The whole idea of bowl games, at least from the point of view of those participating, is to provide something of a reward for a season of success and a year’s worth of hard work. For Mississippi State, the Belk Bowl in Charlotte is their prize for navigating the SEC and finishing with an 8-4 record in 2015.
While finding themselves on the receiving end of so much good fortune, MSU’s players spent the majority of their time on Monday ensuring that others were able to share in their success, as well. Between visits to a food bank and children’s hospital, as well as a shopping spree at Belk, State’s young men found opportunities to pass along their rewards to those who needed and deserved them, particularly in the middle of this holiday season.
Going beyond the typical expectations of team-organized charitable trips, a group of MSU players actually got together and decided to spend their Belk gift cards not on themselves, but on needy children. Each player is given $450 to spend as they wish, and with the permission and help of the Belk Bowl and Belk store, those who wanted to do so – an initial group of eight Bulldogs – were able to donate portions of their bowl gift to children in need of clothing.
For some, like place kicker Westin Graves, it was the type of opportunity he had been looking for.
“I’ve wanted to try and do something for a while,” he said, “but I don’t really have that much money. I feel like God has blessed me, so I wanted to try and give back something.”
On Monday morning before practice, the team split into two groups, one going to the Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte and the other going to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina. Again, the visit provided an opportunity for players to give back in both a personal and constructive manner.
At the hospital, the group of players went from room to room, introducing themselves to children and their families, talking with them, taking pictures and signing autographs. In one room, a child named Reese Webb, whose mother went to MSU, posed for pictures with head coach Dan Mullen and All-SEC wide receiver Fred Ross. In another, a young boy named Caleb was presented with gifts from senior captains Dak Prescott and Taveze Calhoun.
At the food bank, MSU players put together over 1,200 backpacks full of goods for those in need.
“It was nice to be able to give back and do that,” Graves said. “It would take a lot of volunteers to do what we were able to do so quickly.”
Of course, not all of the giving was to those the players haven’t met. At the Belk shopping spree, junior receiver De’Runnya Wilson was shopping not for himself, but for his young daughter and son, splitting the $450 down the middle in gifts for the two most important people in his life.
“I didn’t have a whole lot of time before Christmas because of school and football,” he said, “so I’m able to get my daughter and my son gifts here.”
However, he conceded the pressure was on to find something particularly exciting for his son after he gave his daughter a trampoline for Christmas.
Other players were looking ahead to the future, using their time at Belk to find suits, ties and professional clothing, instead of the usual shirts, shoes or hats of college students.
Senior Torrey Dale was shopping for ties and dress shirts, in the market for a nice suit to use as he enters the post-graduate world. Like him, senior left tackle Rufus Warren searched for the type of items befitting someone in a professional scene.
“I need something nice to wear when football is over,” Warren said.
The giving and the responsibility seem to come easy for MSU’s young men. If anything the hard part is just deciding what to get, as junior defensive end A.J. Jefferson struggled to pick out a purse for his girlfriend and sophomore receiver Gabe Myles was guided by his girlfriend as he attempted to pick out a few nice outfits. Even Dan Mullen had to be shooed past a pair of colorful Tommy Bahama trunks by his wife Megan who served as expert for all.
“I’m Bear’s personal shopper,” she joked as Wilson searched for clothes for his little girl.
Even if their taste in fashion is off, at least their hearts are in the right place.