In life, people from all walks, all places and all ages experience hardships, tribulations and defeat.
Whether it’s losing a job, saying goodbye to a loved one or just having a string of really bad luck, life can get people down.
From the bottom, few can get back up by themselves, and often, it’s not until the good outweighs the bad again when you realize how much the people who stood by your side, fought for you and believed in you truly meant.
When people are forced to rebuild their lives, friends carry them through.
When Mississippi State began the task of rebuilding a football program, it had those same people. As Dan Mullen said, he had players who believed.
Four years and plenty of wins and stadium sell-outs later, the first ones to believe in Mullen and MSU are now forced to say goodbye.
The class of seniors State will honor before playing Arkansas leaves as one of the most successful groups in the university’s history, and it may be one of the toughest to say goodbye to.
On the other side of the field and the other side of notoriety, Chad Bumphis was the prized recruit of Mullen’s first class, a bridge to the rest of MSU’s commits and eventual signees between the new head coach and the players he had never met. When Bumphis leaves Starkville for the last time, he will do so as one of the best receivers to have played at MSU.
Senior classes are never easy for fans and coaches to say goodbye to, but this one, perhaps more than any other, carries more than one or two special players.
Cam Lawrence, who many said was too small or too slow, became the leader of his defense, a coach on the field and an All-SEC linebacker.
Darius Slay was only able to play two years in the Maroon and White, but he believed in MSU enough he even signed twice with the Bulldogs, finally realizing his dream as a starting cornerback at MSU after three years of working and waiting.
Josh Boyd stepped in as a true freshman and immediately went to the middle of the trenches, fighting against men much bigger and much older than he.
Even more were important not just for their talent, but for their loyalty to Mississippi State, buying in to what Mullen preached, despite having committed to, signed with and been coached under Sylvester Croom. Arceto Clark, Marcus Green and Corey Broomfield dedicated themselves to the new regime and remained determined to return their school and program to prominence.
“Throughout my career, we’ve been through the highest of highs and lowest of lows,” Broomfield said. “One thing I can say, the fanbase, the state and the school, they’ve been behind us the whole way. My first year, when Croom was here, it was a down year. Then the next year, we went 5-7, played the No. 1 team it seemed like every week, and we lost about every week. They kept showing up and they kept believing. We kept grinding and kept grinding and kept believing.”
As important as these players have been to the fans, the Bulldog faithful have meant as much, if not more, to those who they support.
Banks has raised his toddler son in the shadows of Davis Wade, hoping to provide for him and his mother with the education, coaching, experience and support he received at MSU.
“It’s kinda sad. Really sad,” Banks said of his last game at Scott Field. “Our fans have been great. They’ve been great to me. They’ve been great to my family.”
When asked how it feels going into his last game, Banks paused.
He looked at the floor.
Shook his head slightly, and quietly said, “I don’t really wanna talk about it, to tell you the truth. I know it’s coming to an end. Just, go out and get a win for our home crowd one last time.”
Banks never even knew if he would make it see this day. As a freshman, he once tried to quit, frustrated and doubtful. His elder defensive back, Charles Mitchell, drove out to his home near East Webster High School and made him come back. Even last year, Banks went into the Egg Bowl at home not knowing if that was his last chance to play for the Bulldogs, if he might indeed decide to go the NFL like his teammate Fletcher Cox.
Ultimately, he decided to stay. He decided to give as much as he could to MSU, to be as great a leader as possible to his younger teammates and to go out on top.
And that’s the cycle at MSU. The elder Banks leaves now, entrusting the program he helped rebuild to those behind them.
Lawrence played in an emotional game last year when his brother, Addison, started his final game for the Maroon and White. Now, the younger Cam will take the field alone, his big brother watching from the stands.
Broomfield recalled an emotional scene two years ago, against Arkansas, when K.J. Wright’s name was called and he took the field for the last time.
“I got a little tear in my eye,” Broomfield said. “I can only imagine what it’ll be like for myself.”
Said Boyd, “It’s pretty rough. Four years go by fast. You don’t think about it, but it really does. I’m gonna miss playing here.”
While 20-plus will have their names called Saturday morning, many more who could have been a part of the class should not be forgotten.
Tobias Smith has, in the most literal sense, given his entire body to the Bulldogs. He’s made it five years, and his greatest wish is to make it one more at MSU.
Tyler Russell, LaDarius Perkins and plenty of others arrived on campus with Banks, Bumphis and the others, fighting the same fight and believing together.
Then one more stands above the rest.
The life that was taken too soon will never be forgotten.
His teammates wear his patch on their uniforms. His jersey hangs in the weight room, reminding everyone of their fallen brother.
Two years ago, sickness abruptly took his life. But his smile and his legacy live on.
Davis Wade took a moment of somber silence to honor him in the first return to football after his passing. After several quiet, emotion-filled seconds, one cowbell rang out across the stadium. Linda Bell stood at the field, one arm raised, ringing the bell for her son.
The bells will ring again when she returns Saturday and her son is honored on what would have and should have been his Senior Day.
“Nick, he’s still a part of this team. He’s part of this class,” Banks said. “He’s still part of this family and his family is still part of this family.”
A family that believed in Mississippi State. A family that lost games and won games. A family that traveled together both to funerals and to bowl games.
Whether it was beating Florida in The Swamp, winning three-straight Egg Bowls, getting MSU to back-to-back postseason appearances or responding to losses with the same drive and passion as if they had won 10 in a row, this group of seniors did it together.
Through the work of this senior class and those who fought beside them, MSU returned to prominence, rising from the ashes and becoming what they believed it could be.
Now, they leave their work to those coming after them, but not before one more game in front of the home crowd.
“Ain’t nothing like playing at Davis Wade,” Broomfield said.