Absolutes in the realm of historical significance are dangerous and often fickle, but it feels safe to say that few other classes have meant as much to Mississippi State football, and really, the athletic department as a whole, than the 14 seniors who will play their last game on Scott Field at Davis Wade Stadium on Saturday in the Egg Bowl.
They’re the winningest senior class since 1942, and even those seniors once played on the freshmen-only team when first arriving to campus. Members of this class were thrust into the throes of the SEC from day one, playing against the biggest, strongest, fastest and most highly-trained athletes college football has to offer.
And they won. Not only did they win, they often dominated, going to bowl games every year, ascending to No. 1 in the country, taking over sports outlets worldwide, donning the pages of everything from ESPN and Sports Illustrated to the Wall Street Journal and New York Times.
Among these 14 seniors, 44 single-season and career statistical records have been broken. Many of those, of course, came at the hands of Dak Prescott, the quarterback who led the resurgence. But he did it with his classmates around him. With Rufus Warren protecting his blindside, Justin Malone right next to him. He watched defensive leaders Taveze Calhoun, Ryan Brown, Kendrick Market and Will Redmond keep opposing offenses in check, maintaining the leads Prescott and his cohorts attained.
They’ve been through everything together and have been the key part of MSU’s ascension under Dan Mullen, going from SEC doormat to national contender, from mere bowl eligibility to spending New Year’s Eve in Miami at the Orange Bowl.
The legacy of these seniors, what they mean to the fans and the future of the program, is hard to define or even quantify, but it’s one that will be felt and remembered for decades. When old age comes, stories will become legends, and some already have. Through their performances, accolades and emotional attachments, they have ensured their legacy will never be forgotten.
“What we leave behind is greatness,” Devon Bell said. “Just going out there and doing your absolute best every single day. It doesn’t matter what the outcome is, you’re going to give your all at whatever you’re doing. It’s a mindset that we all have and we have the never-back-down attitude. I can see that from every senior. I hope the next generations of Bulldogs keep that and carry it on.”
Said Prescott, “[We’re] a bunch of guys that do the right thing. My whole class, the guys that are still here and that are graduating, are guys who do things right off the field. Those are guys who set the bar.”
Prescott is one of two who will finish his Master’s degree this semester, one of eight who will have graduated by this December, with six more on pace to graduate in the spring. Their legacy is far more than wins and yards. Their legacy involves academic success, constant smiles, endless autographs, countless pictures, nearly a dozen visits to children’s hospitals and annual traditions of ringing bells for the Salvation Army. They gave hope to fans and friends alike
All of it has helped build a program. When these 14 seniors arrived, their locker room had been around for decades in a facility shared with a handful of other sports. The coaches were still sharing a building with administrators, the north endzone was just a set of bleachers and the south endzone had only just received its very own video board. Games being on TV was a crapshoot, capacity crowds were never guaranteed and most of the school records came from the ‘80s.
Now, everything has changed. A new $75 million endzone, a $25 million dollar football facility, a billion-dollar network and the aforementioned 44 records set, with more still in reach of being broken, have all come over the tenure of this class.
“It seems surreal. I really can’t believe it’s over,” Calhoun said. “I know it’s going to be an emotional night. All good things come to an end.
“Hopefully [our legacy] is a good one,” Calhoun continued. “Hopefully, that we laid it all out for this university. When I first got here, the spotlight on this university wasn’t as big. Now, when we leave, it’s always in the national spotlight.”
Legends were made in this class. Heroes came of age. Precedents were set, new highs were reached and great expectations were born. Saturday night, the final home game for these 14 seniors, isn’t just the end of a season. It’s the end of one of the greatest stories in Mississippi State history.
“It’s our last chance to say goodbye to guys that have done so much for our program,” Dan Mullen said.
What do you take away from your time at MSU?
Joe Morrow, wide receiver: “To be honest, man, it changed my life. I met a lot of people up here I’ve built lifetime friendships with. It made me want to better myself. I came up in the program and have turned around completely. I just hope these guys can keep that going.”
Will Redmond, cornerback: “Really, Mississippi State showed me how to handle stuff on and off the field. Just always give effort. Someone is always watching. Pay attention to what you do. Someone is always watching your character.”
Winston Chapman, long snapper: “Work hard and never be complacent.”
Torrey Dale, defensive lineman: “Just work ethic. When you come here, they teach you nothing is handed to you in life. You have to work for everything and build your character as a man. Never give up. If you want something, go out and get it.”
Rufus Warren, offensive tackle: “It changed me. I came into this program and I was soft. I had everything handed to me. I didn’t work hard. Being here at State taught me how to work hard. It taught me how to become a man. It taught me how to treat people. Taught me how to become a better football player. It just helped me become humble, in a way, and how to work hard and get what I want, not wait for someone to hand it to me.”
Justin Malone, offensive lineman: “I’ve taken lot. I get a free education. I became the first person in my family to graduate college, which was a big deal. I made a lot of friends. They’ve been here with me since day one, they’re my brothers. I’m going to take a lot of memories that I’m going to cherish.”
Kendrick Market, safety: “It’s crazy, the relationships, the brotherhood. We’ve bonded. You’re gonna come in, you’re gonna work hard. That’s a family. Be expected to work hard and expect everybody to push.”
Dak Prescott, quarterback: “Just the family. The family environment. Everything Starkville, Mississippi has done for me. Made me feel so comfortable. Made me feel at home and welcome and loved.”
Devon Bell, kicker: “I think it’s developed me as a person overall. Coach Mullen and his staff and all the players, the relationships I’ve built with all of them have made me into a better person. It will be a lifetime memory.”
Ryan Brown, defensive end: “Just continue to grind. If things get bad, you’ve gotta play through the bad stuff, and that correlates with life. Continue to work and try to get better.”
What stories will you tell to your grandkids one day?
Winston Chapman: “My first SEC game will always be the biggest thing in my mind, playing Auburn. That’s a game that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. The game that I got hurt I’ll remember for the rest of my life. The Egg Bowl, every time I’ve ever won that. Those are four games that will be my go-to stories when I’m old, I can tell.”
Torrey Dale: “Just all the guys I got to meet. Just great stories of how we beat LSU and big times I’ve had here.”
Rufus Warren: “One of the stories I’ll tell is we worked hard. While other people are sleeping, we’re in here on Saturdays. It’s 5 am and its snowing outside and we still have to work out. I will tell them all the hard stories. Some of the funs times are any time that we win. It’s fun around here whenever we’re at practice. I get to stuttering and Coach Mullen says something about my stutter and we get to laughing. We always have a good time. We always relax when it’s time to relax.”
Darrion Hutcherson, tight end: “First word that probably pops in my head would be relentless. Just tell them, everything they do, go out and do their best at it. That’s what I learned from coming here. Be relentless in every thing I do. Be a champion in everything I do.
Ryan Brown: “Just tell them how crazy two-a-days have been, how crazy the locker room has been and also about my time here as a student and an athlete. I’ve had some great times here. The times of my life. It’s opened doors for me.”
What are you favorite memories?
Will Redmond: “Everything. They mean a lot to me. My position coach Deshea Townsend, I think I’ll know him forever, the rest of my life. That’s a guy that’s real close to me. The coaches teach you everything. They’ve been through it. Just spending time with the team. That’s one thing you’ll never get back. That’s one thing that stands out the most.”
Winston Chapman: “Just my boys, my specialists. We’re always a tight-knit group and we always take care of each other. The friendships that I’ve made out of that will last a long time.”
Dak Prescott: “There’s been a bunch of moments. Obviously, the LSU game, winning there. The Egg Bowl win a couple years, coming in and getting the win. Then, I’d say the Auburn game, winning to be ranked No. 1.”
Devon Bell: “This past weekend, obviously, that was awesome. Winning in Death Valley last year. Winning the Egg Bowl my sophomore year. My freshman year was the Tennessee game when I had the onside kick get recovered by Taveze. That was awesome. There’s so many memories. It’s amazing what’s happened to me these past four years and I’m going to miss it a lot.”
Ryan Brown: “It was fast, but I have no regrets. Everything god has done for me. He’s done so many things. When I got here I was supposed to redshirt. I played as a true freshman and from then it just continued to roll with blessings. It’s been great.”
2 Will Redmond DB 6-0 186 2L Sr. Memphis, TN (East HS)
14 Zach Jackson LB 6-2 212 3L Sr. Heidelberg, MS (Heidelberg HS)
15 Dak Prescott QB 6-2 230 3L Sr. Haughton, LA (Haughton HS)
16 Joe Morrow WR 6-4 202 2L Sr. Ocean Springs, MS (Ocean Springs HS)
23 Taveze Calhoun DB 6-1 180 3L Sr. Morton, MS (Morton HS)
26 Kendrick Market DB 5-10 196 3L Sr. Batesville, MS (South Panola HS)
38 Winston Chapman SN 6-2 240 3L Sr. Fairhope, AL (Fairhope HS)
40 Devon Bell P/K 6-2 190 3L Sr. Vicksburg, MS (Warren Central HS)
48 Ryan Brown DL 6-6 266 3L Sr. New Orleans, LA (Archbishop Shaw HS)
56 Nick Proby ATH 6-1 291 SQ Sr. D’Iberville, MS (Mississippi Gulf Coast CC)
70 Justin Malone OL 6-7 320 2L Sr. Madison, MS (Madison-Ridgeland Academy)
77 Rufus Warren OL 6-7 299 2L Sr. Indianola, MS (Gentry HS)
78 Damien Robinson OL 6-8 330 3L Sr. Olive Branch, MS (Olive Branch HS)
84 Darrion Hutcherson TE 6-7 260 1L Sr. Dadeville, AL (Copiah-Lincoln [MS] CC)