Opening weekend in Starkville for MSU football

A little before midnight Friday on Main Street in Starkville, people were everywhere. Not just in the businesses lining the historic street, but in the road itself. The sidewalks were overflowing with a game-weekend crowd.

MAROOOON!” came the yell from one side of the street.

“WHIIIIIITE!” was the return shout from those on the north side of Main Street.

A little ways down the road, where the name changes from Main Street to University Drive as you approach campus, the cheering continued.

“Maroon! White! Fight fight fight!”


TZIQQGOUZRZXUGY.20140831035306Football is back. It was all anyone cared about and it’s why Starkville’s population jumped from around 30,000 to 90,000 over the weekend.

After eight months of waiting, Mississippi State took the field again Saturday night. Dak Prescott was throwing touchdowns, Chris Jones was sacking quarterbacks and Dan Mullen was having, ahem, animated conversations with referees.

Saturday night felt like Christmas morning to Bulldog fans and the weekend itself like an entire holiday season packed into three days.

The way a town changes is what separates college football from the NFL, except perhaps the Green Bay Packers, whose small-town community mirrors MSU’s as well as anyone.

The hosting of a game is an undertaking by the entire town. Restaurants, shops, hotels and city police. Those who spend their full year in Starkville become the matriarchs or patriarchs who open their homes to their family for Christmas.

The tens of thousands who come from elsewhere are reunited with those they haven’t seen for at least the course of the offseason. For some, it’s been years since they last made the pilgrimage.

What’s new, they want to know. So much has changed, while so much has stayed the same.

Saturday comes and the traffic in town empties onto campus. Tailgates fill with families, friends and food.

As grills light up and coolers are emptied it’s like Thanksgiving with every tent smelling like grandma’s kitchen and every collapsible table loaded down like the family’s nicest dining room setup.

Heck, some of the tailgates even have TVs, just like home.

IVSQXRTCBZCTCSM.20140831031756And what would a family gathering be without a little calamity or stress?

Starkville has been dry for weeks, but as soon as gameday came, so did the rain. Hard, fat, unending rain. But no one cared. Thunderclaps over The Junction were greeted with the clanging of cowbells and scattered cheers.

“Bring it on!” the response seemed to be.

Their feet may be soaked, but their spirits refused to dampen.

Thick splashes echoed all around as accumulated rain on top of tents was pushed out.

“Watch your feet!”

Finally, the football itself. This is why people are so excited. This is why students, alumni and passers-by were chanting in the streets. 2014 is one of the most anticipated years of football in quite some time in this small town.

KOZIBQDYIRRIEYU.20140831031809This fall marks 100 years of Scott Field, where MSU plays its games. Saturday was the grand opening of the new Davis Wade Stadium, renovated and expanded to hold nearly 62,000 of those screaming fans and family. Renewing an old rivalry, it was the first time MSU and Southern Miss had played in nearly a quarter century.

Oh, and this team is supposed to be good. Very good. Analysts have asked, why can’t Mississippi State win the West? Pundits have predicted Prescott could be a Heisman contender. The Bulldogs have nationally-recognized stars on both sides of the ball and a head coach beginning his sixth year with the best and deepest team he’s had.

Said SEC Network play-by-play announcer Dave Neal, “The buzz is something I haven’t seen around here in a long time.”

Under tents and rain with old college buddies, parents, in-laws, babies and girlfriends, that’s family, blood-related or not.

ACFEUTLFUNHOAMO.20140831031619Sports, concerts and church services – they’re not just about the content. People pay more and take extra time because of the experience, for the congregation of like-minded and interested souls.

The angles are better on TV, the music sounds better on MP3 and you can beat the crowd to lunch if you catch a service online. But you lose the intangibles of fellowship. That’s what makes it special. That’s why Starkville overflows with Maroon and White every game weekend.

In a world seemingly ridden with crime, poverty and political battle, sports are something to agree on. Football is the commonality for those who may otherwise never have found a reason to talk to each other.

The results of games are borderline inconsequential, though the emotional investment is a significant one.

On Saturday night, on Starkville’s football-filled Christmas morning, Mississippi State’s family was rewarded with a feast.

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Jay Hughes’ big return one year in the making

364 days.

“Y’all don’t understand,” Jay Hughes said. “I’ve been waiting on this so long.”

364 days.

53c5670bbecd4.imageMississippi State’s senior safety hadn’t played in a game since August 31, 2013. In the first quarter of the season-opener last year, his foot exploded in pain. Hughes’ Achilles was torn and his season was over as soon as it had started.

Years of training, months of offseason practice. Blood, sweat, tears, the works, all for nothing. All to watch the year end so quickly and spend the season on the sideline.

“This is real pain,” Hughes said that day.

364 days later, Hughes returned to the field. MSU was hosting Southern Mississippi.

“I was pumped, man.”

Yes he was. As soon as he stepped off the bus and into the locker room, Hughes went straight to the field, the grass he had worked so hard to see again.

He was dancing, jumping, yelling and fist-pumping his way down the field, three-piece suit still on. By the time he reached the endzone where his fellow students were watching and cheering him on, his jacket had come off and was being spun in the air. Sunglasses, suspenders and vest still intact, he was ready to play right then. Right there.

Just to get on the field would have been enough for Hughes. The team captain was happy just to play again after such a wait.

Then the game started and the energy Hughes had pre-game carried onto the field.

At the end of the first half, with MSU up 28-0 but USM threatening to score and take momentum into halftime, Hughes intercepted a deep Southern Mississippi pass to save the shutout and end the half with momentum squarely in MSU’s favor.

“That’s what you want in a veteran unit,” head coach Dan Mullen said. “When you feel momentum start to swing, you stop it.”

The unquestioned leader of the defense, as junior quarterback Dak Prescott calls him, Hughes was the man his coaches needed to make a play.

And it wasn’t his last.

In the third quarter, the shutout was once again in jeopardy as the Eagles were attempting a field goal. Someone, it’s tough to tell who, blocked the kick.

Without hesitation, without slowing at all, Hughes sprinted forward, scooped up the ball and ran 68 yards straight into the opposite endzone. It was his first touchdown since the state championship in high school.

He didn’t even try to watch himself on the video board above the endzone he was running to.

“I was just trying to get there,” he said with a laugh.

He did make it, eventually, if not a little tired from the run.

“I laid down in the endzone and it was one of the best feelings I’ve ever known,” Hughes said.

Everyone on the field had followed him to paydirt and surrounded him in celebration. His teammates on the sideline sprinted onto the field to congratulate him.

“I was almost late to hold the ball [for the extra point] because I was celebrating with him,” Prescott told reporters.

For as energetic, enthusiastic and wild as his teammates and the crowd became after the score, Hughes found himself in a sort of sleepy euphoria. The kind of weary happiness that comes after a hard job done right.

He didn’t even make it off the field by himself, actually. Fellow senior Robert Johnson picked him up after a hug and ran down the sideline with Hughes on his shoulder as teammates slapped his helmet and yelled for him as he passed by.

“Just to be back,” Hughes began, “I feel like I kind of owed it to myself … I’m back, man. We’re back.”

MSU won the game 49-0, not exactly a tightly-contested battle, though Hughes certainly bears some responsibility for MSU maintaining a shutout.

But he was the story of the game for those who know him, his teammates and coaches, in particular. They know how much he means to the team. He’s a playmaker, as he showed Saturday night, but more than that, he’s an emotional leader. He’s a rock for everyone around him. Always there, always encouraging, always teaching and always leading.

That’s what made Hughes’ return so special.

“Just amazing,” Mullen said. “A guy that does everything the right way for the program. He’s a guy you want.”

To Hughes, nothing is about him. But to those watching on the sideline Saturday, at least for a few hours, it was all about Hughes.

364 days later.

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By the Numbers: Countdown to MSU volleyball’s season opener

Tomorrow night, Mississippi State volleyball opens its 2014 season, the culmination of an offseason of work and three grueling weeks of training camp lasting nearly the entire length of August.

DRHVYYDRDOVOCYR.20120808213505Taking the court this weekend in the Sam Houston Classic, the Bulldogs will have put much more in than just the 10-hour bus ride to get to Texas.

Over the three weeks of preseason camp, they gave nearly all they had.

The theme for head coach Jenny Hazelwood’s team is Ohana – Hawaiian for family. Ohana means no one gets forgotten or left behind, that all must cooperate and support each other. With a large contingent, MSU’s team has bonded fast, aided greatly by their time in camp, their military-style day of training and their countless hours spent around each other.

Being so close for so long, they were either going to love or hate each other.

As Hazelwood had hoped, it went the right way. They’re family. And as a family, they went through quite a bit together in camp leading up to tomorrow’s season-opener.

By the numbers:

  • Practices in preseason: 24
  • Players on the team: 17
  • Total height: 109 feet, 7 inches
  • Rolls of tape used: 105
  • Gatorades consumed: 1,896
  • Pairs of knee pads: 51
  • Volleyballs used in each practice: 200
  • Hours of practice in camp: 72
  • Drills run through: 192
  • Changes of clothes: 1,785
  • Ice packs: 714
  • Shoes: 102
  • Days until the season begins: 1
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A 24 year hiatus: Remembering the last time MSU and USM played

In 1990, the big story of the year in Mississippi football was the gunslingin’ senior quarterback down in Hattiesburg at Southern Mississippi. His name was Brett Favre and he was the reason the Golden Eagles were on the national radar, while his summer wreck and subsequent injuries had made quite a few headlines, as well.

Escaping near death, Favre stayed alive for his final campaign at USM, including what turned out to be the last time for decades Mississippi State and Southern would face each other on the gridiron.

September 22, 1990.

Sleepy Robinson

Sleepy Robinson

On the other sideline, MSU had a young hardly-used quarterback by the name of Sleepy Robinson, a dual-threat option for the otherwise pro-style offense run by head coach and former State QB Rockey Felker.

That day on Scott Field was the first time Robinson saw some real action, but despite his integral role in the outcome of the game, it wasn’t his own play that stands out in his memory.

“The biggest thing I remember,” Robinson said, now a recruiting specialist at MSU, “was that strong arm Brett Favre had, like, ‘Wow this guy has a cannon!’”

However, none of the involved quarterbacks had a particularly strong game, as those involved recall. It was a defensive battle where Favre barely completed 45% of his passes, only totaling 124 yards, and State quarterback Tony Shell threw two interceptions, one of which was returned for USM’s only touchdown.

Now back on the staff at MSU as the Director of Player Personnel, Felker remembers both sides considering it their biggest game of the season that year, leading to a bit of a violent affair.

“We haven’t played Southern since then,” Felker said, “but people who remember that game, everyone would say it was a physical battle and one of the toughest, hard-hitting games they’d seen in a long time.”

The two sides traded field goals in the first quarter, the most offense they could muster. Neither team had any success moving the ball.

Then what seemed like a death blow came in the second quarter when Shell threw an interception around midfield and Eagle defensive back Kerry Valrie returned it 47 yards for the score and the lead.

Finally, as the first half was nearly done, an offensive breakthrough came.

“36 S was the play. Fullback in the flat, tight end dragging backside. I remember that,” Robinson now recalls. “I think I may have played six plays that whole game.”

But the Bulldogs were on the one-yard line and Felker had called his number and sent in the young dual-threat quarterback.

“One of the worst mistakes I ever made was not getting Sleepy more involved in the offense,” Felker conceded. “He could run, he could throw, he knew how to get the ball in the endzone. He was very valuable in those kind of situations, goal-line and short-yardage.”

Rockey Felker in his playing days

Rockey Felker in his playing days

The Eagles saw the change-of-pace quarterback come in and assumed it would be a run. Turns out, it was a pass.

Robinson completed a one-yard throw to Treddis Anderson, tying the game and scoring the first and only offensive touchdown of the day.

“Coach [Dan] Mullen talks about that now,” Robinson said. “You’ve gotta be ready when your number is called. You go to practice and prepare. When it’s time, it’s time.”

For the remaining bit of the first half, offenses were stymied. The third quarter proved no better as neither Favre nor Shell were able to make any real progress. Same story for the majority of the fourth quarter.

It wasn’t until the game started to wind down, when it was then or never, that one side finally made a push.

Getting his first significant playing time in nearly two years, senior running back David Fair came in and led the charge for MSU. The Bulldogs drove methodically down the field. It looked as if they might once more sniff paydirt and take a lead they were sure to maintain.

Until the drive stalled just outside the redzone. Bent but not broken, USM’s defense had slowed the attack.

With three minutes left in the game, in front of the biggest non-conference crowd at the time in MSU history, Joel Logan stepped onto the field for a 41-yard field goal and what was surely State’s last chance.

Just the year before, Logan had sealed victory with a game-winning field goal with four seconds remaining to beat Favre and his Eagles in Hattiesburg.

Could he do it again in front of the home crowd?

The snap came, the hold was set and Logan unloaded on the football as 40,115 watched it sail off his foot and into the air.

It was good, right through the middle of the uprights.

MSU took a 13-10 lead and ultimately won the game.

It’s funny what all went into that game off the field. Beyond the fame of Favre and his summertime accident, of course.

Robinson himself had been heavily recruited by USM just a few years before when Favre was a relative unknown. The Eagles wanted Robinson as their QB of the future, and he planned on granting them their wish.

In fact, he and his best friend/high school running back had intentions of going to college together in Hattiesburg to keep the duo alive.

RobinsonS-A1But something in the air, let’s say, told Robinson it was the wrong choice.

“I went down there and caught one of the worst colds of my life, so I decided I wouldn’t go to Southern,” he said with a smile.

How different things would’ve been in the state for football. “Sleepy” went on to be a star at MSU in Jackie Sherrill’s opening years. Favre’s story needs no telling.

But what if Robinson had taken up the offer to spend his college career in Hattiesburg?

“I wouldn’t have beat out Brett Favre, now,” he said with a big laugh. “No. I never actually wanted to be a quarterback a day in my life. I wanted be a receiver or free safety. I thought I was better than Jerry Rice.”

Beyond Robinson’s near-decision, Felker had incidentally created some tensions of his own. Four of his assistants on staff had come to Starkville from USM before the 1989 season. Their feelings toward Southern were strong, and the coaches and players left in Hattiesburg felt similarly.

“It was the most important game of the year to our coaches, and they were gonna make sure that our football team was ready to play,” Felker said. “That was one thing that really changed our attitude and viewpoint of that game. At one point, it was tough to get up for Southern. They weren’t in the SEC and it was the biggest game of the year for them. It wasn’t for us. In ‘89, that changed. We knew how we had to approach that game if we were going to win it.”

He’s right, though. For most of the ‘80s, Southern had been the ruler of the rivalry, beating the Bulldogs more than a few times.

“Over those 10 years from 80-90, Southern had embarrassed us,” Felker said. “It was a game that we circled on the schedule. A game we knew we had to win. We approached it like any in-state rivalry game.”

Things have of course changed since then. Just as soon as the rivalry had escalated, it was killed off.

Felker now

Felker now

Now, 24 years later, the two will finally meet again for the 2014 season-opener in Starkville. Circumstances are different for both squads and coaching staffs, and the “rivalry” is certainly far less passionate and heated.

But, coaches will say, any time you play someone in the same state, there’s an extra element to the matchup.

“Our players know their players, they know us. They grew up together,” Felker explained. “The fact it is, in-state puts a different twist on it. I expect this year’s game will be very similar.”

In different roles and at much different ages, Felker and Robinson will be together on the sideline again for MSU-USM. They’re hoping for their second win in a row together, however long it may have taken.

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All-Time MSU Football Team: Defensive Line

Over the three weeks of fall camp, Mississippi State will be collecting votes and assembling an all-time MSU football team in honor of the 100th anniversary of Scott Field. Winners will be announced over the course of the season as the starters are filled in on both sides of the ball.

Voting is simple: the candidates and their highlights are listed below, just vote for your choices in the poll.

2012draft_fletchercoxToday, we are selecting four defensive linemen from the pool of candidates.

Buddy Elrod 1937-40

All-SEC 1939-40, All-American 1940

Tommy Neville 1961-64

All-SEC 1963-64, All-American 1963

Jimmy Webb 1971-74

All-SEC 1972-74, All-American 1974, !st round NFL Draft pick

Harvey Hull 1973-76

454 tackles (2nd), 26 sacks (2nd), All-SEC 1974-76, All-American 1976, National Lineman of Week for 15 solo tackles vs USM in 1975

Tyrone Keys 1977-80

26 sacks (2nd), 183 tackles, six fumbles recovered, 32 tackles for loss, All-SEC 1978-80

Glen Collins 1978-81

224 tackles, All-SEC 1980-81, All-American 1981, named an SEC Legend in 2013, 1st round NFL Draft pick

Billy Jackson 1980-83

360 tackles, 49 sacks (1st), All-SEC 1981-83, Freshman All-American 1980, All-American 1981

Greg Favors 1994-97

19.5 sacks (6th), most sacks in a game (5.5 vs. Ole Miss 1996), All-SEC 1997

Ellis Wyms 1997-00

120 tackles, 10 sacks

Willie Blade 1999-00

79 tackles, 13 for loss, five sacks, All-SEC 2000, semi-finalist for Outland Trophy

Dorsett Davis 1999-01

150 tackles, 13 for loss, four sacks

Willie Evans 2002-05

24.5 sacks (3rd), All-SEC 2005

Titus Brown 2004-07

18.5 sacks, All-SEC 2006-07

Pernell McPhee 2009-10

91 tackles, 22 for loss, seven sacks, two forced fumbles, seven pass break-ups, All-SEC 2009-10

Fletcher Cox 2009-11

114 tackles, 24.5 for loss, 7.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, All-SEC 2011, All-American 2011, 1st round NFL Draft pick

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All-Time MSU Football Team: Running backs

Over the three weeks of fall camp, Mississippi State will be collecting votes and assembling an all-time MSU football team in honor of the 100th anniversary of Scott Field. Winners will be announced over the course of the season as the starters are filled in on both sides of the ball.

Voting is simple: the candidates and their highlights are listed below, just vote for your choices in the poll.

Anthony DixonToday, we are selecting two running backs from the pool of candidates.

Blondy Black 1940-42

1,577 yards on 260 carries, 6.1 yards per carry (1st), All-SEC 1941-42

Tom ‘Shorty’ McWilliams 1944-48

1,808 yards on 412 carries, 4.4 YPC, only MSU player to ever get a Heisman vote, All-SEC 1944 and 1946-48, All-American 1944, SEC player of the Year 1944

Art Davis 1951-54

1954 Nashville Banner SEC MVP, All-SEC 1954, All-American 1954, 5th overall pick of 1956 NFL Draft

Hoyle Granger 1963-65

1,534 yards on 350 attempts, seven touchdowns, 4.4 YPC, All-SEC 1963-65

Wayne Jones 1971-73

1,865 yards on 396 carries, 12 touchdowns, 4.3 YPC, 7 100-yard games (T-2nd)

Walter Packer 1973-76

2,820 yards (3rd) on 483 carries, 20 touchdowns (T-9th), 5.8 YPC, six 100-yard games (T-4th), All-SEC 1974-75

Michael Haddix 1979-82

2,558 yards (5th) on 425 carries, 20 touchdowns (T-9th), 6.0 YPC, All-SEC 1981-82

Michael Davis 1991-94

2,721 yards (4th) on 578 carries, 27 touchdowns (3rd), 4.7 YPC

Keffer McGee 1994-96

1,647 yards on 323 carries, 16 touchdowns, 5.1 YPC

J.J. Johnson 1997-98

2,452 yards (7th) on 453 carries, 24 touchdowns (4th), 5.4 YPC, 7 100-yard games (T-2nd), 1998 Conerly Trophy, 1998 All-SEC

Dicenzo Miller 1998-01

2,209 yards on 403 carries, 17 touchdowns (plus seven receiving), 5.5 YPC, six 100-yard games (T-4th), 2000 All-SEC

Jerious Norwood 2002-05

3,212 yards (2nd) on 573 carries, 15 touchdowns) 5.6 YPC, 2005 Conerly Trophy, All-SEC 2004-05

Anthony Dixon 2006-09

3,994 yards (1st) on 910 carries (1st), 42 touchdowns (1st), 4.4 YPC, 17 100-yard games (1st), 2009 Conerly Trophy, 2009 All-SEC

Vick Ballard 2010-11

2,157 yards on 379 carries, 29 touchdowns (2nd), 5.7 YPC, six 100-yard games (4th)

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Live-blog: Dan Mullen press conference for Southern Miss game

At 1 p.m. today, Dan Mullen will hold his weekly press conference. Mississippi State plays Southern Miss on Saturday to open the 2014 season.

Updates to come.


He’s here! Let’s get rolling.

Mullen is running through what makes the game exciting: 100 years of Scott Field, expanded Davis Wade Stadium, record crowd, first Saturday night game on SEC Network and an in-state rivalry game. Lot going on, for sure. He’s pumped.

“It’s something special to start the season with a rivalry game like this.”

Mullen says the possibility of getting USM back on the schedule was one of the first things brought up to him when he was hired.

Talking some more about flexibility on the offensive line, Mullen says MSU had started to feel good about having a two-deep at every position before Damien Robinson’s injury. Still close, and he says it helps that so many of their guys can swing to a different position on notice.

Asked what USM brings to the table, Mullen says, “I’m sure winning their last game of the season last year has bolstered their confidence.” Complimentary of head coach Todd Monken.

Mullen also likes the defense of Southern: “They’ve got some solid players on that side of the ball.”

He likes the rivalry, as well.

“On the national level, probably an underrated game. But on the local level, people have been looking forward to this since 1990.”

Mullen says QBs coach Brian Johnson will be in the box on gamedays. John Hevesy and Billy Gonzales both on the sidelines.

Mullen says they work on so much in training camp, but now it’s game planning and they trim down what all they’re using and specifying their plan for the opponent.

Mullen asked about trick plays and Jameon Lewis, says it doesn’t matter so much that people have seen it.

“It’s not what you run, but when you run a trick play … The key to a trick play is when you do them … I think our personnel gives us the flexibility to do that.”

Mullen said part of what makes it so easy and comfortable for guys is that they have a lot of people who were quarterbacks in high school. He mentioned that Gabe Myles, Lewis’ backup, was a QB in high school, just like Lewis. Interesting.

More on the offense: Mullen says so much of what they do, especially with tight ends, is about getting mismatches. Having some faster than the big guys or bigger than the fast guys, whatever it may be.

Asked to compare ‘rivalry’ to Egg Bowl, Mullen says “There’s no game that’s gonna be like that for us. Ever. That’s just something that’s different.”

Nice note from Mullen: Only one player on the current roster was alive when MSU-USM last played in 1990. TE Rashun Dixon was one month old.

Back on the offense, Mullen says Dak Prescott has relatively significant freedom to change calls and check into something different on the line. He’s comfortable with it, but will always ask the QBs “Why?” no matter if it worked or not. Just wants to make sure his guys are making the right decisions for the right reasons.

Mullen says kickers Evan Sobiesk and Westin Graves are “about a kick away from each other.” Says both may kick in the opener Saturday.

On team captains Malcolm Johnson, Jay Hughes and Dillon Day, Mullen says “they show what the program is all about.” Adds that 26 different people got votes for captain.

I can agree with this: Mullen says the players are ready to get in their game-week routine. Says that veterans will help the young guys in doing so.


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Reaction: MSU releases first in-season depth chart

The first in-season depth chart for Mississippi State football just came out (the entirety of which you can see at and in our football excitement, let’s look at what it means position-by-position.


We knew Dak Prescott would be one and Damian Williams would be two, So nothing too groundbreaking here. I’d expect Nick Fitzgerald to be the emergency No. 3, having spent extra time in the offense after arriving early back in December.

Running Back

Again, Josh Robinson as the one is no surprise. Seeing senior Nick Griffin in the No. 2 spot is nice. He’s torn both his ACLs and seems to finally be healthy for the first time. He could push Robinson for carries, though as the season goes along, sophomore Ashton Shumpert will get in that mix as well following a strong fall camp.

Offensive Line

Big story here is how the line has shaken out following graduation and injuries. Senior Ben Beckwith is at left guard (backed up by sophomore Jamaal Clayborn) while junior Justin Malone has right guard and sophomore Justin Senior is the starter at right tackle. There was speculation Malone could have switched to right tackle when senior Damien Robinson went down, but Senior has apparently shown enough in practice to prove to coaches he’s deserving of the starting gig.

Injuries aren’t good, but following the loss of Robinson, this was the ideal scenario for O-line coach John Hevesy and helps him to get his five best players on the field, which he’s stated often is his goal.

Tight End

Again, the starter (Malcolm Johnson) we know, but it’s the rise of sophomore Gus Walley we take note of here, who is listed as the third tight end. He’s entering a season healthy for the first time and has taken advantage of his lack of injuries. In an offense which plans to utilize tight ends (and often two at a time) Walley will see the field plenty. Junior Brandon Hill serves as Johnson’s back-up following a consistent and strong fall camp.

Wide Reciever

No shocker here that sophomore De’Runnya Wilson has established himself as a starter along with seniors Robert Johnson and Jameon Lewis. Elsewhere, freshman Gabe Myles has earned the backup spot behind Lewis in his first season as a receiver and he’s looked impressive in practices. He’ll play a fair bit. Fred Brown has been a camp standout, as well, as we see by his listing as No. 2 behind Wilson. Sophomore Fred Ross isn’t on the two-deep, but I’d still expect him to have a big role, too.

Defensive End

Senior Preston Smith and junior Ryan Brown were the presumptive starters entering the season and they maintained their roles, but not without a push from sophomore A.J. Jefferson, who had a great spring and an even better fall. Also interesting to see sophomore Nelson Adams – all 300 pounds of him – earning a No. 2 spot at defensive end. The switch from tackle has worked for him.

Nick James

Nick James

Defensive Tackle

No, Chris Jones isn’t listed as a starter. Yes, he will play as many if not more reps as any other defensive lineman on the team. This is a good opportunity to remind that MSU’s coaches take very little stock in what depth charts say, especially on defense. At this point, being called a “starter” is no more than the honor of having your name on the video board when the lineups are announced.

Behind seniors Kaleb Eulls and P.J. Jones as the “starters,” sophomore Nick James has pushed himself into a co-backup role with senior Curtis Virges, a good sign for the talented tackle.


Once more, the starters are what we expected with Benardrick McKinney, Matt Wells and Beniquez Brown serving as the top three. Behind McKinney, sophomore Richie Brown is the backup MLB and may be the first linebacker in off the bench. He’s done very well in the fall and will be the one to spell the All-American when he needs a break. On the outside, Christian Holmes is back on the defense for his senior and serves as primary backup to B. Brown. he’s been a special teams ace regardless of position and coaches have been impressed with him through camp entering his final year.

Another name to watch which isn’t listed: freshman Dez Harris. Coaches love him both for his athleticism and his intelligence. He’s someone to keep an eye on this year.


We knew who the top three would be with starters Taveze Calhoun and Jamerson Love and nickel corner Will Redmond. The question was who would step into the role as the fourth and we seem to have the answer in sophomore Tolando Cleveland, who earned reps as a true freshman last year.


Early returns appear to indicate senior Justin Cox’s switch from corner to safety to be a success. He’s earned the starting role at free safety, while senior (and newly-elected team captain) Jay Hughes is listed as ‘OR’ with junior Kendrick Market, who teammates consider the hardest hitter on the team.


Sophomore Evan Sobiesk finished last season as the starter and will likely get first crack at it again this year, but he’s listed as ‘OR’ with freshman Westin Graves, who made a push down the stretch of the preseason to make it a sincere battle for the job of kicking field goals.


MSU’s kickoff returners are returners from last year – Jameon Lewis and Robert Johnson – as are the punt returners, with Lewis and speedy sophomore Brandon Holloway taking the one and two spots there. Guys like Will Redmond and Justin Cox could find their way into those roles, as well.

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MSU women’s basketball surprises 15-year-old Serra Pearson

“Hey y’all! My name is Serra,” her letter starts out. “Before the last week of February, I was an everyday normal 15-year-old going to school. I played snare drum in the band and finished my last game in varsity basketball.”

Three days later, her “everyday normal” life ended forever. She woke up in the middle of the night in severe pain, couldn’t keep her food down, could hardly sleep and over the course of the next three weeks she lost 30 pounds.

Serra Pearson went through test after test, endless hospital visits and several diagnoses over the next few months. She was passing out, she was getting dizzy, she still couldn’t eat or sleep and she’d lost another 20 pounds. She couldn’t go to school, spent weeks in the hospital and was given yet another diagnosis.

On April 1, she took her last steps.

unnamedFinally, Serra and her family found the source of her trouble this summer when she was diagnosed with AAG (Autoimmune Autonomic Ganglionopathy), a disease with only about 80 known cases, and she is the first pediatric patient to suffer from it. Typically caused by cancer, AAG comes from her immune system creating antibodies to fight a tumor, but overreacting and creating far too many, resulting in her body seeing her natural muscles, organs and tissues as foreign things which need to be attacked and killed.

At one point, Serra lost all movement and even lost the ability to breathe on her own. Doctors have helped rectify that problem, though no treatment yet has been deemed successful in making her better and restoring full function. Restrained to her wheelchair, life for 15-year-old Serra is far different than it was six months ago and it will certainly never be the same.

“It was her dream to play basketball in college,” Serra’s mother Jenny Pearson said Thursday. “And I know she would have, because she’s just amazing.”

Raised in Hatley, Mississippi, Serra is also a huge Mississippi State sports fan. Basketball in particular, as you’d imagine.

So, Thursday afternoon, MSU’s women’s basketball team took the hour drive to Hatley to surprise Serra in the gym she had played her last game in.

She won’t get to play again, they know, but that doesn’t mean she can’t still be part of the team.

Head coach Vic Schaefer and his players, before dancing, playing, talking and laughing with her, presented Serra with her own MSU basketball jersey with her name on the back. They then asked her to join them for their first game this fall, to come sit on the bench for their season-opener in Starkville.

“Getting to see them and know they’re here for me – it’s just awesome hearing them say I’m part of their team,” Serra said. “They’re amazing girls.”

Serra was also gifted a trip to Disney World, though as her mother observed later, “This means probably more to her than going to Disney.”

“We all take for granted every day what we get to do in life,” Jenny continued. “My child won’t be back on the court to play basketball. To give her that hope of just being able to sit on the sidelines and be a part of the team – I’m speechless.”

Schaefer often preaches to his team the idea of living and playing for something bigger than yourself. There are people with far greater struggles than any you go through, he will tell his players.

DSC_0410Easy enough to hear from your coach and halfway dismiss without any evidence. Savannah Carter, a senior guard under Schaefer, admitted as much. It’s not real until you see it for yourself. Now, she says, she won’t be thinking about how tired she is when she gets up for a 6 a.m. workout. She’ll be thinking about Serra.

She’ll be remembering the smile on Serra’s face when the team walked into the gym. The laughter when they danced with her in her wheelchair and the genuine gratitude she could hardly express.

“That’s the thing about Serra,” her high school basketball coach Scott Carter said, “she’s so humble and sweet, everything that happens to her, it’s like she can’t believe it. It’s almost surreal for her. That’s what you’re seeing on her face when she saw the Lady Bulldogs standing there, when she was given a Mississippi State jersey with her name on it and she was asked by Coach Schaefer to sit on the bench with the team in their first game. It moved me to tears.”

For Serra, the fight goes on. The bills are adding up and treatments are ongoing.

For MSU’s staff and players, it seems a bit unfair to leave her and go back to playing basketball when she cannot. But now, as Schaefer had so often told them, they have someone to play for. And they’ll see Serra again. That first game is in just a couple months.

“It’s really a special day,” Schaefer said. “What a blessing to have an opportunity to come here and be a light for somebody that’s in a fight for their life. As much of a blessing as it was to her, it was tenfold what she did for our kids today and my staff and I. It really brings things in perspective. Down two with two to go ain’t near as bad as you think it is.”

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All-Time MSU Football Team: Kicker and Punter

Over the three weeks of fall camp, Mississippi State will be collecting votes and assembling an all-time MSU football team in honor of the 100th anniversary of Scott Field. Winners will be announced over the course of the season as the starters are filled in on both sides of the ball.

brian-hazelwoodVoting is simple: the candidates and their highlights are listed below, just vote for your choices in the poll.

Today, we are selecting one punter and one placekicker from the pools of candidates.


Mike Patrick 1972-74

40.93 yards per punt (6th) on 171 punts (6th) for 6,999 yards (6th). Record for longest and second longest punts in MSU history (84 yards vs. Alabama 1974, 82 yards vs. William and Mary (1974)

Todd Jordan 1989-93

42.8 yards per punt (2nd) on 112 punts for 4,793 yards. All-SEC 1992

Andy Russ 1993-96

41.96 yards per punt (4th) on 159 punts (7th) for 6,672 yards (7th)

Jeff Walker 1996-99

43.44 yards per punt (1st) on 141 punts (10th) for 6,126 yards. All-SEC 1997

Baker Swedenburg 2010-13

41.65 yards per punt (5th) on 153 punts (9th) for 6,373 yards (8th)



Artie Cosby 1983-86

48 made field goals (1st) on 81 attempts (1st) for a .593 percentage (7th). Longest field goal in MSU history (54 yards vs. Memphis in 1985)

Joel Logan 1987-90

41 made field goals (3rd) on 61 attempts (3rd) for a .672 percentage (4th)

Brian Hazelwood 1995-98

43 made field goals (2nd) on 73 attempts (2nd) for a .589 percentage (8th). 2nd (53 yards) 6th (52 yards) and 8th (51, twice) longest field goals in MSU history. Two-time All-SEC 1997-8

Scott Westerfield 1999-00

30 made field goals (6th) on 42 attempts (5th) for a .714 percentage (3rd). T-8th (51 yards) longest field goal in MSU history, most made field goals in a season (18 in 1999). Two-time All-SEC 1999-00. Two-time semi-finalist for Lou Groza Award 1999-00

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