It’s the Wednesday before Mississippi State’s first SEC game of the season, against a team slowly becoming a rival in the Auburn Tigers, and the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator Geoff Collins invited me to their defensive staff meeting after practice that night.
To be clear, he’s invited me on Wednesdays past, this was just the first time I took him up on it.
“You’re just writing about milkshakes, right?” he double-checked with me when I sat down.
“Of course,” I responded.
Practice ended around six p.m., give or take, and the defensive staff was in their room in the Leo Seal Family Football Complex watching film and working on the three dry erase walls surrounding them until after 10 that night.
Every Wednesday, Collins brings dinner (pizza this week) and five milkshakes for the room full of four defensive coaches and a handful of graduate assistants. Not enough milkshakes to go around, obviously.
I followed Collins into the room after practice, where he sat a moment by himself in the room, setting up the collection of computers, iPads and projectors while he called to check in with his wife he hadn’t seen all day.
“Hey beautiful,” he said with more warmth than I had heard in such hoarse men as football coaches. “You at home?” They continued talking for a few minutes until he finally had to end it. “We’re about to have milkshakes. Love you.”
As coaches were trickling in after post-practice showers, Collins turned on Pandora on his iPad.
They listen to old school funk during the day, he told me. On Wednesday nights it’s usually Johnny Cash Radio, though it was Nirvana Radio on Wednesdays in the preseason.
Cornerbacks coach Deshea Townsend came in and sat at his corner of the table, fresh and clean in a T-shirt and shorts.
“Let’s change it up a little,” he said. “How ‘bout some Red Hot Chili Peppers?”
And so DJ Collins changed the station with one hand, queuing up film with the other.
“Ohhhh,” Collins groaned joyfully when the music began, “what a great first song. I played this one a few too many times on Guitar Hero.”
Safeties coach and assistant head coach Tony Hughes walked in and took his seat as Collins played air guitar on an imaginary Guitar Hero guitar.
“You got some juice?” Hughes asked Collins.
“For your phone?” Collins stole a glance at the charger plugged into his phone. “I’m low.”
Defensive line coach David Turner had arrived, as well, and the coaches and GAs began watching film, discussing particulars, taking down notes, while they waited on the pizza and milkshakes to arrive. Football works up an appetite.
In fact, Collins and Townsend later talked about their practice goals of burning calories while they coached. Easy to see how such a thing happens.
But film dissection continued, and maybe it’s the coordinator in him who has to watch three different units and 11 players at a time, plus the opposing offense, but Collins never missed a step as he would commentate on the songs Pandora played, only to continue in what seemed like the same sentence talking about what was happening on the screen in front of them.
I critiqued him at one point when he skipped a song I liked, going to Foo Fighters from an Incubus classic.
“I kind of know the songs Coach Turner is good with,” he told me with a smile.
Collins liked the Incubus song, too.
At one point, the conversation turned to something a player did before practice that caught the attention of coaches (in a good way).
Will Windham, the GA in charge of tracking such things (among many more responsibilities, of course), said, “I’m thinking 20 Juice Points.”
Ryan McNamara, the GA who actually conceived the idea of Juice Points, responded, “52.”
Collins turned to look at Windham, who had the spreadsheet pulled up, and said simply, “20.”
While they wait, a Nirvana song comes on.
“Deshea,” Collins asked, “where were you when Kurt Cobain died?”
Locales of the past were discussed as boxes were brought in, pizza was loaded onto plates and the sounds of joyful eating began.
On the counter was a carrier with four milkshakes. Collins passed them out, all different flavors, to himself, Turner, Hughes and Townsend.
“You’re cookies and cream tonight, Coach Hughes?”
Then there was one more milkshake, but three GAs in the room, plus me.
Every Wednesday, Collins told me, the best GA for the last week is awarded the extra milkshake, a tasty and special award on Milkshake Wednesday.
“It’s a big-time honor,” Collins told me.
“I’ve never gotten it and I’ve been here for two years,” Danny Verpaele, the third GA, confessed.
So Collins picked up the extra milkshake.
“This week, the milkshake goes to,” he paused, waving the treat in a circle in front of him looking around the room,”….Bob Carskadon!”
What an honor.