The Battle for the Golden Egg returns, revenge on the minds of MSU’s seniors

Mississippi State’s seniors don’t want to go out the same way they came in. The memory of their first Egg Bowl has been a sour taste on the back of their tongues for the last four years, one they can’t and may never get rid of, though this Saturday may afford them an opportunity.

DSSZEBZRONWDPYP.20131129050856Their very first Egg Bowl, MSU went up to Oxford in 2012 having won three-straight in the Battle for the Golden Egg. It was only a few years, but the Bulldogs were undefeated against the Rebels under Dan Mullen and it seemed a lifetime since the last Ole Miss victory. At moments, it felt like State would never lose again. In a fit of excitement the year prior, Mullen said just that after MSU won in Starkville, declaring to the locker room that they would never lose to That School Up North. Ever.

Then 2012 happened. Dak Prescott’s first Egg Bowl. Taveze Calhoun, Ryan Brown and more than a dozen others all had their first crack at winning the Egg. And they came up short. In a game where many thought MSU had Ole Miss outmanned, the Bulldogs got straight up out-played.

The fans at Vaught-Hemingway rushed the field as soon as the final seconds ticked off the clock, MSU’s players and coaches having to fight through an aggressive sea of red and blue to get to their losing locker room. Minutes prior, video of Mullen’s victory proclamation had been played sarcastically on the video board, taunting the losers who had been proud winners for the last three years.

“When that happened, I really realized how serious the rivalry was,” Calhoun, now a senior cornerback, shared this week. “That memory will be with me forever, because that hurt a lot. One of the most embarrassing things I’ve ever been through in my life.”

For Prescott, he’s not shy about saying it’s one of the main reasons he’s in Starkville right now. 2014, magical as that season was for MSU, ended in a loss in Oxford. That’s not how the greatest quarterback in Mississippi State history wanted to go out.

“I came back for this reason. From the time I got here, everything goes into this week. Everything boils down to this,” he said, later remembering that game his freshman year when it all became a little too real for him. “Losing to them at their place, just watching them celebrate, their whole deal with Coach Mullen on the Jumbotron, it all kind of sank in. That’s when I got the taste of the rivalry.”

Of course, the Egg Bowl isn’t big because of one video a few years ago. That was just a single jab in a century-long bout of Mississippi’s heavyweights. Whether by official means or just through the mouths of fans, the sparring has been hard and unending since the rivalry began.

In fact, the reason the trophy itself exists is because the two teams got into a massive brawl on the field after the 1926 game and school officials thought creating a trophy to give to the winner might diffuse the tension. Boy, were they wrong.

“It’s just important to everybody in Mississippi, Ole Miss and Mississippi State fans,” Calhoun explained. “Just seeing how much they hate us and knowing how much we hate them, too.”

GMQKZMZXZJNGQQK.20131129050855MSU’s defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is uniquely experienced in this rivalry. When he was last on the staff at MSU, it was in 2010 during the three-win stretch for MSU in which it almost seemed easy. Now, back for the 2015 season, he’s the only coach or player on MSU’s sideline who will enter the game with an undefeated record against the Rebels, 1-0.

As time has gone by for the rest of the staff, many of whom have been with Mullen since he started at MSU in 2009, the years sort of run together. But Diaz, who only had the one year at State before his return this spring, remembers well what that first Egg Bowl win meant in 2009 and what it did for a program just beginning a rebirth.

“That really was what we had,” Diaz recalled. “I mean, we were 5-7. That whole offseason I was here, we were coming off a 5-7 season, but we were carrying around that Egg Bowl trophy everywhere we went. That really gave the program that first initial boost, which I felt led the team into that nine-win season in 2010. You couldn’t help but sense how important that game was. It was what we had at that time. Everything that this program has accomplished since then has been built off that first Egg Bowl.”

It was the marquee win of Mullen’s first season, and while State beat Georgia and Florida and even Michigan the following year, it was the 2009 Egg Bowl that started and kept the program rolling, leading all the way to being No. 1 in the country in 2014 and playing for another 10-win season in 2015.

When Diaz says everything has been built off that Egg Bowl, part of it is even literal. When MSU played that game, the north endzone at Davis Wade Stadium just had metal bleachers and the team’s daily locker room was in a decades-old facility across the street from the offices where MSU’s coaching staff split a building with athletic administration. A handful of Egg Bowls later, Davis Wade had a $75 million expansion and renovation resulting in a beautifully-bowled-in endzone. One month after winning the 2013 Egg Bowl in overtime, the program opened a $25 million football-only facility with coaches and players housed in the same brand new gigantic building.

Seeing the big-picture growth of the program by those means is what helped Brown, now a senior defensive end, fully understand the importance of the rivalry matchup.

“It really came when I saw buildings appearing,” he said. “We moved into this facility after we won the Egg Bowl. We started getting new stuff. A lot is riding on this game.”

The game doesn’t always have to define a season, of course. Just last year, MSU’s ride to the top of college football was started and completed before the Battle for the Golden Egg even kicked off. But no matter the situation, the rivalry always carries more weight. The big moments are bigger, the legends more legendary and the ramifications often much grander and deeper than any other.

ZJTZXYGWECXLFIP.20131129050855Heroes and villains alike are born, often one man playing the role of both, seen in the brightest of lights from one side and considered a stain on an otherwise beautiful world from the other. It’s hatred for others stemming from love for their own.

“It captures the essence of this state,” Diaz said. “It’s the essence of their program against the essence of our program. It’s who they are as a university and what they represent, and who we are as a university and what we represent.”

Said Calhoun, the Mississippi native, “it’s the biggest game of the year.”

Saturday night, the Battle for the Golden Egg begins again.

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14 football seniors leave behind legacy of greatness, achievement

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.

UAWMQFWDMDVSSCP.20150927022249They’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

XXZMHYOZAASTYFI.20150913033558All 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.”


The seniors:

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)

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Live thread: Dan Mullen press conference, Egg Bowl week

At 1 p.m. today, Dan Mullen visit with reporters for his weekly press conference. Mississippi State beat Arkansas 51-50 last week and hosts Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl on Saturday.

Live updates to follow.


And he here’s.

Mullen says “rivalry week is always a lot of fun for fans.”

As Mullen mentions, it’s the last home game for the seniors who will leave as one of the winningest classes in school history. He knows it will be emotional but says it’s something they can enjoy, too, getting to say goodbye.

Mullen says their biggest impact has been helping change the perception of the program, both nationally and internally. They’re the winningest class since the 1942 seniors.

Asked specifically about Dak Prescott and his legacy, “everyone will appreciate it forever here … I don’t know that there’s anybody in Mississippi State history to own as many records as he holds. I’m guessing when they introduce him for Senior Night, it’ll be pretty loud.”

As for football stuff, Mullen says MSU is healthy on the injury front. Came out of Arkansas healthy. Tight end Gus Walley is questionable, but he’s the only player on the injury report.

For the Egg Bowl specifically, Mullen was asked about home field advantage, which he says, “is such a big deal.” Helps to have fans as well as the comfort and routine of your own place. Says MSU fans give his team a great home field advantage.

Mullen says rivalry start within the fanbase and “making sure they know you take the game seriously” as a coach. “I think it’s a big game for our fanbase and for everybody. You get a year’s worth of bragging rights in the state.”

Mullen adds, “God’s gonna smile on all of us the same after the game, though the people in the winning colors may feel like he’s smiling a little more on that fanbase.”

“A win over your rival is a lot of fun,” Mullen says. “It’s the best locker room you can be in.”

Between rivalry and Senior Night, Mullen says emotion is good, but he counts on “leadership to keep us on the right path” and help the team stay focused on gameday.

Mullen talking now about offensive tackle Elgton Jenkins, who started and played at right tackle for MSU at Arkansas. Usual starter Justin Senior “was a little banged up” and could have played, but worked out OK to have Jenkins stay in the whole game. Allowed Senior to rest fully.

As for Ole Miss’ personnel, Mullen is complimentary of their defensive line. “They do a lot of movement with those guys” and said they get a lot of penetration. The big challenge he said is that it’s hard to get one-on-ones with all their movement.


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Dak Prescott builds on legacy as all-time great quarterback

Saturday night in Arkansas, as the temperatures dipped from just pretty cold to completely and technically freezing, Dak Prescott played the best game of his career. Seven days removed from being on the receiving end of nine sacks (and throwing for 300 yards, anyway), Prescott played what could be considered the best game the country has seen in years, and by certain measures, the best performance by a quarterback in the history of the Southeastern Conference.

GUNFWTMCKWAGRTI.20151122042703No one – ever – in the long tradition of the SEC has matched Prescott’s total of 554 yards and seven touchdowns, all of which came in regulation, no less. The performance, which included Prescott completing 76 percent of his 50 passes for 508 yards, was the latest example of what makes him the great player he is.

“I’d say he might be the best player I’ve ever coached,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said when asked what the performance said about his star quarterback. “If you look at my coaching resume, that’s pretty impressive.”

Told what his coach said, Prescott, too, was impressed.

“He’s coached a Heisman winner. He’s coached a No. 1 overall pick,” Prescott ticked off. “So that’s huge.”

Multiple Heisman winners and No. 1 picks,” Mullen laughingly corrected when a reporter made the same mistake.

Cam Newton and Brian Johnson, winners of a Heisman, Sugar Bowl and National Championship between them, not to mention Newton’s status as a No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft and Johnson being featured on the cover of EA’s NCAA Football. Alex Smith and Tim Tebow, two more first round picks, another Heisman and the only player in the same breath as Prescott in terms of career achievement. And those are just the quarterbacks. Mullen didn’t specify a position.

However, he was asked to specify what it is, exactly, that makes Prescott good at being a quarterback. Or, ahem, great at being a quarterback. In the vacuum of Saturday’s thriller, a 51-50 win for MSU, the bigger picture of his success can be found.

“I always feel comfortable when we have Dak, because he’s so calm,” Mullen said as he ticked items off his mental list of why Prescott is so great in his mind. “His ability to lead … His ability to manage the team and the emotions of the team.”

SGUTNGUKFXLMWYU.20151024235137The game was, in all ways, a roller coaster. MSU leapt to out to a multi-score lead over Arkansas and took a 31-21 lead into halftime. When the teams came back onto the field, State turned the ball over three-straight times, helping the Hogs go on a 28-0 run. UA was up 11 before MSU scored again, but State finally re-took the lead. Then, promptly, they lost it.

Through it all, Prescott never changed, never wavered. He was the same resilient, charismatic player the whole way through, moving the chains and encouraging his teammates whatever the score.

“No panic,” Mullen said. “It was a great job.”

“We just listened to the leader,” junior receiver De’Runnya Wilson explained. “We had to feed off him and he made the plays down the stretch to win the ball game.”

When Arkansas had all the momentum in the third quarter, Prescott was finding his teammates and telling them not to worry, to stand strong, to remember what they trained for all year.

“He’s a winner,” Mullen shared, continuing his thoughts on what makes Prescott his most-prized pupil. “He wants the ball in his hands to go win the game. I think that whole team knows, if you give him a chance, he’s going to win the football game.”

And they did give him a chance. With five minutes left in the game, MSU was staring at a 50-44 deficit and what was likely their last shot at pulling ahead to win an intense battle on the road.

Quickly – almost too quickly – Prescott led his team down the field. A six-yard pass to junior receiver Fred Ross. 12 more yards to Wilson. A long gain on a 45-yard pass to junior Brandon Holloway got the Bulldogs to the Razorback’s 19-yard line. The next two plays, however, resulted only in a rush for no gain and a five-yard pass to the tight end. Third and five at the Arkansas 14, MSU was running out of chances. Only 3:10 left in the game, a field goal wouldn’t have been any help. Someone had to make a play, and Prescott was going to be the guy.

The Razorbacks called a timeout to think about it. When both teams returned to the line, MSU had its play ready: a double slant. Nothing fancy, just a simple play where Prescott had to make the right choice and an accurate throw. Ross and Wilson were both running the quick slant at different levels of depth, the two playmakers Prescott had relied on all year, and he had to get the ball into the hands of one of them.

“It was man-to-man across the board,” Prescott recalled seeing as he looked at UA’s defense. “If Fred didn’t win, then I was throwing it to Bear. Fred won clean, so I just threw it off the back foot and he made a good catch and broke the tackle.”

14 yards and one extra point later, Prescott and his Bulldogs took the final lead for either team, 51-50.

“That’s our quarterback,” Wilson said. “That’s what he brings to the table. We have to have faith in him. We already know that he’s a great leader. He’s gonna leave it all on the football field. We’re just gonna try to feed off that.”

“His ability to lead, his ability to throw and make all the different throws,” Mullen listed off as he continued his countdown of Prescott’s great qualities. “To make checks. To make all the different possible throws.”

AFXGDZBYFUXTAXQ.20151122014316Those throws are part of what has been so impressive about Prescott this season. For the first three years of his career, he seemed to have the unfortunate though somewhat-complimentary reputation as an athlete who played quarterback, rather than a quarterback who was an athlete. The most-played highlight of his career was a 50-plus yard touchdown run against LSU in 2014, the stiff-arm portion of which remains the stuff of legend among MSU fans.

Even against Arkansas Saturday, Prescott ran for a pair of touchdowns in his record-breaking performance. However, where two rushing touchdowns would be considered the highlight of many games, they were dwarfed by the five he scored through the air.

Since State kicked off the season in September it’s been Prescott’s passes, not his runs, that fill the highlight reels. Long ones and short ones, hard ones and easy ones, though he has a knack for making the supremely difficult look exceedingly simple.

In 2015, through 11 games, he leads MSU in rushing yards (478) and touchdowns (nine) which is nice, to be sure. But it’s his passing, and more importantly the efficiency of his passing, that has truly stood out. In 393 attempts, he’s completed 66.2 percent of his passes, and only three of those have been intercepted, one of which was a tipped pass in that three-turnover stretch Saturday night. Mistakes are rare, but as Saturday showed – and, really, his whole life has displayed – Prescott doesn’t have a hard time bouncing back.

The senior has thrown for 3,159 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2015, improving on his yards per game, completion percentage, TD-INT ratio and passer rating from 2014, despite losing three starting offensive linemen and a starting running back to the NFL from last year’s squad. In his last five games, Prescott has thrown for 347, 348, 300, 303 and 508 yards during the season’s homestretch, totaling 1,805 yards. In those games, he’s accounted for 21 total touchdowns, the most of any player in the Power Five during that stretch.

Prescott’s 554 yards as an individual Saturday were more than all the other 13 schools in the conference had as entire teams in their games, and more than twice as many yards as three of them totaled. He’s one of only four players in the history of FBS football to throw for 60 and run for 40 career touchdowns and he’s in sole possession of fourth place in SEC history with 107 touchdowns responsible for, passing Peyton Manning and Chris Leak over the course of Saturday’s game.

So, to the original question by a reporter on Saturday night in Arkansas, yes, there are quite a few reasons Dak Prescott is the best quarterback Dan Mullen or Mississippi State have ever had.

“You can say a great quarterback, probably one of the best quarterbacks,” Wilson said of Prescott, “but he’s a leader first. That sets him [apart] to be one of the greatest quarterbacks in college football.”

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SEC Commissioner Sankey visits MSU, speaks on Scholars, Champions and Leaders

As part of his conference-wide tour, new Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey has made it a point to visit all 14 member institutions for a day, meeting with coaches, student-athletes, administrators and the like. On Tuesday, it was Mississippi State’s turn when Athletic Director Scott Stricklin picked Sankey up after a bumpy flight and brought one of the most powerful men in sports to his campus and the team meeting room for MSU’s football squad.

111715_SankeyVisit_KP031Inside, Dan Mullen and the football staff awaited his arrival, as did the rest of the coaches, staffs and administrators from across the department. Baseball, volleyball, track and basketball. Compliance, business, marketing and academics. Plenty more, too, were there to hear from the man at the top of the chain in which they all work and reside.

Sankey’s introductory words were lighthearted and often self-deprecating, but his presence was strong and his message serious and clear. He had a PowerPoint presentation breaking his thoughts down, but when it momentarily looked as if technical difficulties might prevent him from using a visual aid, it became clear he didn’t really need it. He knows the words by heart, and his message opened with a challenge and a reminder to the men and women representing millions upon millions of dollars worth of athletic programs sitting in front of him.

“What you actually do,” he told them, “is move people from adolescence to adulthood.”

Sankey’s general presentation consists of three keywords followed by a summary, beginning with what he considers to bethe most important category: Scholars. Beneath the title the message reads, “Graduate every student-athlete.” The idea is to prepare them for the rest of their lives, for adulthood, by ensuring they have the tools necessary to succeed.

Some, Sankey knows, will leave school early with the promise of professional careers as athletes, and good for them. But for the majority of those who will not end up on such a career path, education resulting in graduation is of the utmost importance. If someone exhausts their eligibility without graduation, “it’s your job to go get them” and make sure they find a way to finish their degree, Sankey told the room.

“We are judged now by whether we educate the young people on our rosters, and you cannot forget that,” he said.

The following two categories, the Commissioner said, are important, too, but education and graduation are the most crucial things they do.

However, those who watch and follow from the outside, he conceded, also have other goals. Namely, the title of category No. 2: Champions.

The banner below the title reads simply and directly, “Win every championship.”

“The expectation of our fans is that we win every championship, as crazy as that is,” Sankey explained. “But those are the expectations, so we may as well embrace them.”

He quickly ran down the list of NCAA championship competitions, ticking off on imaginary fingers the number of SEC teams in the running for every event from the College World Series and College Football Playoff to the NCAA Championships for golf and cross country.

Sankey recognizes the difficulty of winning even one title, let alone multiple or, in a perfect world, every championship. But he wants to try, and given the success of the conference, the expectations aren’t totally unreasonable.

However, his greatest demand is that no one in the SEC ever lose their shot at a title or have a championship trophy taken back because they couldn’t follow the rules. For the first time since 1984, he pointed out, not a single school in the SEC is currently on probation. That could change, sure, as Sankey confessed he’s “not naïve enough to think we’re perfect.”

But his goal is to foster an atmosphere of compliance, honesty and integrity, being the best in the best way possible.

The end of the second transitions nicely into the third and final category: Leaders.

“Influence our region, the nation and the world,” the sub-header reads.

111715_SankeyVisit_KP003The idea is simple, though the actions required to follow through can often be difficult and complex. Boiled down, Sankey was reminding some of the most influential people in the state, southeast and even the country of the responsibility that comes with their position. As championships follow education, so does leadership follow them both, the hoped-for end result of success.

“If we educate well and compete successfully, we have a leadership platform unlike any other,” he sad. “It is, really, about changing the world.”

To offer the best example he’s seen in his 13 years in the SEC, and as way of closing, Sankey told the story of swimmer from the University of Georgia, a native of South Africa who followed up her undergraduate education by pursuing the things most important in her heart.

“My goal is to take the education I received at Georgia,” Sankey recalled her saying, “and return home to take a leadership role in the government.”

That young lady, that future world leader, is the perfect example of transitioning a student-athlete from adolescence to adulthood. And, just as Sankey said, that’s what it’s all about.

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Live thread: Dan Mullen press conference, Arkansas week

At 1 p.m. today, Dan Mullen will meet with reporters for his weekly press conference. MSU travels to Arkansas this weekend for its final road game of the regular season.

Live updates to follow.


OWHHYZXSVSAKSHA.20151025043636Dan Mullen opens his press conference offering prayers for Missouri coach Gary Pinkel. “Hopefully, he has many years to enjoy his family life.”

As for who MSU plays this weekend, Mullen is prepared for what he expects to be a big test. Speaking very highly of UA’s QB, TE and RB, calling them a huge challenge, especially as the Razorbacks come off their win over LSU last weekend.

“Arkansas is one of the hottest teams in the SEC and, I think, one of the hotter teams in the nation.”

Mullen says Arky’s offense has started to click and has “a little bit more explosiveness” as the season has gone on. Credits them for sound defense, too. Says it’s a hard matchup, especially because Hogs can control the clock and keep opposing offenses off the field.

“They’re playing with more confidence. You look early in the season, they had some tight losses. They turned it around and found a way to get some close wins. When that stuff starts happening, you start to build some confidence and momentum.”

Mullen says he expects a physical Arkansas offense, one with a big offensive line. They don’t necessarily spread you out. “They move people, and you can’t get moved.”

As for his own team, Mullen talking now about how scary the moment was for De’Runnya Wilson on Saturday when he was down on the field for an extended period time late against Alabama.

The good news, Mullen says, is that Wilson is “going to be fine.” He said it’s nothing threatening or that will bother him for a long time. His availability this week is unknown until closer to the game, but there’s no lasting concern.

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Keith Joseph Sr. and Jr. honored, remembered in memorial service

There’s no right way to grieve, to say goodbye or to move on. There’s no timeline for acceptance or mourning. There are moments of deep sorrow and longing just as there are moments of numbness to all the emotions involved in the death of someone close. Thursday, however, was a time of remembrance and an opportunity to celebrate Keith Joseph Sr. and Keith Joseph Jr., a pair of men and a pair of Bulldogs whose impact on the world around them was felt in a profound and loving manner.

KP1_9690Just as teams celebrate at the end of great seasons, so too did the Mississippi State family celebrate at the end of two great lives. In a memorial service on MSU’s campus, the lives of the two men were remembered, an emphasis given by all to hold on to the legacy they each left behind.

“These two men, father and son, made the world a better place,” said University President Mark Keenum. “They will live on in our memories.”

When head football coach Dan Mullen spoke, he called it a celebration of life, the tears in his eyes and the catch in his throat not preventing him from sharing what an inspiration father and son both were to him, to those around them and even to those who never knew them. Mullen acknowledged how easy it can be to take for granted the people you see every day, never realizing the impact they have on you until they’re gone.

As he looked back at a model father and a dedicated son, he knew what meaning they had in his life.

“Keith Sr. and Keith Jr. will be with so many people, burned into their hearts, burned into their minds. Their legacy will be with them forever,” Mullen said.

In remembrance of Sr., former MSU teammate Sleepy Robinson spoke of a man he considered his brother, a “great football player” and a tremendous friend and family man. Current defensive line coach David Turner spoke about the father of a son he was recruiting, a role model who refused to let Jr. fall behind in academics, athletics or any part of his life.

Turner, too, shared the way each touched his life, considering the great person Joseph Jr. was to be a direct result of the tremendous man Joseph Sr. was, as well. Turner always heard people tell him what a wonderful player and young man he was getting when Joseph Jr. decided to play for the Bulldogs, though he never knew how much that person would change his life in such a short time.

“Everything that you heard about him, everything you wanted to believe about him, was true,” Turner said. “His legacy was to be the best, be great, at whatever he was doing … That’s a tribute to his father and his mother.”

KP1_9706The impact Joseph Jr. had on his teammates was significant, as well, and meaningful despite the short time they had together. Senior defensive end Ryan Brown shared the story of the first time he was around the new freshman defensive lineman.

Doing team sprints during workouts in the summer, Brown always expected to finish first. But that day, while he was running, he saw a fast, lanky kid pass by him. Every sprint, it was the same. Whoever this Joseph kid was, he had come to work.

When they returned to the locker room after the running session, Brown, the leader of the defensive line, approached the new kid in the group.

“If you keep working that hard, you’re gonna sweat your jersey off,” Brown told Joseph Jr. “That’s when I first saw him smile.”

That smile, that big, wide and bright smile, was brought up by all who told stories about their lost friend. As hard as he worked, Joseph Jr. took an equal amount of enjoyment in living his life, just like the father whose footsteps he always followed.

“I think God brings people in your life to teach you things,” Brown said. “Those are the two lessons Keith taught us.”

It’s an odd thing, the way human emotions work, when grief and joy are paired together, as the memories of great men can bring equally great sorrow. The exhortation from speakers at the service was to embrace those memories and understand that it’s OK to be happy again, OK to laugh and certainly OK to smile the same big smile Joseph Jr. was known for. And as he smiled, so too did he work, and carrying on both parts of his legacy is important to those who knew either man.

“Keep pressing on,” Robinson said as he spoke about Joseph Sr. “We’ve got a big game this week and he would have it no other way. Push forward, one play at a time.”

As the ceremony wound to a close, the crowd clapped and cried, smiled and hugged as the gospel song ‘Troubles Don’t Last Always’ serenaded the mourning and celebrating men and women there to honor the Joseph men.

KP1_9806Weeping may endure for a night.

Keep the faith it will be alright.

I’m so glad trouble don’t last always.

No, it won’t last always.

The pain will heal, but the two men will never be forgotten for what they gave to those they knew.

“It’s time like these that make you wonder, as we lead our lives, are we leaving the proper legacy?” Mullen asked as his thoughts turned to the memories and inspirations of Joseph Jr. and Sr. “I don’t know if you could leave a better legacy behind.”

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Breaking down Mississippi State vs. Alabama from the important angles

When Mississippi State hosts Alabama this weekend, it will be the umpteenth time in recent years that ranked SEC West teams face off. With teams in the same division, familiarity grows over the years. And with teams ranked so highly, the margins between victory and defeat grow slimmer by the game.

Any advantage a team has, however minimal, can decide who runs off the field in triumph and who waddles off in disappointment. Games like these often come down to individual matchups, battles between one star and another, the winner of that fight often claiming victory for his own team.

For example, MSU receiver De’Runnya Wilson can beat nearly any cornerback in the country when left 1-on-1, as we have seen. Tide defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson weighs more than two Brandon Holloways (MSU’s junior running back) and still managed to hop over an LSU offensive lineman without even having a running start last weekend.

Both are impressive players, that much is sure, but to really be certain, to truly figure out who has the advantage on Saturday, we’ve broken down the battles that really matter.

The Matchup: Cowbells vs. Houndstooth

635721093276703833-cowbellTwo of the most well-known accessories in college football, this may be the biggest battle of the game. Cowbells, of course, come from the legend of a cow wandering onto Scott Field while MSU hosted Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl decades ago. The Bulldogs went on to win the game after the cow was contained on the sideline and, for some time, students brought cows to games as a good luck charm. Eventually, an entire cow was too troublesome and they just brought the bells instead, a tradition continuing today.

Houndstooth, it turns out, has a tradition dating much farther back than MSU’s clanging bells. However, its origin does not come from sports. In fact, it’s the complete opposite of battles such as the one happening Saturday. As historical research (AKA, a quick Google search) tells us, houndstooth originated in Scotland when quarreling clans were at each other’s throats. In times of war and strife, houndstooth was worn as a sign that one didn’t want to fight and considered him-or-herself neutral.

Houndstooth looks nice, sure, but I’ll take the symbol of victory.

Winner: Cowbells

Score: MSU 1, Bama 0

The Matchup: Edam Cheese vs. Dreamland Barbecue

If cowbells are MSU’s most famous object, then Edam cheese is the university’s most famous food, and really, it’s most famous product of any kind. And, like the bells, it’s another cow-related tradition, wouldn’t you know it? Back in 1938, when much of the school’s focus was on agriculture, an MSU professor used milk from the school’s herd of cattle to make this savory and mellow cheese, wrapping it red wax balls and eventually selling it to the public. Today, Edam is the best seller in MSU’s MAFES store featuring a variety of cheeses, dairy and assorted campus-grown products.

nr20130320_cheeseparty_photo20 years on the dot after MSU starting making cheese, Alabama hired Bear Bryant as their football coach. In the same year, John “Big Daddy” Bishop opened the very first Dreamland in Tuscaloosa, the start of a legendary barbecue joint. In a part of the country known for its ribs, sauces, sides and service, Dreamland paved the way.

In fact, Dreamland has been so successful that you can even get it at MSU games, where vendors are set up selling Dreamland’s pork products. Tastes good, too.

You sure can’t get Edam cheese at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Matter of fact, you can’t even get it at Davis Wade Stadium. You have to go down the street to the MAFES store to purchase Edam, and you can’t even do that right now. This close to Christmas, Edam cheese has been sold out for weeks.

I love Dreamland, and I recommend the BBQ nachos at baseball games, but there’s a reason kings and queens always decorated themselves with jewels: rarity is value and demand far outweighed supply. In this instance, the big cheese takes the bejeweled crown.

Winner: Edam Cheese

Score: MSU 2, Bama 0

The Matchup: Hail State vs. Roll Tide

How Alabama got the nickname “Crimson Tide” is a straightforward story. In 1907, a reporter referred to the mud-covered Bama players as a collective crimson tide against their rival Auburn. The name stuck and here we are, but the question of when fans began saying “Roll Tide” is a bit more mysterious. In this International Business Times article asking if Roll Tide is “the most annoying slogan ever,” it says the phrase was eventually coined as a way to describe the team taking the field, as if the tide was rolling in. There are several suggestions across the internet, but that seems to be the best and most accurate one.

VBSDGCTHQXLXVFU.20131129050855Hail State is a fairly easy thing to find the origin of. MSU’s fight song was written in 1939 by Meridian music store owner Joseph B. Peavey as part of a contest to come up with a school song. Peavey, whose son Hartley went on to found Peavey Electronics, named the song Hail State, with the opening line, “Hail dear old State.”

Hail State was always one of the rallying cries for MSU sports, but over the last five years it has gone from shouted praise to a means of greeting, cheering and even identification.

Therein seems to lie the answer to this particular matchup. Roll Tide is very popular, as well as unique, sort of like “Gig ‘Em” for Texas A&M or “Woo pig sooie” for Arkansas. Like those, Hail State is different in that it’s not just a basic “Go Team Name or Mascot.” What sets Hail State even more apart, however, is how much it has become a part of the way those around the country refer to the school. Daily, writers, anchors and the like can be seen and heard to refer to the Bulldogs not as MSU, but as Hail State (often with a hashtag).

Hail State has transcended the typical standard of a cheer and become a moniker in itself.

Winner: Hail State

Score: MSU 3, Bama 0

Final: Mississippi State beats Alabama in a clean sweep. This is clearly a very serious and very accurate summation of who will win the football contest on Saturday.

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Live thread: Dan Mullen press conference, Alabama week

At 1 p.m. today, Dan Mullen will meet with reporters for his weekly press conference. No. 20 Mississippi State hosts No. 3 Alabama on Saturday at 2:30 on CBS. MSU beat Missouri on the road last week while Alabama beat LSU at home.

Live updates from Mullen to follow.


XJCOLWFSMDNZPXS.20151106054847Mullen is here. Opens expressing emotions over the passing of freshman Keith Joseph.

“We just ask everybody to keep the Joseph family in their prayers,” he says. “Nothing more devastating is ever going to happen to you as a coach, as a football team or as a program.”

In remembering Joseph, Mullen brags on what a great student he was, a 4.0 GPA, great student coming out of high school. Said he was an incredibly hard worker and very talented. He would have been the scout team player of the week every week if they hadn’t decided they had to give it to other people, too.

As for trying to move forward, Mullen says based on his experience, football can be cathartic and provide an escape.

“For all of these young men, football is their safe place in the world,” Mullen says. “Anything going on in your life, for a lot of our guys, when they can step on the football field, a lot of things disappear. It’s just them getting to play football.”

That said, Mullen recognizes there is a game to play this week. He knows Alabama will be a great challenge.

“They don’t give me a vote,” Mullen says. “They’re the best team in America.”

Mullen says MSU has improved every week the last month. Now, with Alabama up?

“We’re going to have to take another huge step forward this weekend.”

Mullen joked, but he’s serious, that Alabama has more five stars in some position groups than MSU has on its entire team.

Looking back at last year, Mullen says MSU played a little tight in the first quarter and a half. “Almost too perfect,” he said.

Mullen says he takes responsibility for that, he should be making sure guys are ready for that situation, for what was, at the time, the biggest game in school history.

“In those situations, the last thing you ever want to do is play uptight.”

Mullen says he doesn’t anticipate that being a problem now. For one thing, he says, players weren’t sure they’d have an opportunity for a game this big after the way the season started.

As for the offensive line, where there were a couple injuries, Mullen says he thought the group did well working through those. Not sure what to expect this weekend, but he said Thursday he anticipates left tackles Rufus Warren and Elgton Jenkins both being available.

As he looks at the talented Alabama defense, which does a great job getting sacks and interceptions, Mullen says one advantage they have (beyond all the five-star players) is that they often play with a lead. Makes things a lot easier.

On defense, Mullen says Chris Jones played the best game of his career against Missouri. Jones was named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week for his performance. Mullen said his development is one that has been under a microscope because of the attention around his recruitment, but, “it takes time.”

Says Jones has learned what it takes to be a football player and play with technique within a scheme. His play lately is an example of that.


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Quiet, determined resurgence for MSU ahead of Alabama showdown

Mississippi State stumbled a bit coming out of the gate this season, winning some weird games and dropping some tough losses to teams they beat easily just one year ago. By the time the Bulldogs got back home from their second loss of the season a little over a month ago, it seemed nearly everyone had written them off. All those eyes on Starkville last fall were looking elsewhere, all the stories were about some other team and all the excitement had quickly faded.

YUBZFAVAQQWGHME.20151025043637But within themselves, while no one has been watching, MSU’s team has quietly undergone a resurgence. While the rest of the country has been distracted with its top-ten teams of choice, the Bulldogs have gone from weirdness and disappointment to comfort and domination. Since the college football world tuned them out after losing at Texas A&M five weeks ago, MSU has run off four-straight wins, outscoring those opponents by nearly 100 total points.

Dak Prescott has built up the numbers to make himself one of the best quarterbacks in SEC history as MSU’s offense has put up 41 points per game in its most recent stretch. Led by coordinator Manny Diaz, MSU’s defense has quietly become one of the best in the country, let alone the SEC, as it has fiercely defended the endzone from those who would wish to reach it. No one has scored a fourth-quarter touchdown against MSU since 2014.

Even in blowout wins – the Bulldogs won their three home games in October by an average of 27.3 points – no one has managed a garbage time score. In fact, no one in the SEC has been better than MSU when it counts as Diaz’s unit leads the SEC in redzone touchdown percentage, checking in at third in the country.

For the first time in a while, eyes will be back on MSU this week as, ranked No. 20, they host No. 3 Alabama for a game with major SEC West and Playoff implications. But those who tuned the Bulldogs out after an early loss in College Station may be surprised at what they see Saturday.

“I really feel, every single week since the Texas A&M game, we’ve improved as a team,” head coach Dan Mullen said. “I think we’ve played better for four straight weeks.”

It’s true, they have. However, it’s not necessarily a function of MSU waiting until the middle third of the season to start really trying. If we’re being honest, it was kind of bound to happen that MSU would finish the season as a much better team than it started the 2015 campaign.

BPUXEBHDWLGIZSI.20151106050623The roster was full of talent, the coaches knew, but what it had in measurables it lacked in experience. Three of five starters on last year’s offensive line are now on NFL practice squads. Half of last year’s defensive line is now on 53-man rosters in the NFL, with a third starter also graduated. It’s a story anyone following MSU knows, including a starting running back, tight end, safety and two linebackers off to the pros, as well. Expecting MSU to have some issues wasn’t a dangerous limb to go out on.

The folly was in thinking that those losses would affect MSU’s entire season. Turns out, it just made things a little harder at the beginning. Growing pains, you could call it. Literal ones, as a strong core of young talent, many of whom never played a down of college football, have found themselves relied upon, taking the mantle from juniors and seniors and being expected to do just as well as freshmen.

It took some time, took a few learned lessons, but the new faces have started to make their own names. In some instances they’ve gone, already, beyond their predecessors. Few outside of Starkville have been paying attention, but the Bulldogs have become a team of dangerous mercenaries, men written off and given no chance, taking every opportunity to destabilize the foundations of those who doubted them.

On a wet, rainy and overall dreary Thursday night in Columbia, Missouri last week, MSU no longer looked like the timid team that had been in awe of a gigantic stadium and other-worldly tradition in College Station. The Bulldogs are the enforcers now.
In the minutes before the game started, both teams were on the field warming up, separated only by a thin line of coaches and managers on the 50 yard line. Just a few yards from each other, the Bulldog defensive backs and Tiger receivers were going through drills at the same time.

Kivon Coman and Brandon Bryant, MSU’s safeties in their first year as starters, pushed as close to the coaching wall as they could, crossed their arms over their chests, and stared the Missouri receivers straight in the face. They smiled, leered, taunted, bounced on their heels and shook their heads as they called attention to themselves, letting the foe know the Bulldogs weren’t just ready, they were foaming at the mouth.

“We put fear in them before we even played them,” Coman said. “If you look a man in his eye and he looks away, he ain’t ready to play.”

CLNIQIICAHHKCUV.20151025014948Those receivers, by the end of the game, only managed 66 total yards. The entire Mizzou offense only had 107 yards through the air, and none of those catches included a trip to the endzone. No touchdowns for a single one of them, as Coman slapped away the Tigers last shot at the endzone, adding on to the interception he’d already snagged earlier in the night.

On the other end of the defense, MSU’s line, led by junior tackles Chris Jones and Nick James, had one of their best games of the season, tallying 11 tackles for loss, including five sacks.

“We had a gameplan to come in and out-tough those guys,” Jones said. “We’ve got the mentality – put the ball down, it doesn’t matter where it is, we’re going to stop them.”

Offensively, MSU looked nearly unstoppable against a defense that was previously the best in the SEC and one of the best in the entire country. Barring some moments during a vision-impairing downpour late in the first half, they didn’t just look unstoppable – they kind of were.

Prescott is the catalyst, the driver behind it all, but those who haven’t been paying attention would be unwise to think he’s alone in MSU’s offense. Three times in the last 15 games, junior receivers Fred Ross and De’Runnya Wilson have both gone over 100 receiving yards in the same game, including their trip to Missouri.

OWHHYZXSVSAKSHA.20151025043636On Thursday, the inside-outside duo combined for 15 catches, 217 yards and three touchdowns. Just like their defensive counterparts, MSU’s offense doesn’t care who you are. Whatever timidity they may have had early on is now gone, a distant memory to these gritty and confident fighters.

Emphasis on confident.

“When we’re tagging ‘em up outside with Bear [Wilson] and Fred’s eating them up inside, they don’t really know what to do or how to stop that,” Prescott shared after the win.

“My feet get sweaty,” Wilson said, explaining what happens when he sees that he’s got a 1-on-1 opportunity. “My eyes get blurry. I know the ball is going to come to me.”

“Bear’s a big guy with great body control,” Prescott further explained. “I’ve said it all year: I’ll take him vs. any cornerback in the country 1-on-1 at any time.”

So, to those who haven’t been paying attention to Mississippi State, don’t expect this weekend to see the same team you watched in September. That’s not them anymore.

You can write MSU off, if you like, but as it turns out, they don’t really care.

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