Four by Four: Who will lead MSU in rushing in 2015?

To bridge the gap from the end of sports for the 2014-15 year to the unofficial beginning of sports for the 2015-16 year (SEC Media Days), we’ll be running four series of four items each over the next month in a feature appropriately, if not creatively, titled four-by-four. With Mississippi State football being the focus, we’ll look at four breakout candidates, four position battles, four potential All-SEC players and four possible statistical leaders.

This week, we’re predicting statistical leaders for MSU’s 2015 season. Today: predicting MSU’s leading rusher.

Ashton Shumpert

Ashton Shumpert

1,203 yards and 11 touchdowns have left Mississippi State for the Indianapolis Colts in the way of running back Josh Robinson jumping to the NFL after the 2014 season. MSU’s got a stable of backs ready to replace him, though, and it’s been well over 20 years since there wasn’t a talented runner in the backfield for the Bulldogs. Robinson, Perkins, Ballard, Dixon, Norwood … it’s easy to lose track as you count them back through the years.

The question after each hasn’t been can anyone replace them, but who will replace them. There’s a second question to address in a moment, but for now, let’s just go through the candidates.

True junior Ashton Shumpert seems the favorite to win the starting job, and I’d be surprised if he doesn’t have it when MSU opens the season against Southern Miss. What offers promise for Shumpert is the way he finished the season. After only totaling 14 carries the first eight games of the year, he came on strong when Robinson’s touches waned late. His 24 carries in the final two games of the regular season were a huge jump from his previous usage, and his 68 yards on 10 carries in the Egg Bowl was one of the few bright spots of that game for MSU.

But, wanna hear something maybe unexpected? Shumpert was fourth on the team in rushing behind Robinson, Dak Prescott and, wait for it, Brandon Holloway. The speedy change-of-pace back was in his first season in the backfield after switching from wide receiver and actually ran for 20 more yards than Shumpert on two fewer carries in 2014, including three games with 65-plus yards. He seems unlikely to be an every-down rusher, but crazier things have happened.

Brandon Holloway

Brandon Holloway

Then comes the pair of redshirt freshmen calling themselves either the Bang Brothers or Thunder and Lightning depending on which day you ask. Aeris Williams was the four-star who set records in West Point during his illustrious high school career, and Dontavian Lee was the “other” running back in the class who some seemed to think would end up having to change positions. Both impressed in practices while redshirting last year, and it seems safe to say that no running back had a better spring than Lee.

While Shumpert is expected to be the starter for the first game of the season, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Lee is the starter for the last one. He’s fast, strong, has good hands, has good vision and has put on some needed muscle since arriving in Starkville. But it won’t be easy as he competes with the other three, not to mention the highly-recruited freshmen arriving on campus this summer.

And all of that is why none of those players are the answer to the second question – who will lead the team in rushing?

My pick: Dak Prescott, QB 1. If you combine all the previously mentioned running backs, I feel sure they’ll have more total yards in 2015 than Prescott. But as individuals, I don’t know that any will get enough carries to get the near-1,000 yards it will likely take to top No. 15. Their strength is their weakness, in a manner of speaking, that they’re all talented and will likely be sharing duties with each other.

TCUPOVUPDVPUGAC.20141123025642Consider, as well, that MSU is replacing three starters on the offensive line, perhaps meaning more running early on for Prescott as he helps them adjust, and he already had 986 net rushing yards last year, anyway.

And in fact, there’s already precedent for this. Easy to forget considering the comparative memorable-ness of the 2013 and 2014 seasons, but Prescott was MSU’s leading rusher as a sophomore in 2013 and it wasn’t even close. As a part-time starter who only played in 11 games, Prescott accrued 829 yards on the ground, far more than LaDarius Perkins (542 yards) and Robinson (459 yards) who split duties. The two certainly had more combined yards than their quarterback, but neither got enough carries to have a chance of catching him individually. The same situation seems pretty possible in 2015.

One thing, however, seems to be a near guarantee. No matter who has the most yards, Prescott is sure to lead all contenders in rushing touchdowns, just as he has the last two seasons.

Dak Prescott rushing touchdowns 2013-14: 27.

Starting running backs combined rushing touchdowns 2013-14: 16.

That seems like one trend likely to continue in 2015.

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Four by Four: Predicting who leads MSU in sacks in 2015

To bridge the gap from the end of sports for the 2014-15 year to the unofficial beginning of sports for the 2015-16 year (SEC Media Days), we’ll be running four series of four items each over the next month in a feature appropriately, if not creatively, titled four-by-four. With Mississippi State football being the focus, we’ll look at four breakout candidates, four position battles, four potential All-SEC players and four possible statistical leaders.

This week, we’re predicting statistical leaders for MSU’s 2015 season, looking at sacks today.

ZIZIWACXKZYSVIU.20141011224421For all the returning star power MSU has on both sides of the ball, State’s defense has huge hole to fill in the graduation of defensive end Preston Smith, a second round NFL Draft pick of the Washington Redskins. Smith opted to return for his senior season in 2014 and led the team with nine sacks, 15 tackles for loss and 15 quarterback hurries, not to mention his two interceptions and multiple SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week awards.

The good news for defensive line coach David Turner is that he’s got a big list of capable candidates to take over the No. 1 pass rusher role. The question for us is who will it be? Sleeper candidates Jonathan Calvin (junior end), Will Coleman (junior end), Nelson Adams (junior tackle) and Torrey Dale (senior end) deserve mention here, and it’s worth factoring in the new style of blitzing defense Manny Diaz is going to employ, meaning linebackers and defensive backs are going to get in on the action, too. In fact, it was senior linebacker Matt Wells who had the second-most sacks on the team last year with four.

But for the moment, we’ll narrow it down to three veterans on the defensive line: senior end Ryan Brown, junior end A.J. Jefferson and junior tackle/end Chris Jones. Of the trio, Brown had the most sacks last year with 3.5, and was second on the team behind Smith with 10 quarterback hurries. Jones had three sacks and eight hurries while Jefferson had 2.5 sacks and nine hurries.

Jones, by most observations, is the most naturally-talented of the bunch, one of the top few players in the country when he signed with MSU just a couple years ago. He played immediately and his ability was evident from the first day of camp. What’s funny is that while he was named first-team All-American by Sporting News this week, he hasn’t even been a first-team player at his own school. Don’t be mistaken, he’s received the reps of a starter, but in 2015 as a junior, he will be a starter for technically the first time [we assume].

Jones has the highest ceiling of the bunch and has the potential to have a monster junior year and leave to be an early pick in next spring’s NFL Draft. He’ll be lined up all over the front line for MSU, but Jones will play the majority of his reps at tackle, which may keep his numbers from showing the impact he has. Such is the curse of defensive tackles.

DGEVZMDOPPOFZCI.20141004182959The surprise of the big contenders is Jefferson. In the much-ballyhooed defensive signing class of 2012, Jefferson was close to an afterthought despite being named a Dandy Dozen player in Mississippi by The Clarion Ledger. Maybe it’s because Jefferson, somehow, doesn’t quite look the part of an elite defensive end. But he’s proven to be one of the most productive linemen of that class, despite the lack of credit and attention.

Maybe there’s a chip on his shoulder from that, maybe there’s not. But once every few months for pretty much the last two years, coaches have singled out Jefferson as the as the hardest worker in the group of defensive linemen in practice. During this year’s spring practice, there might not have been anyone on the entire defensive unit who was as impressive as Jefferson.

Then there’s Brown who, like Jefferson, received very little attention in the 2012 signing class, barely registering as one of the top 1,000 players in the country according to recruiting rankings. But the long-armed and mild-tempered Brown got to campus and played immediately, impressing coaches in practice and fans in games as a true freshman. Going into his senior season, Brown is one of the unquestioned leaders of the entire defense and he’s my pick to lead the team in sacks in 2015.

XUTRJFANEZUYMCW.20141012002434At 6’6” and 266 pounds, Brown started 12 games last year and was quietly one of the central pieces of MSU’s defense, which is sort of his style. He’s comfortable talking, regularly doing interviews with us media folk, but he’s what Turner often talks about – a lunch pail guy. He’s a hard worker who – apologies for the clichés – has kept his head down and his nose clean for three years while earning respect from those around him and causing trouble for those who play against him.

Others will get the hype going into the season, both for MSU and around the country, but like Smith in 2014, Brown is likely to have the numbers by the time the 2015 season ends.

Whoever it may be to lead the team, there will be one fun storyline to watch along the way: every year since 2012, MSU has increased its sacks, going from 19 in 2012 to 20 in 2013 and jumping to 37 in 2014. Can they top those numbers in 2015?

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Four-by-four: Predicting MSU’s leading receiver in 2015

To bridge the gap from the end of sports for the 2014-15 year to the unofficial beginning of sports for the 2015-16 year (SEC Media Days), we’ll be running four series of four items each over the next month in a feature appropriately, if not creatively, titled four-by-four. With Mississippi State football being the focus, we’ll look at four breakout candidates, four position battles, four potential All-SEC players and four possible statistical leaders.

This week, we’re predicting statistical leaders for MSU’s 2015 season, starting with receiving.

CVVTGHVPKDKPWIA.20141115232932Wide receiver, despite what it lost from the 2014 starting lineup, might be the deepest and most talented position on the roster, a far cry from the early days of Dan Mullen’s tenure when a pass-catcher over 6’1” was a rarity and few players outside of the starters had much of a shot to see the field.

As we attempt to predict who will be MSU’s leading receiver this year, I’m going to lump everything together and make a semi-educated guess with yardage as my main factor. Were we to divide this into categories of yards and touchdowns, the answer for each might be different.

To begin, let’s start with the obvious candidate: Last year’s leading receiver De’Runnya Wilson is back. He’s the logical choice here, having caught 47 passes for 680 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014, all tops on the roster. “Bear” did all that despite only playing extensively in seven-ish games and only being in his third year of playing organized football, having just played his senior year of high school in Alabama.

The immensely-talented Wilson is 6’5”, nearly-impossible to tackle and could potentially be in an NFL minicamp this time next summer. But while he’s likely going to again lead MSU in receiving touchdowns and will probably get all the attention from opposing secondaries, he’s not my pick here.

HUMDFPJPNGPQFNL.20150101040244I’m going with Fred Ross. The rising junior was in the same class as Wilson, a polished Texas receiver who played in his first possible game at MSU. Injuries hampered his ability and effectiveness over the first two seasons, but despite those setbacks, he was quietly second on the team last year (behind Wilson, of course) in receiving yards. His 489 yards were over 100 more than the third place finisher, and his 16.3 yards per catch were actually tops on the team of any receiver with more than 20 catches, nearly a full two yards per catch better than Wilson.

A few of the reasons I’m picking Ross here: he should finally be fully healthy. He’ll benefit from the attention Wilson receives. MSU lost long-time starting tight end Malcolm Johnson, creating a need for more pass-catchers. Dak Prescott is only getting better as he improves footwork and accuracy going into his senior season.

All good reasons, but my biggest one: Ross has moved to the slot, and judging by spring practice, Mullen is going to have Ross all over the place in MSU’s offense. Inside, outside, in the backfield, on pitches, reverses, everything. He’s going to be used and used often.

The slot receiver, to this point, has been one of the most important members of Mullen’s offenses, and Ross is taking to it naturally as a talented route-runner and pass-catcher who knows how to use his body.

To illustrate the importance of the slot receiver under Mullen: every year except for two since he arrived at MSU, the slot receiver has led the team in yards and catches. In those two off years, there were injuries at the position. And in most of those other four years, it wasn’t even close from the slot to the next guy.

Last year, for instance, senior starter Jameon Lewis was hurt early and replaced by freshman Gabe Myles, then the two split duties late while Wilson led the team in all categories. Combine their numbers into one receiver, however, and that one player would have led the team with 54 catches and his 51.7 yards per game would have been second, just behind Wilson’s 56.7 ypg.

Now, put in the healthy junior Fred Ross with his considerable talent and seeming knack for the position, and you might have found MSU’s leading receiver in 2015. Not to say it won’t be close, and I’d take Wilson if we’re talking touchdowns, but Ross could be the sleeper star in 2015, the Cris Carter to Wilson’s Randy Moss.

Either way, the duo ought to be fun to watch. In the final two games of the 2014 season (against Ole Miss and Georgia Tech when both were healthy), Wilson and Ross combined for 28 catches, 422 yards and four touchdowns. Watch out.

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Former MSU track star Cochran to compete on American Ninja Warrior

A sign of strong athletic programs at the college level is often how many players make it to the next level. At Mississippi State, for example, the last five years have seen first round picks in the NFL, NBA, MLB and WNBA Drafts. Bulldogs have made their way to the Olympics and the PGA. The Last two summers have seen the debuts of former MSU athletes in the professional softball and women’s soccer associations.

This summer, MSU will have a first when former track star Jasmine Cochran competes on American Ninja Warrior.

Cochran featured on the sneak peek section of the American Ninja Warrior website

Cochran featured on the sneak peek section of the American Ninja Warrior website

Airing tonight on NBC at 7 p.m. central, American Ninja Warrior is a highly-entertaining battle of physical ability and mental capacity, described by NBC and Esquire as follows:

The action-packed series follows competitors as they tackle a series of challenging obstacle courses in both city qualifying and city finals rounds across the country. Those who successfully complete the finals course in their designated region move on to the national finals round in Las Vegas, where they face a stunning four-stage course modeled after the famed Mt. Midoriyama course in Japan. The winner will take home a grand prize of $1,000,000. Although many have come close, no competitor has yet to achieve total victory and claim the prize.

Tonight, Cochran will compete in the Houston qualifiers hoping to make it to the city finals with a trip to Las Vegas and a shot at one million on the line. Although, technically, she’s already made her attempt and learned her fate.

“But I’m not allowed to tell you what happened,” she said.

What she can tell us, however, is how she got to that point. A multi-sport standout in high school, Cochran (maiden name Walls) actually played basketball her first year of college. But when she decided that wasn’t for her, MSU track and field coach Steve Dudley convinced her to come play for him in Starkville. She obliged, and then she flourished. As a senior in 2006, she set the all-time school record in the high jump, her specialty event in both indoor and outdoor settings.

The record has since been broken by current Bulldog Erica Bougard, but Cochran says, “If the record was going to be broken, I’m told she’s a good person to do it.”

It was a bit of winding road that got Cochran to that record-setting moment in 2006, but she never felt like that was the end. Her last event as a college athlete was a competition in Tennessee, and she remembers walking off the track unfulfilled.

“When I finished, I didn’t feel finished,” Cochran said. “I was just trying to find my way.”

Her search for an athletic outlet was only encouraged by her husband James Cochran, a former MSU football player who understood the desire to compete.

Cochran receiving the phone call telling her she'd been picked

Cochran receiving the phone call telling her she’d been picked

The difficulty was in finding somewhere to do it. As Cochran pointed out, there aren’t pick-up track meets around town like basketball or softball. Some friends recommended that she should run marathons or perhaps compete in triathlons, but there’s no fun in running without an obstacle and Cochran conceded she’s not a strong swimmer, so those were out.

A few years ago, American Ninja Warrior caught her eye. She watched a season and was intrigued. She watched another the season the next year. Then finally, she decided, “I could do that.”

So Cochran, currently a personal trainer in Texas, put together an audition tape, made her submission and waited to find out if she’d be picked. We know now, she was invited to compete. It should be no surprise that a track athlete such as her would have the abilities needed.

“Track is the foundation of every other sport,” Cochran explained before going on to use the high jump as an example. “That event is very technical. You’ve got to be able to pay attention to the small things. You have to adjust your body and make quick decisions.”

Without revealing details of the competition or its outcome, Cochran did say one of the biggest things from her track days that came in handy was the versatility she had to learn for so many events.

As for how much of tonight’s program will be dedicated to Cochran, that she still does not know. Each competitor did full interviews the day before competition, with the producers left to decide how much is included in the final broadcast. A main point of conversation, as you’d imagine, was her time at MSU.

So, we wait a few more hours.to see what happens, and she waits to see how much of the interview they use.

“I did say ‘Hashtag Hail State,’” she said with a laugh.

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A ‘new era’ of Mississippi State basketball begins with Howland, Newman

Today was the first day of class and the very first college practice for three freshmen basketball players, day one of a journey with a coach in his first year on campus and a team playing together for the first time.

“The start of a new era for Mississippi State basketball,” Malik Newman told reporters after practice.

Malik Newman with reporters after his first practice at MSU

Malik Newman with reporters after his first practice at MSU

Newman, a point guard, is the newest star on campus, the All-American and No. 1 point guard in the country who chose to wear the same uniform his father once put on and play for the Bulldogs. He joins four-star guard Quinndary Weatherspoon and highly-coveted forward Aric Holman as the first freshmen on campus, going through their first day together.

“It’s gonna take time to get used to,” Holman said of college life, “but it’s a blessing to be here.”

The three of them join a team of veterans hoping to resurrect a program that has been to the top in the past but has struggled in recent years, and there’s hope both within the program and out that they could do it, and quickly. Newman, whether he’ll admit it or not, is one of the main reasons for that optimism, considered a likely one-and-done player based purely on talent. Add in his considerable maturity and polish for a young man who just graduated high school (he greeted each reporter with a handshake and a smile before beginning his interview), and it’s easy to understand why Howland A) wanted Newman so badly and B) expects him to do great things, sooner rather than later. I.J. Ready, MSU’s junior and returning-starter point guard, instead of viewing the supposed freshman phenom with disdain or even envy, has taken Newman under his care, teaching him and helping him with one goal in mind: winning games for Mississippi State.

“Malik is an outstanding talent. We basically bonded as soon as we saw each other,” Ready said. “We come out here every day and compete against each other to make each other better and make the team better. Malik is fascinating, but he’s young and there’s a lot to learn. I just want to be there to help him and teach him.”

Newman, like Holman and Weatherspoon, understands his place, too. All three conceded that after only one hour of practice with Howland and his staff, they realized how little they really knew, how far they had to go and how different college was going to be from high school. They may have big names or piles of newspaper clippings, but they have no experience and haven’t even had a chance to earn respect from older teammates. The good news for them, however, is that the veterans on the club, seniors like Gavin Ware, Fred Thomas and Craig Sword, have welcomed their new teammates like brothers.

“When I first walked in the locker room Tuesday,” Holman said, “none of them acted shady. It was all love. I really appreciated that.”

That being said, all of them – freshmen and veterans alike – are competitive. They want to play, they want to start and they want to be the best.

“Just because I’m coming in with a big name, doesn’t mean that [I.J.] is gonna lay down for me,” Newman said, “and just because he’s been here doesn’t mean that I’m gonna lay down for him. For him to push me and for me to push him, I think that can just help the team get better.”

And that will be the ultimate goal. For Newman, who wants to learn. For Ready, who wants to improve. For Howland, who is spending his time teaching, breaking down his players to build them back up again, forcing them to improve at the little things that separate the good from the great. And for all of them, they just want to win.

“I’m ready to work and get Mississippi State basketball on the map,” Weatherspoon said.”

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List of freshmen football enrollees, plus new numbers for returning players

In the dregs of summer, we pounce on any football news we can get. This week, we didn’t even have to scrape the bottom. A wealth of small Mississippi State-football related items are worth talking about the last few days. Summer workouts for the team began Monday and summer school classes started today.

DUEQHOZBTOGJHGD.20141004185209Most importantly, new freshmen enrolled this week and they’ve picked their collegiate uniform numbers, one of the more difficult decisions they’ll have this summer. The list below represents all freshmen who enrolled for the start of the June semester, though first we’ll mention a few older players who have opted for new numbers.

*Note: Heights and weights for incoming players are not updated and may change once they are officially weighed in by MSU’s staff.

VETERAN NUMBER CHANGES:

No. 2 Elijah Staley, redshirt freshman QB

No. 7 Nick Fitzgerald, redshirt freshman QB

No. 7 Tolando Cleveland, junior DB

ENROLLED NEWCOMERS:

No. 3 Traver Jung (Holmes CC) – LB, 6-4, 215 pounds

No. 12 Jamal Peters (Bassfield, MS) – DB, 6-2, 216 pounds

No. 14 Nick Tiano (Chattanooga, TN) – QB, 6-5, 230 pounds

No. 21 Nick Gibson (Birmingham, AL) – RB, 5-11, 197 pounds

No. 23 Keith Mixon (Birmingham, AL) – WR, 5-8, 175 pounds

No. 26 Alec Murphy (Nixa, MO) – RB, 6-1, 225 pounds

No. 30 Chris Stamps (Vicksburg, MS) – DB, 6-1, 170 pounds

No. 31 Maurice Smitherman (Adamsville, AL) – DB, 5-9, 178 pounds

No. 41 Mark McLaurin (Collins, MS) – DB, 6-2, 210 pounds

No. 43 Fletcher Adams (Brandon, MS) – DL, 6-2, 260 pounds

No. 44 Leo Lewis (Brookhaven, MS) – LB, 6-2, 231 pounds

No. 50 Tim Washington ((Yazoo City, MS) – LB, 6-3, 183 pounds

No. 69 Darryl Williams (Bessemer, AL) – OL, 6-3, 304 pounds

No. 75 Harrison Moon (Chattanooga, TN) – OL, 6-4, 276 pounds

No. 81 Justin Johnson (Birmingham, AL) – WR, 6-4, 224 pounds

No. 85 Jonnas Spivey (Bay Springs, MS) – WR, 6-1, 181 pounds

No. 91 Anfernee Mullins (Aliceville, AL) – DL, 6-4, 245 pounds

No. 92 Kendell Jones (Pinson, AL) – DL, 6-4, 255 pounds

No. 99 Keith Joseph, Jr. (Pascagoula, MS) – LB, 6-4, 226 pounds

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Dak Prescott surprises campers at Camp Jabber Jaw

This week in Starkville, two groups made their way to Mississippi State’s campus. On the north side, football players got to town for summer classes and workouts. On the south side, participants in Camp Jabber Jaw arrived at the T.K. Martin Center for their annual summer camp helping children who require augmentative and alternative devices for speech and communication.

On Tuesday, the two groups met when MSU quarterback Dak Prescott drove his car over from the weight room following a workout to the activities room at Camp Jabberjaw where the campers were assembled and waiting on a surprise special guest.

10996045_1039650492714099_5339629442637715008_nThe camp, whose theme is superheroes this year, is geared toward helping children who need and use typing devices, eye-detecting computers or other services to aid in their verbal communication. For most, they are the only ones in their school who have to use them, often making them feel left out or more reluctant to communicate. At Camp Jabberjaw every summer, they are in an environment where everyone around them, kids their own age, is just like them.

They are immersed in an environment where they can be comfortable, and are also provided with instruction from full-time staff at the T.K. Martin center as well as graduate students in speech pathology programs across the state of Mississippi. The camp is a unique one, attracting campers both new and returning from all over the United States every summer, and with parents and siblings invited it’s also an opportunity to learn together that they don’t often have.

And, of course, the idea is to have fun, hence the superhero theme including a cardboard Batmobile outside the entrance and murals of everyone from Clark Kent to The Hulk.

Prescott waited just outside the door to the room where all the kids waited as he was being introduced.

“We’ve been talking about superheroes all week,” one of the camp directors told the room, “so we wanted you to meet one of our heroes here at Mississippi State – Dak Prescott!”

She motioned for Prescott to walk inside, and as soon as he did the room erupted in cheers and clapping, as well as several excited looks from one camper to another.

Many of them knew who Prescott was, being Mississippi natives. But even the ones who didn’t looked at him with awe. The contrast between he and the campers was not lost on Prescott, whose 6’2”, 235-pound frame, shaved head, bulging muscles and big smile made him look every bit of an other-worldly action hero to the pint-sized kids, many of whom were bound to wheelchairs.

Prescott immediately walked up to the closest camper and introduced himself, shaking a little girl’s hand as he waited on her to type her name into the program on her iPad that would then read it back to him. Slowly, Prescott worked his way around the room, stopping to talk to every camper, making sure no one was missed, taking pictures, signing autographs and chatting with each of them as long as they liked, coaxing smiles and words out of even the shyest campers.

Not that all were shy, however.

An outgoing camper named Rachel flagged Prescott down as he neared the end of the line and played a message she had composed for him.

“Roll Tide!” the device chirped at MSU’s quarterback.

“What?!” Prescott responded with a smile and feigned disappointment.

Rachel, it turns out, is from Birmingham, and she’s a big Alabama fan.

But after laughs and a little more back and forth, Rachel leaned over the side of her wheelchair and gave Prescott a big hug as they said goodbye to each other.

MSU fan or not, Rachel was excited to meet Prescott. They all were, as evidenced by the Dak-Prescott-signed teddy bear and phone case now floating around somewhere at Camp Jabberjaw, but perhaps none were more thrilled to see Prescott than an older camper named Bac.

unnamed-1Wearing a maroon and white Mississippi State baseball hat, Bac had patiently waited in his spot in the circle of campers, watching intently as Prescott moved from person to person. As soon as Prescott stood up from taking a picture with the camper before and turned his way, Bac leapt out of his chair and held his hand out for Dak to shake it, an enormous smile covering his face.

Bac had actually graduated from MSU recently, one of the staffers explained, and he loves his Bulldogs. He and Prescott talked, joked, took pictures and smiled permanently as they spent several minutes with each other.

Once Prescott moved on down the circle, Bac just watched him with a smile as he introduced himself to each camper.

Something that had taken just a few minutes for Prescott had already become a memory that would last the rest of Bac’s life.

“Everybody does so much for me and there’s so much I can do with just a little bit of effort,” Prescott said afterward. “It makes me feel like I’m doing the right thing. It definitely humbles me to see them in their position.”

On the way out at the end of the morning, Prescott turned a corner coming down the stairs and saw a camper standing on the bottom floor along the wall in front of a life-size picture of The Hulk.

“Bac!” Prescott yelled down to him. “Are you a Hulk fan?”

The last thing Prescott did before walking out the door was to take a picture in front of The Hulk, he and Bac both flexing and cheesing for the camera.

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MSU investing in students with SEC revenue boost

Good news, Southeastern Conference schools: all 14 of you just got a $10 million raise.

sec_nation_story_memoOf the several stories to come out of the SEC meetings in Destin last week, the nearly 50 percent increase in conference payout was seemingly the biggest. Jumping from just over $20 million to $31.2 million, the per-school payout hit a record high thanks to the SEC Network, the new College Football Playoff, bowl money and other various sources of conference revenue.

Said recently-retired SEC Commissioner Mike Slive, “This increased revenue is important for our athletics programs to continue to fully support broad-based athletics programs for both male and female student-athletes and to give them the opportunity to compete at the highest level, both in the classroom and in competition.”

Over the past year, the question was how much the SEC would make. Now, with that answered, the question becomes, what do the schools do with all the extra money?

The most obvious answer is covering the cost of the investment each school made to be able to produce and broadcast SEC Network events, and that will certainly be a big part of it. The SEC Network has shown itself to be a worthwhile investment both financially and for the fans who were able to receive unprecedented coverage of their teams at home and on the road.

However, according to Mississippi State Athletic Director Scott Stricklin, it seems the most significant chunk of the new money will go right back to the people at the center of the department’s mission: the student-athletes.

At MSU and all 13 other SEC schools, a new (and welcomed) expenditure popped up in the form of the NCAA allowing scholarships to cover the full cost of attendance. The numbers vary to a degree from school to school, but in Starkville, Stricklin and the athletic department have budgeted $1.4 million next year to cover the additional scholarship benefits.

“The timing is really fortuitous,” Stricklin said of the SEC revenue increase.

Combined with rest of the cost of scholarships for student-athletes, MSU’s athletic department will have a roughly $10 million bill to pay for tuitions, books and fees.

In addition to covering full cost of attendance, MSU – like many other SEC schools – has already added more full time staff throughout the department, most of them in areas working directly with students.

MSU hired a full-time nutritionist for the first time last year, is adding another full-time athletic trainer this year, and for the first time ever is creating a position dedicated entirely to life skills coordination for student-athletes. The job, as Stricklin explained it, is intended to help students manage their time in college and prepare them for life after school, everything from putting together résumés and job applications to saving money and using time wisely.

In fact, MSU actually has plans to work with Dave Ramsey’s organization to provide fiscal education to student-athletes.

“We want to make sure that they understand the basics of finance,” Stricklin said. “Not that we’re going to tell them what to do with their money, but to make sure they understand how to open a checking account, set a budget and things of that nature.”

Just this week, a full-time assistant marketing position was added, and there are plans to expand both the ticketing staff and the new video team, as well as hopes to hire a full-time photographer. Beyond those hires, MSU is adding several graduate assistant spots throughout the department, some administrative, one with nutrition and several with individual teams.

“Everything we do,” Stricklin said, “is about enhancing the experience for our students and making sure they have the best academic experience possible, the best athletic experience possible and then a healthy, well-rounded social life.”

unnamedBeyond the new costs and positions, MSU is actually doing something fairly unique in big-time athletics. For the first time ever in the 2015-16 fiscal year, MSU’s athletic department will not receive any money from the tuition and fees of the school’s students.

In the past, all MSU students had fees in their tuition going toward free and reduced price tickets for athletic events and the university would send that money to athletics to use as they saw fit. In recent years, that number was as high as $4 million annually, though it steadily dropped and hit a low of $2.5 million in the 2014-15 fiscal year.

Starting this year, athletics will forgo receiving any institutional funds, allowing that money to go straight back to the academic side. Not taking any money from general student tuition is a rarity in college athletics.

Beyond that, the athletic department will invest another $1 million back into academics, sending $750,000 to the school’s State Pride Initiative for faculty and staff, as well as another few hundred thousand toward a university-wide marketing campaign.

“We’re fortunate to be an added benefit to the university without taking any resources away from the primary mission,” Stricklin said.

A portion of the increased SEC revenue will go toward other areas, to be sure. Facilities, salaries, food and beverage for student-athletes, equipment for various departments and programs, and a host of other expenses will take up much of the added income.

However, at least in MSU’s case, the greatest bit of it is going right back to the students.

“It’s not just about building buildings and paying coaches,” Stricklin said. “It’s about creating a great experience for our student-athletes and benefiting the entire university.”

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Live blog: John Cohen end-of-season press conference

At noon today, Mississippi State baseball coach John Cohen will hold his end-of-season press conference reviewing the 2015 season, talking summer league baseball, and previewing the 2016 campaign.

Live updates to follow. Follow @HailStateBB for a live-stream of the event on Periscope.

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RUIQZQZZGTYQQMF.20150214024509He’s here! As are a full room of reporters. They’re going to ask questions of Cohen, I would assume. Plan is for him to answer them.

Asked about the season as a whole, Cohen says, “Obviously, we were pretty disappointed with the overall season,” but, “I don’t think we’re that far away.”

Adds, “I’m not a big believer in the luck part, because I think you make your own luck,” but says he’s watching the SEC teams they played close against do so well in the postseason and knows they were a few plays away from beating those teams.

Cohen, mentioning the seven players in the Cape Cod League, says “I’m excited about the group we have coming back.”

“The summer is really big for everybody … the development of our kids over the summer is really important.”

On the big picture, Cohen says, “Any successful organization is always evaluating itself … We’re evaluating everything we do, every phase.”

Specifically, Cohen says the things they’re looking at are what they’re going to do with pitching and how personnel sets up for Dudy Noble.

“We feel like we’re in as good a position as we can possibly be,” Cohen says of the current signing class and their prospects in the MLB Draft. “If the entire class shows up, we feel like it’s one of the best classes if not the best class in the country.”

“The only way you can prepare for those things is to be super aggressive in your numbers. It’s a challenge, no doubt about it.”

As for current players on the roster and possible transfers, Cohen says it’s hard to know right now, they expect to know a lot more next week. Said they’ve got some difficult and sensitive situations that have to be figured out.

More on the incoming class, specifically the talented pitchers, Cohen says it’s difficult to tell, “But I think they’ll all have an impact, it’s just difficult to tell what it will be.”

As pitching staffs go, Cohen says he doesn’t want to be reliant on just a few people. “We want as many people as possible to contribute.”

On the injury front, Cohen said he’s not quite ready to discuss details. Says things will be more clear at the end of the summer. He notes, as is known, that MSU had a good deal of injuries in the 2015 season. Though he added, “That’s not an excuse … All teams that compete at a high level will have injuries. The ones that can minimize that are the ones who will have success.”

He did share that there were several injuries and situations they didn’t share publicly.

Cohen talking new ball now, says “we were not out in front of that.” Mentioned that most of the pitching staff was guys who get sink, and the new ball took some of the way. As hitting goes, said obviously Dudy Noble is a big park.

On that hitting front, Cohen says some of the need for power “has been addressed” in current signing class.

Interesting. Cohen was asked about the adidas bats, said that the players used them (and other bats) in some testing and they chose the adidas bats. Players like them.

With so many young arms, Cohen said pitchers Zac Houston and Dakota Hudson will be relied on in 2016. “Both of them showed flashes, but we’re going to need more than that … They have to make some jumps.”

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100 things to look forward to for 100 days until MSU football

Today, as this is published, it is exactly 100 days until Mississippi State kicks off the 2015 football season against Southern Miss. With that in mind, I spent the last several days compiling a list of 100 things to look forward to about football returning. This is specific to MSU, of course, though there are a few broader harbingers of happiness.

0fa519bd4c4937f51053b17b799e28cbThe list was compiled to be from the point of view of an MSU fan able to enjoy the full luxuries of a football season, things I must often observe in jealousy from the press box – though I certainly won’t complain about the cover if it rains. I did, however, include a few of my own personal pleasures here and there.

Anyway, here in no particular order whatsoever are 100 things for MSU fans to look forward to about the 2015 football season. Fair warning: I was a little hungry while putting this together.

  1. The Dawg Walk
  2. 50,000-plus singing Don’t Stop Believin’ before the fourth quarter
  3. De’Runnya Wilson breaking tackles
  4. MSU cheese
  5. MSU ice cream
  6. The Egg Bowl being back in Starkville
  7. Richie Brown’s beard
  8. SANDSTORM
  9. Halftime shows
  10. Blue plates at Cappe’s Steakhouse
  11. Cookie dough bites at Stromboli’s
  12. Anything made by Ty Thames
  13. Road trips
  14. Tailgating
  15. The CBS College Football music
  16. Dak Prescott passing the ball
  17. Dak Prescott running the ball
  18. Dak Prescott catching the ball
  19. Dak Prescott creating world peace
  20. Fireworks after touchdowns
  21. Accidentally eating five meals worth of food on Saturdays
  22. Staying quiet throughout the entire National Anthem and definitely totally not yelling anything near the end of it. For sure.
  23. The debut of Gerri Green
  24. Rece Davis on College GameDay
  25. Complaining about students leaving early
  26. Complaining about students doing cheers too fast
  27. Wishing you were still a student
  28. Dinner at Harvey’s
  29. Late nights at The Guest Room
  30. Seeing which running back replaces Josh Robinson
  31. Unlimited opportunities for selfies
  32. Getting a picture to load in the stadium (Seriously, feels every bit as a impressive as scoring a touchdown)
  33. Making new friends
  34. Running into old friends
  35. Trying not to trip over children (They’re everywhere)
  36. Cowbell Yell
  37. Chanting before kickoffs
  38. Cheering way too hard for made extra points
  39. Deep passes
  40. Shipley’s donuts
  41. Watching Dan Mullen yell at the refs
  42. Watching a student assistant try to hold Dan Mullen back while he yells at the refs
  43. Cheese logs at The Veranda after the game
  44. A second order of cheese logs
  45. The land rush in The Junction on Friday afternoon
  46. The patio at Bin 612
  47. Cheese fries at Bin 612
  48. Chicken nachos at Bin 612
  49. Getting my drift here?
  50. Singing the alma mater with the team after the game
  51. Checking the video board for the words to the alma mater after the game
  52. Thanksgiving food in The Junction
  53. The Hail State Highlight
  54. The possible return of the College GameDay and SEC Nation sets
  55. The Juice Boys dancing on the sidelines
  56. The debuts of Nick Fitzgerald and Elijah Staley
  57. Going to a bowl game
  58. Dinner at any of Robert St. John’s places in Hattiesburg for the Southern Miss game
  59. Cornhole
  60. Things wrapped in bacon
  61. Accidentally getting a tan in October
  62. Five-star freshmen
  63. Seeing the new polls on Sundays
  64. Piling too many people in one room to save money
  65. Crawfish rolls at Old Venice
  66. The McDonald at Mugshots
  67. Cookies at Bulldog Deli
  68. Anything at Lost Pizza Co.
  69. Pre-game in the Gridiron Club (my favorite spot in the north endzone)
  70. Waking up and watching morning games when MSU plays at night
  71. Sitting at the tailgate and watching night games when MSU plays early
  72. Falling asleep during the west coast games no matter when MSU plays
  73. Chips and dip
  74. The Maroon-White cheer
  75. Ringing cowbells at people from other schools
  76. Meeting nice people from other schools
  77. Kiss Cam
  78. Dawg Talk at The DawgHouse
  79. The inevitable return of Anthony Dixon. It’ll be fun, fun, fun.
  80. Running late on Saturday morning
  81. ESPN talking about Little Dooey
  82. Bulldog Bash
  83. Night games
  84. The clock museum in Barnes and Noble. Not kidding. That place is cool.
  85. Starkville Style wings at Stagger In
  86. Or the deep-fried cheeseburger
  87. Or the gumbalaya nachos
  88. Just go to Stagger
  89. Back-shoulder passes
  90. Strange Brew’s sign
  91. Chris Jones tacklin’ people
  92. Taveze Calhoun suplexin’ people
  93. Happy hour at Dave’s DarkHorse
  94. Ordering the Kathy Dip at Dave’s, even though it’s not on the menu
  95. Eating your weight in fried rice and sushi at Umi
  96. Just eat anywhere in Starkville, if you’re not picking up on this
  97. The 100 Year uniforms in maroon
  98. The 100 Year uniforms in white
  99. High-fives with strangers
  100. Dak Prescott pointing to the sky after touchdowns
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