Jakiriah

Dillon spent a half hour in a plastic “kitchen” with Jakiriah, who had no hair of her own but loved the blonde and blue of the guy helping her run a café out of the playroom.

If we can make one life better for us having been alive, whatever time we spend in this life is worth it.

Such is the opportunity and responsibility of sport. Wins can inspire, but in a place of medicine, laughter remains chief amongst the healers.

“She thinks you’re cool,” the father of a shy girl told Dillon after he signed her poster of him.

To prove it, she looked up at him and whispered her appreciation.

“Thank you,” she said. “You’re beautiful.”

“Well thank you very much,” Dillon said with a smile bigger than any around him. “You’re beautiful, too.”

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Dak Prescott, the SEC’s newest star, takes the big stage

“Hi, Dak. I’m Mike Slive. I work for the SEC.”

He’d been told to prepare for all kinds of questions and reporters, but Dak Prescott probably didn’t expect the first person he talked to after leaving the holding room to be the Commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, one of the most powerful people in college sports.

Especially not 10 minutes after we’d been discussing what happens when you have to go the bathroom during a game. (You just hold it, I’m told.)

And sure, Dak had a nametag on – as well as an SEC worker standing nearby carrying a poster with his picture and name blown up on it – but Slive knew who he was either way.

Dak is a star now, and SEC Media Days proved it.

unnamedEveryone knows his story. A miracle comeback to win the Egg Bowl in overtime, a Liberty Bowl blowout which set double-digit offensive records, and of course his strength in the wake of personal tragedy. His big smile has been plastered all over TV and the internet, while his name and numbers have been plugged into award watch lists and All-SEC ballots.

But this, SEC Media Days, the largest gathering of the year in college football, 1,200 strong, was Dak’s first time in the actual spotlight – the kind cast by cameras on a set or from lights on the ceiling of a ballroom rather than bulbs from stadium lightpoles.

From inside Starkville, it can be hard to tell if someone really is a star, if their stage is the national kind. Us around here have seen him since he got to campus as a big-eyed freshman who other schools wanted to try out as a tight end.

Is he really that big a deal, or does it just seem that way here in town?

Tuesday in Hoover answered the question.

“When any of us think about Dak Prescott,” a Sirius/XM host began, “we think about that incredible performance coming off the bench in the Egg Bowl.”

“People called that a miracle,” someone in the internet room told him.

“Everyone knows who Dak Prescott is,” former Alabama and NFL quarterback Greg McElroy said in succinct summary.

Then he asked the big question: “What are you gonna do as an encore?”

Such was the wonder on the minds of most at the Winfrey Hotel.

“Is it your time now?” one reporter asked, curious if Dak will take the mantle as star of the SEC.

Comparisons to Tim Tebow and Cam Newton rained down all day – Heisman winners, both.

And oh yes, that word. Heisman.

“Last year you were a backup, and now you’re being touted for the Heisman,” one reporter told him.

More of a statement than a question really, but accurate, nonetheless.

His answer, on the many occasions the topic was broached, was what it should have been. Basically, he says, that’d be pretty cool. But it won’t happen if MSU isn’t winning games, and that’s where his focus lies.

“I never heard of a Heisman winner who lost five or six games,” Prescott said after the first time he got the question.

Those aren’t cheap words or canned answers, either. At least not according to his teammate, Jay Hughes.

“His goals are bigger than himself,” Hughes told a reporter when asked about people saying his teammate could win such a grand individual award.

Those goals?

“Win every game,” Dak said simply.

That’s all he wants, and that’s part of why he’s so good.

unnamed-1No one wants to talk about a player who pumps himself up for awards. No one really likes that guy. Mantles like that are given, not taken

The way Dak seems to deflect attention only garners more of it.

“They’ve been asking me about you all day,” Hughes told Prescott at one point as they passed on their way to different interviews. “I’m tired of talking about you.”

He was joking about the second part, but the first is true. Dak is all anyone in Hoover wanted to talk about. Steve Spurrier, the ol’ ball coach himself, was walking around cracking jokes. Autonomy, the O’Bannon trial, scheduling and scandal – all hot topics, none as interesting as Dak. Not that day, anyway.

Wherever he went, people gushed.

“I wish I had as much talent as you,” McElroy told Prescott on air after he had rushed out of another interview to join the radio chat. “I came back because I had to meet you. I’m a fan, buddy.”

“Continually impressed with Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott,” ESPN.com’s Alex Scarborough tweeted. “He’s taken the leadership role and run with it.”

“People say you have the ‘It’ Factor,” one reporter observed.

In his very first interview of the day – a radio hit – Dak’s presence was felt.

“Only 6’2”?” the host asked as he looked up at Prescott. “You look a lot bigger than that.”

unnamed-3Dak is larger than life, even in real life.

And his responses are what makes him so endearing.

“I think that’s an old measurement,” he said, the natural toothy smile coming out in a somewhat sheepish way. “I know I’ve grown because my suit pants don’t touch my shoes anymore.”

He went on to praise his teammates, coaches and defense – all when answering questions about himself. He talked about his favorite dish to make, chicken and shrimp tortellini.

We found out his favorite color is silver, he has some Native-American ancestry, his preferred activities outside of football are shopping and eating, his first name is Rayne and he has to have fried chicken the night before every game.

Leaving a TV interview, he turned to one of the assistants and said, “Thanks for the makeup.”

Asked to recite the longest playcall in MSU’s playbook, he paused for a minute, looked at his hands and finally said, “Well, I guess that’s what we have the wrist bands for.”

When he was in the room with FOX Sports for a segment, the taping got started late because he and the host had gotten so deep into conversation they nearly forgot where they were and what they were supposed to be doing.

Dak smiled in the main room when he saw the local media who cover him every day.

“Familiar faces,” he remarked with the same smile he wore all day.

He’s smooth, even though he doesn’t mean to be – genuine and without intention or motive.

In response to the question about his “miracle” comeback from injury in the Egg Bowl, Dak unconsciously slipped in a reference to the official provider of athletic gear to his team.

“We wear Adidas, so nothing is impossible.”

He praised his teammates and spoke of his love for Starkville, because he means all of it.

unnamed-2Dak is easy to like, for so many reasons.

Most of all because none of this has inflated his head, as it so easily could and has done to others. All the stories, all the attention and tweets, even to the point of media asking to take pictures with him – it’s enough to make anyone’s head turn.

But he’s still just as kid, in a manner of speaking, having fun and playing the game he loves.

“Have you taken any pictures?” he asked me midway through. “I don’t have my phone.”

He’s not above the moment. He thinks it’s cool, neat that he’s there. He’d love to show pictures to family and friends of what he did.

“I know who I am,” Prescott said when someone asked about his newfound and growing fame. “Nothing in me has changed.”

So, as he was asked when the day started, what’s the encore for Dak Prescott?

Media Days was something he had to do, and was perfectly happy to participate in, but it has little to do with football, little to do with the games he and his teammates will play starting August 30th.

“Are you happy to be here?” his guide asked him when he arrived Tuesday morning.

“It’s very nice,” Prescott told her. “But I’d rather be practicing.”

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A quick recap of MSU’s turn at SEC Media Days

“Where’s Bob? Bob, I’ve got a job for you.”

Dan Mullen wanted one thing when he got to Hoover for his sixth SEC Media Days.

“We need to figure out how to get Chipotle delivered.”

He had to wait until the end of the day to get it, but Mullen’s appetite was finally satiated.

After he’d spoken to 1,000 or so reporters, camera people, producers, hosts and personalities as he wound his way through the Winfrey Hotel.

We’ll have more extensive reporting of MSU’s trip to the unofficial kickoff of college football, but until then, a few notes to review and things we learned throughout the day, moving chronologically through my notebook of the day’s events and quotes.

- The first thing worth noting came in the second interview for Dak Prescott, this one on Sirius/XM, when Greg McElroy left Steve Spurrier’s interview early because he “had to meet” Dak Prescott. McElroy was beyond effusive in his praise of MSU, Dak, the offense, the defense and really everything about the Bulldogs.

“You guys have that blue collar approach,” he said, “but you have some of the best weapons in the SEC.”

In particular, McElroy loves senior tight end Malcolm Johnson and sophomore receiver De’Runnya Wilson.

- One highlight was hearing players talk about the young guys who have impressed them. Asked about the offensive line in general, Prescott immediately began praising sophomore Jamaal Clayborn, the man tasked with replacing Gabe Jackson. It’s not the first and I’m guessing it won’t be the last time we hear Clayborn’s teammates speak highly of him. Both Prescott and Mullen went out of their way to mention Wilson, too.

True freshmen who have caught the eyes of elders: linebacker Gerri Green and running back Aeris Williams, according to Prescott, then safety Brandon Bryant and Green again, according to Jay Hughes.

- In general, Prescott had a lot of good things to say about State’s defense, offering very positive reviews of Geoff Collins’ unit. He also said he believes MSU’s secondary to be among the fastest in the nation.

“I have unbelievable confidence in my defense,” Prescott said. “I think our they’re the best defense in the SEC.”

- On the offensive side, Prescott told ESPN he has high expectations for junior running back Josh Robinson.

“His streak of pride, his style of play, isn’t something you see often. He can be really good.”

- Speaking of expectations, that was the big topic of the day for MSU. Can they meet them? Can they exceed them? And really, what are they?

“The SEC is wide open,” Mullen said. “No one was picking Auburn this time last year.”

Prescott, Hughes and Benardrick McKinney all had similar feelings on the topic as they spent the day telling question-askers what their expectations are.

One exchange between Prescott and a CBS reporter summed it up.

CBS: “What are your expectations for the season?”

Dak: “Win every game.”

That was the primary story for State Tuesday and likely will continue to be as a much-hyped season draws closer.

- As for Prescott himself, he says the main thing he’s been working on all offseason is his footwork. He did well as a passer last year, but says that if you look at the throws he missed, his footwork was generally the culprit.

Working with new quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson has helped him with that.

So much so, in fact, that Mullen alluded to the idea of taking more deep shots down the field than usual.

“He’s a much better passer this season,” Mullen said of his quarterback.

- As for Hughes, his excitement is all about getting back on the field. Save for a few plays, it’s been nearly two years since he last stepped on the grass for a game. His hunger, as you’d imagine, is strong.

One reporter observed that Hughes was fun and games, laughing and enjoying himself, when the topics were off the field. As soon as the football conversation began, this reporter said, he got quiet, emotional even, and very serious. Football means a great deal to him.

While he’s been watching, however, he’s seen some things.

Of note, he’s been overly impressed with sophomore defensive lineman Chris Jones.

“Chris Jones, Chris Jones,” Hughes began. “That dude is phenomenal. He’s a freak. I love watching him play.”

- We’ll have more from Hoover tomorrow in the form of video and story.

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McKinney, Prescott leading extra work for MSU over the summer

The slowest stretch of the college football offseason – from the end of spring practice to the beginning of fall camp – is the toughest for coaches. They get vacation, sure, but those summer months are the longest they ever go without getting to practice with their players, and that can be kind of scary.

It’s for that reason Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen has said the strength and conditioning coach is one of the most important hires he makes. He’s the only person who gets to work with the players in those hot Mississippi months.

com_140507_NCF_VBlog_Aschoff_BenardrickMcKinney_140507But, it’s not unusual for players to do a little extra work on their own, too. Receivers and quarterbacks often get together and run routes after workouts, working on their timing and staying in some kind of shape. Perhaps an occasional cornerback will even join to make it more competitive.

This summer, however, MSU’s players have taken it a little farther. A lot farther, really.

After weights and running, junior quarterback Dak Prescott said, he and sophomore QB Damian Williams will go out and “get some extra work in.” Shortly after that, the serious stuff starts.

Prescott and junior linebacker Benardrick McKinney host what they call ‘Skills and Drills’ every night, something the entire team shows up for, not just a few pass catchers and throwers. Offense, defense, special teams – the works.

“Everybody comes out there,” Prescott said. “It’s almost like a practice, to be honest. We’re out there for about an hour every day.”

In fact, it’s just about exactly like a practice. No real coaches, of course, or even pads, for that matter. But there are the leaders who direct it.

Prescott and McKinney are the coaches and they run the thing like a real mid-season practice.

McKinney takes the defense, Prescott takes the offense and they do their individual drills. Once they’re ready, everyone gathers for 7-on-7.

Ball handling, Prescott said, positional drills, two-minute drills, team-apart and team-together exercises – all on the daily rundown. They even lead film sessions sometimes.

“It’s been fun,” Prescott said. “Everybody’s got the right attitude in the building and it’s been exciting … Honestly, we’ve never really done that since I’ve been here. Just the excitement and attitude everybody has – nobody ever misses it, it’s been fun.”

It’s not mandatory, of course, but no one wants to skip it. As Prescott explained it, they all know how good the team can be in 2014, and none of them want to be the reason they don’t meet their potential. That’s why they decided to get together and do this in the first place.

RMRGVTBMMWXDPBH.20130907224317They want to stay sharp, for one, but they also don’t want to show up at fall camp in August and have to spend time fixing little things or getting back in a rhythm and routine. If it’s up to them, the Bulldogs will be the proverbial well-oiled machine on the very first practice of two-a-days.

What MSU has now is something the young group at this time in 2013 may have lacked – leadership. State had charismatic and talented guys, to be sure, but Mullen himself said it’s difficult for anyone to lead if they haven’t done it before. In the past, when a play needed to be made, people like Johnthan Banks or Chad Bumphis were always going to step up and make it.

As Mullen described it, State started last year with a team full of men capable of making the necessary plays, but without the experience of ever having done so.

Now, MSU has those guys. Established veterans and leaders are present before camp even begins, and the difference is clear as can be.

“We’ve got the best attitudes since I’ve been here,” Prescott said. “Guys trust other guys. It’s just going out and doing extra stuff, things that aren’t mandatory. You don’t have to go if you don’t want to go, but that’s just being accountable. They’re not showing up just to say they came, they’re showing up to get work and they’re staying beyond the time limit that’s asked.

“It’s just the best attitude that I’ve seen. Guys just seem really hungry. They know what we can do as a team and they don’t want to be the reason why we don’t.”

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Catching up with Dak Prescott before Manning Camp and SEC Media Days

This afternoon, Dak Prescott hits the road for the Manning Passing Academy, the second year in a row for a Mississippi State quarterback to serve as a counselor at the prestigious camp. Then, early next week, Prescott will head to Hoover with Dan Mullen and teammates Benardrick McKinney and Jay Hughes for SEC Media Days.

7847382I ran into Prescott while he was in the building and caught up with him for a few minutes to talk about his upcoming adventures, as well as some general football stuff. I’ll have more details from our conversation in the coming days, but here’s a quick excerpt in Q&A form to whet your appetite.

Bob: When did you find out about the Manning Camp and what was that process like?

Dak: I found out in the end of April. I got an email from my cousin saying he thought they were going to invite me, because I went as a camper when I was in high school. He said it’d be cool if they invited me back to be a counselor this time.

Then, a week later, I had an email from the Passing Academy saying I’d been invited, to let them know if I could come and they were excited to have me as a counselor. I’ve been on the other side of it, so now to go in as a counselor is a pretty exciting thing and I’m looking forward to it.

I’ll be teaching and coaching, but I think it’ll definitely be a big learning period for me. I’ll be picking some other quarterbacks’ brains, seeing how guys around the country work, their strengths and weaknesses, little things I can pick up. I’m excited to see all the guys and the competition from around the country and get with them on a social level and a physical level and compete with them.

 

Bob: The Passing Academy always invites the top quarterbacks in the country. Is it weird to think of yourself that way?

Dak: I don’t know if it’s weird. I have high expectations for myself and it’s exciting for others to notice that and to be counted in that group as the top quarterbacks coming back in college football. But like I said, I hold high expectations for myself. I want to be the best at the end of the day, the best team player, and this is just an opportunity for me to go learn from guys like Peyton and Eli and Archie and just competing against my competition without being in a game. It’ll be fun and a great learning experience.

 

Bob: You’ll be one of MSU’s three representatives at SEC Media Days. Are you excited, nervous?

Dak: I’m excited. I wouldn’t say nervous. I guess I’m good talking to people, so I wouldn’t say too nervous. To represent my team and to be one of three to do that, I think that’s a big deal to be chosen to be there. Just to see other guys from other teams there, I’m sure we’ll talk and get to know each other a little bit.

Just to sit there and talk in front of the media, from New York Times and USA Today to local Starkville news. I think it’ll be fun. Another good experience to get in front of a lot of people and talk.

 

Bob: Do you have any particular message or things you want to say or talk about while you’re there?

Dak: Not really. I’ll just answer the questions more than anything. Its not necessarily me wanting to go in there and tell them about me and this, this and that. I like where I am in my position. To some, I’m under the radar, and some talk about me. That’s how media is gonna be. It’s gonna be there, good or bad, no matter what. You can’t run from it. I’m just excited to go answer questions more than anything.

 

Bob: So, the season kicks off August 30th. Is that too soon or not close enough?

Dak: It’s not close enough, by any means. We’ve got 26 days left of workouts before we go to fall camp. It’s exciting but there’s definitely little things that we need to clean up so we can go into camp full blast and ready to go and not have to try and work on the little things in camp. We take care of those now.

It’s perfect timing. We’re right where we need to be in the summer, I’d say. Getting better, working hard, getting faster and getting timing with the receivers. Camp will be very, very exciting so we just want to make sure we’re ready to go. I’m just excited about everything.

 

Bob: A lot of people have said this may be the best team Dan Mullen’s had since he’s been here. You haven’t been here every year, but do you think maybe there’s some truth to that?

Dak: Definitely. Since I’ve been here, we’ve got some of the best athletes we’ve ever had here. We’ve got the best attitudes since I’ve been here. Guys trust other guys. It’s just going out and doing extra stuff, things that aren’t mandatory. You don’t have to go if you don’t want to go, but that’s just being accountable.

Guys are showing up. They’re not showing up just to say they came, they’re showing up to get work and they’re staying beyond the time limit that’s asked. It’s just the best attitude that I’ve seen. Guys just seem really hungry. They know what we can do as a team and they don’t want to be the reason why we don’t. It looks good.

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#ABC Mailbag 7-09: Breakout players, blocking line cutters, 2014 expectations and more

Each week on The B&B Show (a radio show I co-host on Bulldog Sports Radio; you can listen to today’s full show here) we have a segment we call ABC, which you’ve seen me mention if you follow on Twitter.

It stands for Ask Bob Carskadon and is, basically, a radio mailbag of some serious and many non-serious questions sometimes but not always relating to Mississippi State sports.

Every Tuesday, we ask for questions on Twitter (tweet them to @bobcarskadon) and answer every single one on the show. Every Wednesday, I’ll pick some good ones to answer here on the HailState Beat. (PSA on those tweets: if a twitter profile is locked, people who don’t follow it can’t see its tweets, even if they are mentioned in the tweet.)

Keep in mind, as always, opinions and views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of MSU, though sometimes they very well may.

To draw some semblance of a line, the topics are conveniently divided into sports and non-sports.

Sports Questions:

John Humphreys @humphreys_john: Most important player that didn’t play last year, and most improved player that did play last year?

mjlybkyixmxvuzh-20131013023523Bob: I like this question, and I’m assuming you mean football. Maybe this is cheating, but I’ve got two names for each.

Guys who didn’t play last year and are extremely important in 2014: offensive lineman Justin Malone and safety Jay Hughes. Both missed the entirety of 2013 due to injury and both are among the best at their positions.

With the losses of Gabe Jackson and Charles Siddoway off the line, the talented and athletic Malone returning from injury healthy and effective would be huge. The same goes for Hughes at safety, where he is one of the unquestioned leaders not just of the defense but of the entire team. It’s a cliché, but very accurate in this case when people say having Hughes out there is like having another coach on the field. Fitting that his dad actually is the safeties coach.

Most improved players who did play last year: sophomore offensive guard Jamaal Clayborn and senior safety Justin Cox. Clayborn was one of the surprise freshmen last year, performing so well in practice that he earned some playing time in games. Now, he’s got the unenviable job of replacing the All-American Jackson. Big shoes to fill, certainly, but Clayborn is more than capable and those around the team have confidence in his ability.

As for Cox, he’s one of the best pure athletes on the team – fast, strong, long, great jumper, hard hitter – but he seemed uncomfortable at cornerback in 2013 after transferring from JUCO, often struggling in coverage. But, in bowl practices and in the Liberty Bowl itself, coaches switched Cox to safety and the fit was perfect. He’s a natural at the position and could end up being a breakout star in the secondary.

Blake Thompson @StateDOG: How would the MSU football program be different now if Dixon gets in or the jump pass works against LSU in 2009?

Bob: I see where you’re going with this, but I’m not sure things change that drastically. Two streaks would change: MSU would’ve been to five-straight bowls instead of four, and the LSU losing streak would’ve been cut short. But would it have changed any other State games that season? Probably not. Would it have added some momentum going into the 2010 season? Yes, but the Egg Bowl did that anyway and MSU went 9-4 in 2010, the best season of Mullen’s tenure to date.

Now, if I were going to pick one play like that, I might ask how different things would be if Chris Relf had gotten into the endzone against Auburn in 2011.

Dan Halen @Stoli_Dan: If you could add ANY single last minute feature to the new stadium before it opens, what would it be?

Bob: Off the top of my head – phone charging stations, maybe? I also wouldn’t be opposed to having The Veranda cater all the press box meals for the season, either.

That Guy @thatguy1878: Players, coaches or fans – whose expectations will be the most difficult to manage this season?

dan-mullen-msu-shanna-lockwoodBob: I’ll preface by saying this: the expectations within the program – coaches, players, staff, etc. – are the highest they been in over a decade. Dan Mullen and his staff believe this to be the best team they’ve had. The players feel the same. They legitimately expect to win the SEC West, and while they say that every year, it seems they really believe it, too.

Now, as for managing expectations, I’m not sure. Expectations on the inside might be greater than those on the outside, but fans are always going to be more vocal about any disappointments than coaches and players. That’s just the nature of things.

One thing which helps on the inside: the loss of leadership last year after guys like Chad Bumphis, Johnthan Banks, Charles Mitchell and the crew graduated contributed to some of the early-season frustrations. By the end of the year, new leaders had emerged and the team jelled. In 2014, MSU starts the season with a veteran core of leaders already in place and will be plenty prepared for setbacks, should they come.

 

Non-Sports Questions:

Blake Thompson @StateDOG: Would you rather share a meal at Restaurant Tyler with Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Johnson or Jimmy Buffett?

Bob: Your choice of restaurant is excellent, though my choice of Jimmy is a bit more difficult. Johnson would have some stories to tell from his years in college and the NFL and as a broadcaster, Kimmel would keep me laughing through the entire serving of crawfish dip, but then shouldn’t I show some favoritism for the Mississippi-made Buffett?

But if I’m a particular fan of any of these Jimmys, it’s Fallon. Make the easy joke about him laughing and looking at the camera mid-sketch on SNL, but he’s one of the most natural and versatile entertainers the world has. He easily makes his guests and interviewees feel comfortable, he can sing, he’s funny and also he’s a millionaire, so I assume he’s picking up the check.

That Guy @thatguy1878: What time frame of history interests you the most?

Bob: Probably the periods we know so little about. I’m incredibly interested in some of the ancient cultures and societies who were so far advanced that it took the rest of the world thousands of years to come up with the same innovations they did millennia before. The Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Mayans, Han China, ancient Greece – all intriguing civilizations we have varied levels of knowledge about. I love history, but there’s so much to know and learn it would be difficult to track it all in one lifetime.

Rob Hataway @vhdawg: Who is your favorite Disney princess?

Bob: I’m more of a Lion King, Robin Hood, Jungle Book kinda guy, so my princess knowledge is limited to what I learned while working at Disney World in college (a program I recommend to any current or future students). My gut says Ariel from Little Mermaid, but the more I think about it, I have to go with Belle from Beauty and the Beast. She loves to read, cares about her family and doesn’t judge people she meets based on outside appearances. My kind of girl.

Corey Pilkenton @cpilkenton: What movie character death do you have a hard time watching? Kind of lame but mine is Apollo Creed.

Sad-DobbyBob: The hardest one for me to watch is Dobby the house elf. Partially because I’m invested in the character, but much more because of what he represents. I think we all tend to believe our pets are smarter than they actually are, that they understand us, care about us and protect us. Above all, they’re loyal to us. Did I use to talk to my dog when it was just me and her? Yes, and so did you.

Dobby is to Harry what our dogs become to us – someone who loves us unquestionably and is loyal even to a fault. So, when Dobby dies, The Feels hit me real hard.

Nancy McCarley @nancymccarley: Discuss your tried and true strategies for blocking potential line cutters at major amusement parks.

Bob: I just got back from vacation (good to see you, ma!) and the anger at people trying to cut in line for a ride is fresh in my mind. If you’re traveling with a group, you can cut off people trying to get ahead under the guise of allowing the rest of your group to move forward.

But the key at preventing the most determined of queue cutters is to get in the mindset of a cornerback. If you know they’re going to take any opening they get, give them the one you want them to have. Give them what they think is the inside lane around a corner, then swing around the turn and lock your hip into the railing, blocking them into a corner they walked into on their own. Pretend like you’re a kid playing around in line and stretch your arms across to both railings and lift yourself into the air with each step. When you do this, make sure to swing your legs backward, forcing the line breakers to step back so as to avoid getting a size 11 to the shin.

If you’re feeling more aggressive, you can always just turn around and stare at them knowingly. Have a magical day.

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An old story and a new plaque in The Junction to honor the original Dudy Noble Field

Obvious as it may sound – and it is – life in Mississippi, and all of America of course, was different in the ‘50s. World War II was fresh in the country’s memory, baby boomers had just been born and in a pre-internet world of post-war euphoria, things were just more lax.

At Mississippi State, specifically, much was different even in the layout. Where the mammoth-sized Dorman Hall now stands on the south side of campus used to be nothing but grass, running straight from South Farm to Davis Wade Stadium. Behind Dorman’s current location and to the south were the old football practice fields. Laying to the north is the original site of Dudy Noble Field – home plate actually sits about 50 feet from where the doors of Dorman now open and shut.

unnamedThose who tailgate in The Junction before MSU football games this year will see a large new plaque at the south end commemorating the old site of Dudy Noble, a home plate lain where the original used to be.

One of the men who used to watch games at the old site – and played football on the nearby fields – is one any who have around MSU for a while are familiar with. Charlie Weatherly has done just about everything at State, from playing football to becoming executive director of the Alumni Association, with much in between as well as a good deal before and since.

And it was he who was there for one of the odder moments in MSU’s long athletic history, back in 1956 as he recalls it, when he was one of the maroon-clad footballers out on the practice field one sunny afternoon.

The story requires a touch of background, the first being some geographical information. See, at the time, the nearby Tombigbee Waterway was not yet a thing, so flooding was a very serious problem in the area, and that year was a particularly troublesome one.

The second is the need to know another Bulldog by the name of Cliff Gookin, who some may recognize as the namesake of Gookin Boulevard in Tupelo, Mississippi. Gookin had graduated the year before and gone into the working world, but he missed his friends and old teammates back in school.

One day, the memories grabbed so tight a hold, as Weatherly tells it, that Gookin decided to visit.

“So, Cliff decided to get in one of the bi-planes at work and fly over to Starkville,” Weatherly said. “He probably told them he was going to survey the flood area, but I think that was just an excuse to fly over us.”

So, as practice finished up that afternoon, Weatherly and his teammates saw a low-flying plane approaching from the north. Quickly, they recognized the pilot as their old teammate Gookin.

“Someone yelled, ‘I think he’s going to land that thing on the field!’” Weatherly recalled.

And sure enough, that was the plan. Luckily, the baseball team had already finished and no one was on that field, and the football team had mostly cleared their 100-yard space. Except for a couple obstacles Gookin hadn’t thought about.

As the Bulldogs watched, the plane flew out over South Farm, turned in a big loop over the crops and pastures and began its northbound descent onto the practice field.

“Now, what Cliff forgot,” Weatherly said with a laugh, “is the goal posts on either end of the field.”

At the very last moment, Gookin must have realized his error and Weatherly and his teammates got a kick out watching the nose of the plane turn up as quick as can be, barely sneaking over the goal posts.

So the second try at a showy landing came. After all, Gookin had 100 yards of “runway” to work with.

“Well, practice was over,” Weatherly said, “but we hadn’t completely cleared the field yet and there was this whole line of tackling dummies stretching across the middle of the field.”

One more time, as the plane was coming into land, the nose jumped back into the air again and just snuck over the second obstacle.

Celebration of avoided disaster only lasted a moment, however. Still flying low, straight and right down the center of the field, the north goal posts sat dead ahead of Gookin and he was closing in. Fast.

“He picked the plane up,” Weatherly remembers, “but he didn’t have time to get over the posts, so he took a hard left. And he almost got out clean. But not quite.”

The very tip of Gookin’s right wing caught the left upright of the goal post, the beginning of the final time that plane would head for the ground.

The original location of Dudy Noble Field, next door to Scott Field

The original location of Dudy Noble Field, next door to Scott Field

Weatherly and his teammates, who had climbed up on the first base line bleachers of the baseball field to watch the daring act, quickly realized their perch was no longer a safe area. In fact, it had become the unintentional target.

“There were all these bushes underneath the stands,” Weatherly explained, “and they were full of thorns. Sharp ones that really hurt if they stuck you. Well, we had no choice, we dove into them and landed in the thorns on our hands and knees.”

From the prickly ground, they watched as the plane came in, but somehow, with the touch of a professional, the plane landed soft as could be right on top of those bleachers.

It was a crash landing without the crash, and Gookin stepped out, equal parts triumphant and relieved.

Years later, Gookin turned out to be a man of great influence in the political world, helping direct funds to his beloved alma mater, bringing jobs, money and opportunity to the state of Mississippi throughout his career.

His former teammates, on that day, may not have quite expected the successes to eventually come for Gookin.

“I’m not sure if he kept that first job or not,” Weatherly finished with another laugh. “But everything definitely worked out for him.”

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MSU compiling best games at Scott Field and all-time football team

With 2014 marking the 100-year anniversary of Scott Field, Mississippi State is planning several events to commemorate the centennial mark.

What will be fun is that at least two of the things planned will be more or less run by MSU fans.

YJRWCDWSEZGEOJT.20140522060046First, starting today MSU is searching for nominations for the best games in the history of Scott Field – essentially, the best home games in Bulldog history. A panel from the athletic department will narrow down the suggestions to a Top 25 after a two-week nomination period beginning today, then will ask fans to vote for their Top 10.

Submissions are taken beginning today, just tweet using the hashtag #HailStateVote to nominate a game. For example, a tweet could read “1999 Egg Bowl #HailStateVote,” though it could certainly include other highlights, such as an individual play or moment from a game. Just make sure to include the game and hashtag.

The second one – and this is the part I’m particularly excited about – will be an all-time MSU football team, a starting 11 on both sides of the ball and two utility players as voted on by fans. A committee will come up with a list of nominees for each position and I’ll actually have the voting here on the blog, including quick bios and numbers for each of the nominees to aid in the decision-making process. The winners will be announced throughout the season as MSU will fill in the starting lineup on the video board over the course of the fall.

The voting will take place position by position (for example: one day will be picking one quarterback from five nominees, the next will be picking three linebackers from eight nominees, etc.) over the course of the preseason.

Oh, and in case you missed it a couple weeks back, I wrote a story about Don Scott, the man for whom Scott Field was named, in case you need something to get you in the proper nostalgic mood.

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The Notebook: News, awards and more as we return from holiday

Welcome back! I’m saying that either to myself or to you, as I’m guessing I wasn’t the only one out of town for the holiday last week (and a few days before it).

Since the month of July began, a fair bit has actually happened around Mississippi State, not including fireworks. Let’s jump right in and catch up on what transpired.

OXHVDDDACCWANZN.20131231233943— Starting today, senior receiver Jameon Lewis was [again] named to the Paul Hornung Award Watch List, an honor given annually to the most versatile player in college football. Obviously, this type of award is right up Tubby’s alley. You’ll recall that not once but twice last year he scored three different ways in one game, having two games where he passed for, ran and received a touchdown. Beyond that, he’s also been an explosive kick returner.

All that, and it’s worth remembering that when he first got to campus Lewis started out as a cornerback. Though the coaches quickly realized which side of the ball he needed to be on.

— In fact, since I started writing this post, two more Bulldogs have made watch lists, and I doubt it will be the last one for either. Junior linebacker Benardrick McKinney was named to Bednarik Award (Defensive Player of the Year) and junior quarterback Dak Prescott was placed on the Maxwell Award (National Player of the Year) watch list. McKinney and Prescott are two of the hottest names on their sides of the ball in college as the preseason rolls along and it wouldn’t be surprising to see both in Hoover for SEC Media Days next week

— Some new scheduling news came out last week, as MSU announced it will play a home-and-home with North Carolina State in 2020-21. The first game will be in Raleigh and the second in Starkville. This, of course, is a part of the new SEC scheduling rules in which each school is required to play at least one team per season from one of the other Power Five conferences.

As a reminder, MSU has Arizona scheduled for 2022-23, and Scott Stricklin shared in his update that State is close to finalizing a deal with another team for 2018-19. The struggle, Stricklin said, is finding an opponent for 2016-17. Scheduling (like with the previously mentioned teams) is typically done far in advance and 2016-17, despite seeming so far away, is actually pretty short notice.

— Speaking of Stricklin’s update, he shared news on the expansion of Davis Wade Stadium. He reports the contractors will turn the stadium over to MSU on August 20th, leaving MSU over a full week’s window before the season-opener against Southern Miss.

unnamedAt this point, the majority of the work on the north end zone is done, with final things like seats, windows, painting and little stuff on the inside left to be done. Progress has also been made on the new video board, where the first of hundreds of panels have gone in. I drove by yesterday and the difference between then and the last I saw it two weeks ago is significant.

— Related news: ESPN actually ranked the top 10 video boards in the country and had MSU at No. 7. I particularly enjoyed this description from the post: “When that thing lights up at night and the cowbells are clanking, you feel like some mythical creature is going to slither out of that pigskin sanctuary.”

I might argue for the use of clanging, rather than clanking, but otherwise I have no issues. What’s worth noting is that the new video board will be the exact same size as the current one, so things are about to get pretty wild at Scott Field.

— Continuing written connect-the-dots, MSU also announced last week the forming of a video department named Hail State Productions. I’m particularly excited about this news, which starts with the hiring of Bennie Ashford from the University Television Center and of Drew Walker from Auburn.

Both have a long history of quality and production, so it ought to be fun. This comes as the result of several things, though the two chief reasons are the oncoming SEC Network which will require advanced and daily video production from the schools, and the eagerness of the department to have professional quality videos both from a creative and production standpoint. Read more about it here.

— One last football note while we’re on the subject: NFL.com did a list of the 14 best uniforms in college football, and you’ll notice the picture at the top of the page features the Maroon and White Adidas we are all so familiar with. Specifically, the list references the specialty 1990s throwbacks MSU will be wearing for the season-opener.

— Now, let’s get to the first of two coaching moves. With Per Nilsson on his way out to Pepperdine, MSU was looking for a new men’s tennis coach. The search was lengthy and thorough, but the end result found what some had thought from the start: the best candidate was already in Starkville. Nilsson’s No. 2 man Matt Roberts was considered one of the top young coaches in the country and has been instrumental in recruiting and developing the teams which have spent four-straight years in the Top 20 nationally.

More info on MSU’s hire of Roberts and his history can be found here at HailState.com.

— Our final note comes from baseball, where John Cohen and the Diamond Dawg program announced the hiring of Zach Dillon as the new director of camps and volunteer first base coach. The former Big XII Player of the Year, Dillon has a strong pedigree at the plate both as catcher and hitter, and it seems to have translated to coaching and working with young players. As before, more info on Dillon and his hiring at HailState.com.

— I lied, one more item: if you’re interested in keeping up with the Diamond Dawgs through summer ball, you can find a full report on their successes here.

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New numbers for football veterans and newcomers, including a new No. 1

How do we know football season is growing closer? Well, we’re not far from SEC Media Days, for one, but we’ve also got some roster news as incoming players have been assigned their numbers and a few veterans have switched to new jersey digits. The full updated roster with newcomers and numbers is available here at HailState.com.

ubaeeakunucnlit-20140101011201Perhaps most notable is a promising young receiver taking the number of one of the best to ever play his position, as sophomore De’Runnya Wilson has switched to No. 1, the number formerly held for one year by Nickoe Whitley and four years by Chad Bumphis.

Some other returning players and their new numbers:

Sophomore WR Fred Brown – 5

Sophomore DB Kivon Coman – 11

Sophomore QB Damian Williams – 11

Sophomore DB Deontay Evans – 17

And the numbers for the new players:

Linebacker Gerri Green – 4

QB Elijah Staley – 14

Safety Brandon Bryant – 20

Cornerback Chris Rayford – 24

RB Aeris Williams – 27

RB Dontavian Lee – 33

Defensive Tackle Cory Thomas – 34

Kicker/Punter Logan Cooke – 43

Safety JT Gray – 45

Offensive Lineman Deion Calhoun – 61

Junior OL Jocquell Johnson – 64

OL Elgton Jenkins – 73

Junior Tight End Darrion Hutcherson – 84

WR Jesse Jackson – 86

DT Grant Harris – 90

DT Braxton Hoyett – 95

 

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