Gator Bowl Press Conference, New Year’s Eve 2012
“Coach, can you introduce your players and they’ll take some questions.”
“Let’s see, we have our three captains,” Dan Mullen said.
“John Banks, from Maben, Miss., this year’s Jim Thorpe Award winner, one of our captains, leading intercepter in school history.
“Cam Lawrence has led us in tackles, had over 100 tackles the last two years in the SEC. He’s from Magnolia Heights there in…
“Coldwater,” Lawrence said in his mic.
“Coldwater,” Mullen remembered. “A little private school up there in Mississippi.
“And Tobias Smith from the big city of C-town, Columbus, Miss., right there representin’. Our offensive captain.
“These are our three captains this year and I know they’d be happy to answer all of your questions.”
The awards, the stats and the recognition mean relatively little to Mississippi State’s captains, at least in comparison to what they all have in common – their heritage.
When the sprawling metropolis of Columbus, the corner of the Golden Triangle, is the “big city,” and by far the most populated of any hometown for the three, you know what you’re dealing with.
And that’s who Mississippi State is. It’s small town. Starkville is no bustling concourse, though the Bulldogs like it that way, and even the home of MSU is far larger than many of its players’ hometowns.
“It’s special to me,” Lawrence said. “I take a lot of pride in where I’m from, my roots and my old stomping grounds. I catch a lot of heck about coming from a small school, but I know there’s a lot of guys like Brett Favre from small town Mississippi, too.”
On the surface, the Gator Bowl pits SEC vs. Big Ten. By locale, it’s a face-off between the Wildcats from the Windy City and the Bulldogs from the Magnolia State, home of the People’s University.
Both are good, and each has its negatives to pair with the positives.
Plenty of MSU’s players have followed the classic success story, going from nothing to everything, unknown to local celebrities.
The rags to riches fairy tales aren’t limited to children’s books. MSU is full of them.
His coaches will joke about you can’t even find his hometown on a GPS, but Johthan Banks went from a recruiting afterthought to an All-American, Thorpe Award winner and potential first round draft pick.
Last spring, Fletcher Cox was picked in the first round of the NFL Draft, going from a skinnier-than-you’d-think high school track player to a Philadelphia Eagle in just three years.
Mississippians know those stories well, and just as Cox said after his initial success, Lawrence reiterated on New Year’s Eve in Jacksonville.
“I like to see myself as representing all the small town people like me,” Lawrence said, “showing all of them that you can do it, it doesn’t matter what your background is, where you’re from. If you set your mind to anything you can accomplish it. That’s just what I’ve been trying to do all along.”
And he’s done it. Team captain, top tackler in the SEC.
Success is sweet, but Lawrence knows that whether it’s Oprah or Morgan Freeman, William Faulkner or John Grisham, Jim Henson or B.B. King, the victories, successes and achievements of Mississippians and those from all over mean even more when you know how you got there.
One of the final questions Lawrence took the day before his last game asked him what he’s most proud of from his years at MSU
“Coming from the small school, an area nobody really recruits, leading the conference in tackles for two years,” he said with a smile. “I take a lot of pride in that.”
Neither Lawrence nor the Bulldogs will be forgetting their roots.
“A couple guys were just chillin’ around the hot tub at the hotel reminiscing on the good ol’ days,” Lawrence said. “It’s been fun. It’s been a long journey.”