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: 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

— 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

— 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

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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MSU’s National Champ Brandon McBride wins on both speed and intellect


Photos courtesy Madeleine Takahashi

Sitting in the tent with his coaches on either side of him, Brandon McBride is a mess. He’s got a race in a few minutes, a race with the National Championship on the line, and the pressure is too much, the anxiety too overwhelming. He can’t do it. Not today.

“I have a little meltdown before every race,” McBride conceded.

In that moment in the tent, Mississippi State’s sophomore star in the 800-meter sprint is completely broken, incapable of competition.

But piece-by-piece, his coaches put him back together. They build him up until he emerges from the tent as if nothing ever happened. He takes his spot on the track with the confidence of a man with Herculean ability, the breakdown of moments before already washed from his memory.

“When I get back on the track, I just block out everything else and just race,” McBride shared. “I try not to let my competitors see it.”

His competitors, McBride will tell you, see exactly what he wants them to see.

Typically, that’s his back as he crosses the finish line first.

The 2014 indoor and outdoor seasons now concluded, McBride won the National Championship for both seasons in the 800-meter, and the competition was never particularly close. That is except for the one moment he lets them in, only to crush them down the stretch.

For McBride, it’s not enough to just be faster than the people he runs against. If you’re only competing with physical strength, you’re missing half the game.

McBride plays the mental game – he likes to get in his opponents’ heads. He studies their strengths, weaknesses, tendencies and results before every race. When you line up next to McBride, he knows your abilities as well as you do.

10455842_877313635618772_3442648558934116685_nAnd, not that it’s any surprise, McBride likes to lead. It’s a few percentage points harder to lead than follow in a race, but it’s worth the extra effort of his body to gain the advantage with his mind.

In his last race – the National Title sprint at the NCAA Championships in Oregon – McBride knew that six of his eight competitors were “kickers,” runners who like to stay at the back of the pack until the last 100 meters and then turn it on hard for the final stretch.

“The type of runner that I am, I like to start off at a fast pace,” he said. “I like to put the pace on them early so you can take some of the energy and some of the pop out some of the kickers’ legs … So I took it out fast.”

The difference in leading or following, McBride explained, is that if you’re following, all you think about is the pace. You waste mental energy worrying about the leader and when to make your move, then you waste whatever physical energy you saved because you’re jockeying for position with the rest of the followers.

No, leading the pack is easy choice for McBride.

“I like to run my race. I’m not really a guy that likes to come from the back.”

But still, the problem of those kickers who will try to jet past him at the end.

McBride is ahead of them there, too.

On the second of the two laps, McBride will offer his competition hope. He lets them think they have a chance and that he’s running out of gas after his fast start.

McBride, with a substantial lead, will purposely slow down, just a tad, and let the people behind him catch up a little bit.

“I make it seem like I’m almost dying out,” McBride said. “They start working harder to try to catch me, and right when they’re on my heels, right when they think ‘I’m gonna pass this guy,’ that’s when I turn it back on.

“When they start seeing me pull away it kind of does something to them inside. It plays with their mind a little bit and that’s what I like to do.”

10457172_877318168951652_3858885200264454001_nMcBride doesn’t just beat you, he defeats you. And maybe it’s because he already defeated himself before the race. No one can make him feel as bad as he makes himself feel. His biggest competition is his himself, and every time he emerges from that tent, put back together by his coaches, he’s already won.

“I don’t ask God to allow me to win,” McBride said of his pre-race prayer ritual. “I ask him to allow me to do my best. Whatever place that is, as long as I know I did my best, I’m happy.”

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The story of Taveze Calhoun’s recruitment, MSU’s hidden gem of the 2011 signing class

Today, ESPN ranked Taveze Calhoun as the second-best cornerback in the SEC (and called teammate Jamerson Love No. 7).

Courtesy Micah Green, The Dispatch, @MicahGreen15

Courtesy Micah Green, The Dispatch, @MicahGreen15

But it was two months ago when I first found out how the now-junior star even ended up at Mississippi State. I knew he wasn’t highly-recruited at all. Speaking candidly, lowly-recruited would probably be a more appropriate description.

Dan Mullen and his staff have done a good job of identifying players like that, though. Thorpe Award winner Johnthan Banks comes to mind as a signee who was going to MSU or nowhere before his eventual rise to stardom.

But as Mullen told the story this summer, most of the credit for the hidden gem of the 2011 signing class goes to Calhoun’s high school principal.

Less than two weeks before national signing day, Mullen was in Calhoun’s hometown of Morton, Mississippi, but he was there to see someone else, a prospect regarded as one of the top players not just in the state but in the country.

The five-star stud (who did end up signing with MSU) was Mullen’s priority, but as Mullen talked with the principal that day, it was Taveze Calhoun’s name which kept coming up.

“This is the guy you want,” the principal told MSU’s head coach. “Just take a look at him. He’s our hardest worker, our best leader. He may not jump off the tape when you watch, but if you take him, you won’t regret it.”

Well, why not give him a look, Mullen thought. MSU’s staff researched a little bit, saw some promising things and gave Calhoun a call.

“What are you doing this weekend,” Mullen remembers asking him.

“Well, I’m visiting Jackson State,” Mullen recalls Calhoun telling him. “I’m hoping I might get an offer.”

“Why don’t you come see us this weekend instead,” Mullen requested. “I can’t promise you anything, but we might have some room in our class. We’d like to get to know you.”

So Calhoun took Mullen up on the invite and visited MSU the weekend before signing day. Both parties were taking a chance. If State didn’t offer, Calhoun may have missed an opportunity elsewhere. And with precious few hours left until signatures had to be secured, MSU was going to spend some time on an unknown prospect on the advice of his principal.

The rest is obvious. Calhoun visited, the coaches loved him and he loved MSU. As soon as the offer was extended, Calhoun took it.

Now, he enters his junior year of SEC football with far more fanfare than when his career in Maroon and White began. A breakout player for MSU last year and a rising star in the conference, Taveze Calhoun is everything his principal promised he would be.

And he was right – Mullen doesn’t regret it.

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2014 MSU football schedule posters released

Dak Prescott 1

As seen above and below, Mississippi State is rolling out a new design on this year’s football schedule posters, going from horizontal to vertical, black to white and one version to four.

The four different posters feature some of the prominent Bulldogs, with junior quarterback Dak Prescott, senior center Dillon Day, junior linebacker Benardrick McKinney and senior defensive tackle Kaleb Eulls.

Prescott was the breakout star for MSU last season, while the man snapping him the ball, Day, has become one of the top centers in the country. McKinney is not just the star of State’s defense, he’s one of the best linebackers playing college football in 2014 and may very well be in an NFL camp this time next year. While those on the outside may not be aware, those in the Seal Football Complex know Eulls may be the most respected player on the team, an unquestioned leader not just for his defense, but in all facets.

As for the design itself, the white background is a continuation of the style the marketing department tried out with softball and baseball this spring, and it sounds like they’re using the same design for all fall sports in 2014. One subtle advantage, marketing man Rhett Hobart mentioned, is the ability to make maroon the main color on top of the white, a very clean look.

Of course, the biggest change is going from one poster to four. Traditional schedule posters have the whole team, the coaching staff or at least several players and a coach. Very few have just one player or multiple versions.

Said marketing director Leah Beasley, “After last season’s thrilling finish, we wanted the look and feel for this year’s design to be exceptional and exciting – something to keep the momentum going. These large singular images portray a strong Bulldog presence that we feel fans will enjoy collecting as our team continues to Fight for Mississippi State.”

As for getting a hold of the posters, they will be available at Fan Day on August 23rd and at the Summer Extravaganza in Jackson on July 17th. The department is working on a system now to mail them to out-of-town fans for a minimal fee, though the details on that haven’t yet been finalized. We’ll certainly share when they are.

Benardrick McKinney


Kaleb Eulls

Dillon Day POSTER

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Remembering Don Scott on the 100th anniversary of Scott Field

VTMOHRJVCGVBTUX.201110152012112014 marks exactly 100 years since Scott Field became a part of Mississippi State’s campus, a century-long history of athletic achievement dating back to the earliest days of sport in Starkville. It’s been so long, in fact, that back in 1914, MSU was still called Mississippi Agricultural and Mechanical College.

The home of Bulldog football (then the Aggies), Scott Field is named after Don Magruder Scott, one of the best athletes to ever play at MSU under any name or sport, and he was also one of the first to compete at Scott Field, though it did not yet bear his name.

But here’s the weird thing: Don Scott wasn’t known for football. He only started tossing the pigskin midway through college (he’s listed as a “scrub” for 1912-13), and he only managed a spot on the varsity team his senior year.

He was a military man who starred on the track and field team. He played basketball, too, but most importantly, Don Scott was MSU’s first Olympian.

Scott competed in the 1920 Summer Olympics in Belgium, an event they were reportedly awarded after the hardship they faced in World War I. You see, the 1916 games, the first Olympics following Scott’s time at MSU and the first he qualified for, were canceled due to the war.

Scott then returned to international glory when he competed on behalf of the United States in the 1924 Olympics in Paris, France.

A record-breaker in the 800-meter sprint, Scott also competed in the modern pentathlon, which includes shooting, fencing, riding, running and swimming.

Courtesy: Mississippi State University Libraries

Courtesy: Mississippi State University Libraries

His legend in Mississippi began years before any of that, however. From Woodville, Miss., according to old yearbooks, Scott was one of the few underclassmen to work his way onto the playing surface of any sport at A&M. In those days, playing time was generally reserved for juniors and seniors.

Not only did he make varsity as a youngster, but a report from the 1913 State track Championships referred to the sophomore Scott as “the star of the event,” running one mile in 4 minutes and 52 seconds, and setting a southeastern regional record by running the half mile in 2 minutes and 18 seconds. Both of those times were good for first place in competition.

In fact, it was Scott’s absence (presumably due to injury) at the 1914 Southeastern Championships for which A&M was credited with its second place finish. The Reveille in the following year shared its thoughts on his absence.

“It is bad policy to say what might have been,” the anonymous writer wrote, “ but we can safely claim that had Scott been able to take part in the S.I.A.A. … A. & M. and not L. S. U. would be the Southern champions.”

Earlier that spring at the statewide track meet, Scott had run an incredible 2-minute and 3-second half-mile, so the claim had its merits.

By the time his senior year began, Scott and classmate C. R. “Dudy” Noble (yes, that Dudy Noble) were stars of the track world, captains of one of the nation’s elite teams.

Don Scott and "Dudy" Noble on the track and field page of the 1914 yearbook. (Courtesy: MSU Libraries)

Don Scott and “Dudy” Noble on the track and field page of the 1914 yearbook. (Courtesy: MSU Libraries)

Scott’s senior yearbook offered hefty praise for the senior electrical engineering major.

“We believe that there is not a better-liked man in the class than ‘Scoot,’” his description begins, “and we never see him when he doesn’t wear a smile. Although only twenty years of age, he is a handsome young giant and all-around athlete of most marked ability, holding the Southern record in the half and quarter-mile races. He is unpretentious, friendly, studious, and withal knows how to blush.”

In the spring of 1915, Scott and his teammates had a brand new field to compete on, and that’s exactly what they called it for the next several years: “New Athletic Field.” Accurate, if not particularly subtle.

On May 2, New Athletic Field held its first-ever intercollegiate event, welcoming Alabama to compete against A&M in track and field. The Aggies won in a landslide, led by multiple first-place finishes from Scott and Noble.

The Reflector, the student newspaper of the school, offered a deliberate message in its recap of the event.

“Although the A. and M. team won this meet by an overwhelming majority of points, let us try to boost our track team, putting new life into the entire team, for there are still greater honors to obtain.”

By the time the all-important S.I.A.A. competition in New Orleans drew close in early summer, The Reflector was reporting Scott to be one second off the world record for both the quarter mile and the half mile. Surely, he’d lead the Maroon and White Aggies to victory.

unnamedOn May 16th, 1915, one headline ran in large font across the sports page of The New Orleans Item. In all-caps: “SCOTT, OF AGGIES, ASTOUNDS SOUTH’S ATHLETES BY WONDERFUL FEATS.” The sub-headline read: “Orleans Experts Call Mississippi Runner Best South Has Ever Produced.”

Scott set records in his two specialty events, running the quarter mile in 49 seconds and the half mile in 1 minute and 55 seconds, breaking the record he had set there himself as a sophomore two years previously.

The Reflector was no less effusive in their praise of Scott than The Item had been.

“Donald M. Scott is the greatest runner in the south and one of the greatest middle-distancers in the world,” the story began. “Other records were smashed – records that have stood the test of the South’s best for years. Everything is forgotten in the recollection of that sturdy Mississippi boy of 20 years of age, tearing down to the finish line, making his own race, with his nearest competitor yards behind and finishing with a burst of speed that made the old-timers wish to see him matched with Ted Meredith, Olympic champion and the world’s greatest runner.

“The Southern athlete has arrived!

“Through Scott the South will gain recognition in the athletics of America, if not the world … It is of Scott we must sing our praises now. He is our lone claim to a place in the Sun of athletics. He is rich in promise and in qualities which go to make the man and athlete.”

To be sure, few have gone out with such style or so clearly on top as Don Scott. Nor have many done it with such youth, finishing his college career at the young age of 20.

However, his name might have been easily forgotten, were it not for the thoughts of one student five years later, the fall following Scott’s first Olympic appearance.

Before that day, Don Scott was a name which might have eventually been forgotten as the sands of time wiped away his records, memories and numerous friends.

But inspiration hit and a suggestion took hold within mere weeks of being made public.

Tired of calling the place where the Aggies played their sports “New Athletic Field,” a column was published in The Reflector about the facility on October 5th, 1920.

Appropriately enough, the story without a listed author was titled,

‘What’s In A Name?’

“The name of a thing, in order to be appropriate, must bear some direct relation to whatever thing that bears the name.

‘New Athletic Field’ does bear a direct relation to our athletic field in the sense that it is news, but why not call the baby ‘The New Baby;’ or the store ‘The New Store.’

In selecting a name for our athletic field we ought to stop and say, ‘Ink has written A. and M. athletic history’ and select the name of some great athlete whose feats have added the most laurels to A. and M.’s athletic glory.

If we review the records of the great foot-ball men, there is not a man whose feats are outstanding enough to warrant the naming of the field in his honor. The same may be truthfully said about our base-ball men.

There is but one A. and M. athlete who has gone out from this institution and demonstrated his superiority over any athlete he has come in contact with. Don Scott, A. and M.’s great half-miler, has met and defeated the best athletes of this country. He now holds the S. I. A. A. record for the half mile and his records still stand unbroken for the same distance in the Western Conference and the National A. A. U.

Why not name our new athletic field ‘Scott Field’ in appreciation of Don’s untiring efforts to bring athletic fame to his Alma Mater.”

It worked.

In August, Mississippi State will celebrate 100 years of Scott Field, one full century since one of the greatest athletes in the school’s history first stepped foot on the field which would later bear his name.

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MSU issues statement on Deshea Townsend report

Following reports today on a rental property in Pennsylvania owned by Mississippi State cornerbacks coach Deshea Townsend, the MSU athletic department released a brief statement. In it, Townsend expressed that he was not involved with the incident and the individuals in question were not those who signed the lease for his rental property.

Here is the text in full:

“Deshea Townsend has learned that arrests occurred at a property titled in his name in the Mount Washington area of Pittsburgh. Although Coach Townsend has not been associated with the Pittsburgh Steelers since 2010, he continues to own investment property in the Pittsburgh area. The property in question was the subject of a lease purchase agreement executed in March 2012. Neither individuals arrested were signatories to the March 2012 lease agreement. Coach Townsend employs a rental agent to conduct his affairs regarding this property and in no way is associated with the activities that may have occurred at a property rented by him to others.”

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The Notebook 6-06: Football news, MLB Draft, softball, golf, basketball and woodpeckers

Happy Maroon Friday (or just regular Friday in case you ran out of maroon clothing).

We’ve got a lot notes to hit recapping the last few days as most sports are finished and a few individuals still remain in action.

7641842First, the 2014 football season has already set a record. Today, MSU officially broke and set it’s own record for season tickets sold, the number hitting 44,320 this morning. Of course, this was expected with the expansion of Davis Wade Stadium, but it certainly speaks to the excitement of the year ahead to have hit the number so early.

That total will increase, as well, with tickets still available at

On that note, I caught wind of some plans today which we’ll get more information on in the near future – MSU is working on a young/recent graduates section of seating for the young professionals who only recently finished school and aren’t yet able to afford some of the more premium seating options. Whenever the details on that get ironed out I’ll be sure to share some more information. Ought to be cool.

One other football item: MSU announced yesterday that it will be playing a home-and-home series with Arizona in 2022 and 2023, so you’ve only got eight years to secure tickets and travel. Seriously though, without knowing what either team will look like by then, this should be a fun matchup. The big part for MSU is that it fulfills the SEC rule calling for one opponent every year from another of the Power Five conferences.

BHUCQVERQVFSXFE.20130421001602Onto baseball: late last night MSU’s All-SEC reliever Jacob Lindgren was picked by the New York Yankees in the second round of the MLB Draft. The junior lefty had a breakout year in his new role coming out of the bullpen, leading to a big jump in his prospects and high demand for his services. Many who speculate on such things believe Lindgren could be called up to the majors as early as September. They believe his stuff to be that good.

On that note, the Yankees website wrote a bit about the selection, their only pick on the first day of the draft. Lindgren made specific mention of “the greatest fans in college baseball” as he said a few thank yous to those who helped him along the way. Check out the full story here -

Oh, and on the same day he was drafted, Lingo was named a finalist for the Stopper of the Year Award given annually to the best reliever in college baseball by the National College Baseball Writer’s Association.

On a similar Bulldogs-becoming-pros note, Gabe Jackson signed his first NFL contract this week, officially making him an Oakland Raider. The Raiders website posted a story and video, which you can find here

Switching from former players to future players, one of Vann Stuedeman’s softball signees got a nice honor, being named the Alabama Gatorade Player of the Year. Her numbers are worth checking out A) because they’re kind of incredible and B) because she has outstanding stats as both a pitcher and a hitter.

As a senior this year, she posted a 0.80 earned-run average and recorded 335 strikeouts in 219.1 innings. Not limited to the circle, Ward was a monster at the plate, hitting .432 with eight home runs and 64 RBI as a senior.

On the subject of softball, I did want to share some interesting nuggets from the media relations department. The starting point: MSU’s strength of schedule was the the best in the SEC in 2014. Or toughest, whichever way you want to look at it. In a conference which had both teams in the National Championship (Florida beat Alabama), MSU’s schedule was the hardest, with opponents owning a combined 0.563 winning percentage. Conference champion Alabama, for instance, was 11th in the SEC at 0.453.

What’s impressive is how MSU fared against that schedule, winning 39 games (the third most in program history), going to a third-straight NCAA Regional, making the SEC Tournament and winning eight games against top 25 teams, the second most in program history.

In other outdoor news, junior golfer Ally McDonald continues to be great at hitting the little white ball into a small hole hundreds of yards away. She began play in the Curtis Cup today, where she is one of eight amateurs from across the country representing USA. It’s the second time this athletic year that she’s been on a Team USA and it follows the end of a season in which MSU’s women’s golf team finished sixth at the National Championships.

McDonald has shared her intentions to return for her senior year, bolstering an already talented roster in 2014-15 for Ginger Brown-Lemm.

Two random university-related notes:

First, President Mark Keenum was elected to the Southeastern Conference executive committee, an important job and influential position. That announcement adds to his role already with the SEC on the content committee for the SEC Network. MSU’s President becomes even more important and involved with the conference.

Second, this is just cool. Mississippi State researchers have been studying woodpeckers and their ability to absorb so much shock to the head. The goal is to make football safer and decrease concussions in the sport. Check out the story here -

And finally, two basketball notes. First, Rick Ray announced the hiring of Tanner Smith as a graduate assistant on his staff. Smith played for Ray at Clemson previously.

Speaking of new faces, the basketball video department put out a highlight reel of Fallou Ndoye from practice this year. The 6’11″ forward had to sit out in 2013-14, but he’ll be ready to play this fall and ought to make an immediate impact, judging by this video.

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Unhittable Holder outstanding in Regional win over JSU

Outside the back window of Mississippi State’s team hotel, a dark river runs under a bridge, through the marsh and alongside the Hilton’s back deck and pool.

30, 40, maybe 50 feet across on the other side of the river sits an old dock with an old boat and an even older sign advertising authentic Louisiana swamp tours.

10388139_874074429274395_7981700491409124092_nIf Jonathan Holder, MSU’s All-American closer and hero of Saturday’s night Regional win, wanted to see turtles, birds and alligators up close, he could just step out the back door.

In fact, the Mississippi-born and Gulf Coast-raised pitcher may find he has a bit in common with some of these bayou beasts.

Holder, who struck out a career-high nine batters last night, is an intimidating sight on the mound. Just as fearsome as his looks is his steady, cool countenance, followed by quick attacks as sliders and fastballs come flying from his previously still and watchful stance.

Like the alligators surrounding the city of Lafayette, his move is meditated, quick and deathly strong when the bite comes down.

Gators, the slow-talking Louisiana swamp guides will tell you, are some of the animal kingdom’s most unbeatable creatures. Left on their own, the pre-historic reptiles live to be over 150 years old. There are alligators floating through the bayou today who were sunning in those shallow waters before the Civil War even thought about beginning.

If a gator loses a limb, its body automatically shuts off blood flow to the hurt area. They won’t bleed to death and they’ll live on as if they never needed that part of their scaly flesh anyway. Even if killed, only the tail and snout are worth eating. The meat in the middle of their bodies is so dense, strong and ancient that it will stay red no matter long you cook it. Only the desperately hungry will partake.

The ancient predators are calm under pressure – thriving under it, really – and unperturbed by boats floating by or cameras flashing during tours.

An alligator can take down an entire wild boar in one strike of it’s deadly jaws, though the dinosaur-like dwellers of the shallows can go an entire year without eating.

“So imagine how hungry he is when he sees you,” a Cajun tour guide says with half a smile.

10341665_874074525941052_5108393876529058115_nMSU made it to Louisiana on Thursday afternoon, but Holder had to wait until the end of the night Saturday for his first opportunity to strike. Like the gators in the black water, Holder is patient. He doesn’t know when his next chance to eat will come, but he’s always hungry, always waiting.

So when the opportunity comes – and it did Saturday against Jackson State – he’s ready.

“Those are the situations that I love the best,” Holder said, “adrenaline filled.”

In the fourth inning, Holder’s number was called. He stepped onto the mound with the bases loaded and two outs with the game tied at 1-1. If he missed even a little bit, the Tigers could blow the game open. If he hit right, he could save the day.

“Adrenaline is kind of my key,” Holder explained. “When I get to come in for situations that are high-pressure, I feel like my stuff is a little sharper, maybe, and I pound the zone.”

“Where is the game going to be be won or lost,” John Cohen asked himself Saturday. “It was right there.”

And he was right. Holder, as he always has, saved the day, even if he didn’t technically save the game, officially being credited with the win in the final box score.

What else was going to happen? Holder struck the last Tigers batter out, the first of many on the night as he went on to finish the game without allowing a run, throwing 49 strikes in just 65 pitches over 5.1 innings.

“He can lower his heart rate, get in the moment,” Cohen said after the win. “The way [hitters] were reacting to his breaking ball early on, we kind of thought Jonathan’s stuff was gonna be really good. They were late on the fastball, not seeing the breaking ball.”

The Tigers never had a chance, really. JSU hadn’t seen Holder pitch all season and they didn’t know coming in if they’d see him that night, anyway.

“His curveball is unhittable, even if you’ve seen it before,” MSU second baseman Brett Pirtle said. “He’s phenomenal. He just pounds the zone and he trusts his stuff.

“Playing behind him is so much fun,” he continued, “because you know he’s gonna come in and get the job done and you know you have a chance to win the game with him in there.”

Call it a closer or alligator mentality, Holder is always waiting, a placid façade hiding coiled and tensed muscles ready to jump into action at exactly the right moment.

But once on the mound, his mental approach is always the same.

“Be aggressive,” Holder said simply.

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