This will eventually circle back to food, I promise, but let’s talk about Lent for a moment. It’s a Christian observance, though its principles are solid for anyone, and the intent is to make sacrifices in the name of penitence, as well as to build good habits and learn new disciplines for the betterment of one’s life and soul. For some, it’s giving up a bad habit. For others, it’s walking to work instead of driving. Some give up coffee (a terrifying proposition) and others pledge time to community service.
Whichever of the limitless directions one goes, the idea of making a determined effort to help the greater good tends to be a common endgame, and a nice one, at that. It applies to all parts of life, really, be it spiritual, physical or somewhere in between.
In this world of athletics, we see it all the time. Just this week, many of Mississippi State’s baseball players took it upon themselves to go work on their game during their down time Wednesday. School was canceled because of the weather, so they had a surprise day with no responsibilities, and instead of playing in the snow like all their fellow students (and me), they went indoors at the Palmeiro Center to put in some extra work. Their head coach John Cohen only knew it happened because he saw all their cars lined up in the parking lot when he walked out of the office.
The same happened for MSU’s football team this summer, when team leaders Dak Prescott and Benardrick McKinney led voluntary sessions that amounted to nearly being full practices. The whole team showed up, no coach telling them to do so, and we have since seen the results.
The football players could have relaxed by the pool and the baseball players could have spent the day riding sleds and building snowmen. Countless other athletes in all kinds of sports have had similar opportunities and made the same decisions. It can be difficult to be a student-athlete, but they know how many people are depending on them. Sacrifices are often easier to make when you have something to believe in and someone to fight for bigger than yourself.
Anyway, I didn’t intend to pontificate on philosophy and religion, so I’ll get to the point: food. Many who observe the Lenten season also follow the rule dictating that meat is not to be eaten on Fridays, an oftentimes difficult challenge in the south. No chicken, no beef, no pork. No ox, lamb, goat or any associated creatures of the land.
However, fish is perfectly acceptable, and tends to be a top alternative. And that brings us to one of my favorite meals in Starkville: fried catfish po-boys at The Little Dooey.
Dooey’s is famous for their barbecue, and rightfully so, but judge me not when I say that the pulled pork covered in the family-recipe sauce is not my top dish at Little Dooey. It’s worth the price (and then some), to be sure, but man, that crispy, hot, fried catfish filet stuffed between a couple pieces of warm bread with all the fixins is difficult to beat. Me personally, I like to add some of the mild and sweet barbecue sauce the Wood family has been making for generations.
Now, this particular plate is great on its own, but to make it a full meal, we need a side, and once again we’re going to pick an underrated but altogether delicious item from the menu: fried eggplant. It’s a Lent-friendly choice, as there is no meat of any sort, and if you’re someone who doesn’t really like vegetables, well, this doesn’t exactly taste like a vegetable by the time the cooks in the kitchen deep fry it and you at the table dip it in ranch dressing. (I never promised we’d be healthy, just that we’d follow the rules.)
Waffle fries, baked beans, coleslaw or potato salad – good choices, each of them. But if I’m going all out, there is no side I’d rather have than the fried eggplant, a homemade, southern and more tasty relative of the Bloomin’ Onion.
So, should you find yourself looking for a Friday lunch or dinner in Starkville over the next few weeks (or anytime, really), you could do far worse and would have trouble doing much better than catfish and eggplant at Little Dooey’s. Sacrifice is meant to create good, but it can taste good, too.
FOOTBALL: Let’s the start with the biggest news of the last couple days. Dan Mullen and Mississippi State announced a contract extension through the 2018 season, extending Mullen’s deal back out to the maximum allowable by state law in Mississippi. Mullen will make $4 million this season and the full financial package escalates over its life and averages out to $4.275 million per year.
The numbers represent both a big raise for Mullen and huge investment by MSU in the man who led the football program to No. 1 in the country for five weeks in 2014. The agreement was made official last night at the annual Night in Maroon event held in Jackson where Mullen was welcomed to the stage as Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ played. According to pictures, Mullen then grabbed a guitar and air-played the lead.
Also of note: MSU announced this week that it’s on-campus NFL Pro Day will be open to the media (not public) next Wednesday. It’s the first year under Mullen the event has been open and I’m told NFL Network will be in attendance.
BASEBALL: Depending how soon you see this, John Cohen’s club might already be playing. Because of the weather, game time was moved up to 4 p.m. today and tomorrow’s doubleheader will now begin at 11 a.m. MSU has Arizona and Samford in town, probably the two toughest teams its played in the 9-0 start to the season.
Pitching news: Cohen expects Preston Brown to start tonight, and believes the Saturday doubleheader will be a combination of Austin Sexton and Lucas Laster, though who pitches against which team has yet to be decided. Sunday is more up in the air, though Cohen said Vance Tatum could be the guy there if he isn’t used out of the bullpen on Friday or Saturday.
Injury news: Cohen told reporters there is “a very good chance” that first baseman Wes Rea is back this weekend, a return that could possibly send John Holland to third base after the emergence of freshman Ryan Gridley at second base. Cohen also hopes to have outfielder Michael Smith back this weekend or next. Catcher Gavin Collins caught a full bullpen session with no pain on Thursday, according to Cohen, and now it’s just a matter of getting him ready to hit. He may be back before his target date of SEC play. Then, on the mound, Cohen said pitchers Myles Gentry and Paul Young – two of the more talented arms on the staff – are close to returning, as well.
This team could look a lot different in a few weeks, which says a lot as they’re currently undefeated at No. 13 in the country.
SOFTBALL: While we’re still waiting on snow to melt here in Starkville, Vann Stuedeman’s team spent yesterday visiting Hogwarts at Universal Studios in Orlando. Her 13-2 Bulldogs are in Florida for the Citrus Classic where they’ll be playing some big-name teams in Minnesota, Georgetown, Maryland, Notre Dame and Indiana. MSU opens conference play next week when they host Georgia in Starkville.
MEN’S BASKETBALL: Talking to Rick Ray and his team after Wednesday’s loss to Kentucky, they seemed optimistic about the rest of the season, and perhaps they should be. They frustrated and stayed with the No. 1 Wildcats (probably the best non-NBA team I’ve ever seen in person) for the first 30 minutes of the game, leading UK coach John Calipari to concede the Bulldogs stopped every game plan they had and he eventually had to tell his team to try something new. That something new worked, of course, but there were good things for MSU to take from it.
Now, MSU has a three-game stretch to finish the season in which they can end on a good note, starting tomorrow in South Carolina. That game will be on SEC Network at 5 p.m. Saturday evening.
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Speaking of playing big-time conference foes, Vic Schaefer’s team ran into a tough night at South Carolina Thursday, dropping the contest to the nation’s second-ranked team. MSU returns to Starkville Sunday for its last game of the regular season when it hosts Ole Miss. That game will be on FSN at 1 p.m. for those watching from elsewhere, but State is already expecting a big crowd at The Hump, as they probably should.
Looking ahead, last night’s loss didn’t help, but MSU is in position to possibly host in the women’s NCAA Tournament in a couple weeks. Scott Stricklin mentioned in his weekly column (an idea he almost certainly stole from me) that MSU will be hosting a watch party for the Selection Show, and it’s then that they will find out if they host or not.
TRACK AND FIELD: This weekend, the indoor season wraps up for the women’s squad as they’re already in Lexington for the SEC Championships. They’ve spent most of the year in the Top 20, and both the men’s and women’s team have put up big numbers both as individuals and as teams.
A reminder that MSU is hosting the outdoor SEC Championships later this spring, an event MSU has been making preparations to host for months on end now.
GOLF: The new-look men’s team finished in the Top 10 in its first event of the year earlier this week in Mobile, and they’ll be back on the course on Monday in the Louisiana Classics in Lafayette.
As for the 3rd-ranked women’s club (golf pun!) they’re off this week, but next week they play in something called the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. Don’t know how all these teams are traveling to islands and theme parks and I got left out of the fold. Earlier this week, Ginger Brown-Lemm’s team pulled a second-straight Top-10 finish to start the year.
TENNIS: Both the men’s and women’s tennis teams begin SEC play this weekend after fairly successful non-conference slates. The men, at 8-3, head to Alabama later this afternoon to play the Tide, then they host Ole Miss next Thursday for their home SEC opener.
The women, who are on a roll under coach Daryl Greenan, take their 9-1 record to Vanderbilt today and Kentucky Sunday, before hosting Missouri and Arkansas next Friday and Sunday.