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Volume 1, Issue 2 2014 RECRUITING ISSUE March/April 2014

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Featured Columnists Justin R. Sutton, Jake Wimberly

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Mullen has brought respectability to the Quarterback position

Being sold on MSU Baseball


Super Fan Hobie Hobart


MSU Strength Coach Richard Akins






Jameon Lewis photo by Aaron Boersma for Maroon Magazine™.

2014 spring Football outlook

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Mullen Has Brought Respectability to the QB Position BY JAKE WIMBERLY


an Mullen Has Brought Respectability to the Quarterback Position in Starkville It’s no secret that when talking about Mississippi State football, throughout history - when you say “quarterback”, it’s a sore subject. The running joke around the SEC, is that Starkville is the place quarterbacks go to disappear. When thinking about good quarterbacks throughout time in Starkville, you can probably rattle off the names Taite, Robinson, Bond, Jordan, Madkin, Russell; after that it gets tricky. Sure, throwing the football wasn’t as common 30-years ago as it is today but, it’s important to look back and see how far State has come under Dan Mullen, as he has brought respectability to the quarterback position in Starkville. Before Dan Mullen’s arrival in Starkville back in 2009, Mississippi State did a poor job of coaching and evaluating quarterback talent, for the most part. That’s not a knock on the guys that have come through the program as people but, the numbers as far as quarterbacking go – it’s astounding. Prior to 2010 football season in Starkville, the Bulldogs went 14-straight years where their quarterbacks had a negative touchdown – to interception ratio or TD/INT ratio, (threw more interceptions than touchdowns in a season). Chris Relf and Tyler Russell combined for 18-passing touchdowns and 12-interceptions in 2010 to give the Bulldogs their first year of a positive TD/INT ratio, since Derek Taite and Matt Wyatt did it back in 1996. The Bulldogs have had now four straight years of positive TD/INT ratio. Again, much of this can be attributed to coaching and the other to recruiting but, it all comes back to what Mullen brings to the table, as a quarterbacks coach. When looking at this statistically, we will go back as far as the year 2000, simply because 20 - MAROON MAGAZINE

recruiting rankings beyond that are hard to find. From 2000 to 2008, Mississippi State signed 15-quarterbacks with an average star rating of 2.4 per Year ........ Player ......................Star Rating 2000 ........ Kevin Fant ...................... 4 2002 ........ Brett Morgan .................. 2 2002 ........ Aries Nelson.................... 3 2002 ........ Ken Topps ....................... 3 2003 ........ Justin Tyler ..............Not Rated 2003 ........ Omarr Conner ................ 4 2004 ........ Michael Henig .........Not Rated 2005 ........ Tray Rutland ................... 2 2005 ........ Ty Evans .......................... 2 2005 ........ Adron Chambers ............ 2 2007 ........ Josh Riddell .................... 4 2007 ........ Wesley Carroll ................ 2 2007 ........ Zach Smith ..................... 2 2007 ........ Chris Relf ........................ 2 2007 ........ Tyson Lee ........................ 4 The following is the results of these quarterbacks – collectively. Seventy-nine passing touchdowns, 116 interceptions and 14,718 passing yards. Obviously the results are nowhere near where you would want them to be - however, the Bulldogs did recruit four, 4-star players in that time; Kevin Fant being the most recognizable of the group. A top-20 quarterback in the country at the time, coming out of Moss Point high school, Fant had a rocket arm but, accuracy issues and playing behind a porous offensive line – Fant never lived up to the hype during his time at State. Omarr Conner went back and forth between playing quarterback and wide-out for Sylvester Croom and Josh Riddell as well as Tyson Lee hit their ceilings in junior college. When Dan Mullen was hired, he was veered as a quarterback guru, having coached the likes of Tim Tebow, Alex Smith and others. Many felt he could change the landscape in Starkville – when talking about quarterbacks. While the Bulldogs have not landed that coveted 5-star quarterback, they have improved their recruiting at the position, had better coaching at the position and have done a great job of playing to their quarterbacks’

strengths. The Bulldogs, while not making huge strides in the “star” department, have upgraded their quarterback recruiting since Mullen’s arrival. Year ....... Player ...................... Star Rating 2009 ....... Tyler Russell ....................4 2010 ....... Dylan Farve .....................2 2011 ....... Dak Prescott ...................3 2013 ....... Damien Williams ............3 2014 ....... Nick Fitzgerald ...............3 2014 ....... Elijah Staley ....................3 Conversely, the Bulldogs production at the position has sky-rocketed since 2009. Ninety-two passing touchdowns, 65-interceptions and 12,784 passing yards. When comparing the two time spans, the Bulldogs have thrown 13 more touchdowns and 51 fewer interceptions during the Mullen era. Keep in mind, that’s also in two fewer years than the previous era. The Bulldogs have also had almost the same yardage production, falling short by only 1,934 passing yards. When breaking down the numbers even further, prior to Mullen’s arrival, the Bulldogs averaged 11-passing touchdowns and 17-interceptions over a seven year period, as well as 2,100 passing yards in a season. Since Mullen’s arrival, the Bulldogs have averaged 18-passing touchdowns and 13-interceptions – as well as 2,557 passing yards. That’s a 7-touchdown swing to the good and a reduction of 4-interceptions per year – comparing the two eras. The Bulldogs have also increased their yardage production by 454-yards per year. At first glance, people instantly want to point to Mullen and his quarterbacks being run-first players. While it is true his quarterbacks make a living on the ground –their ability to be able to be effective in the passing game is what makes their game flourish. If you look at the Bulldogs’ play-call chart over the last five years, their run calls versus pass calls are almost even. However, if you are not throwing the ball effectively, it would never keep the defense honest enough to be effective on the ground, as most Mullen quarterbacks are. Mullen and his staff have done an outstanding job coaching up their quarterbacks. If you don’t believe it, just remember Chris Relf was a two-star player with offers from only Mississippi State and SWAC schools coming out of high school. Relf also came from a school that primarily ran the football. See Quaterback - Page 39


SUPER FAN By PAUL JONES Contributing Writer Photos by Greg Pevey



ver the past three or four decades, Mississippi State has experienced a ton of success on the baseball diamond. Whether it is SEC championships or trips to Omaha for the College World Series, the tradition has been there for years and continues strong today. Through that span, Hobie Hobart of Starkville has witnessed most of that success in person, and has done so in his spot behind the right field fence at Dudy Noble field. During his time as a Diamond Dog fan, Hobart has mixed two of his favorite things - baseball and cooking. That goes hand-inhand for Hobart and his family on game day at Dudy Noble Field. Hobart has managed several restaurants in Starkville, and is currently a managing partner with former MSU basketball coach Rick Stansbury with Wet and Wild beach resort outside of Starkville. “I grew up a Mississippi State fan with my parents and all of that,” said Hobart. “But baseball, I probably didn’t start off being a fan of just that. It was more about football and basketball when I was a student at State. They were just getting off the (Rafael) Palmeiro and (Will) Clark years, though, and it was a real hot topic then. “So when I was a track manager at State, we started going to the outfield, behind right field and we put a grill out there and a storage stand. That is how it started and it just grew from there. I love to cook and then former State tennis coach Andy Jackson was out there beside us, too. It just kind of snowballed from there.” And yes, the smell from Hobart’s section travels throughout the outfield and you never know what may be on the grill. “It just goes hand-in-hand with the whole tailgating experience at Dudy Noble,” said

“It is the most unique place in all of college baseball,” said Hobart. “Very few places can call themselves unique and original but Left Field Lounge and the outfield is just that. Plus, it is the least marketed venue in sports because it markets itself.” Hobart. “Sports Illustrated called it the best atmosphere in college baseball and it is so true. You take your grill, then chain it up and you are ready to go for the next day. You just leave it out there and you have everything you need. “It’s also fun competing with other cookers out there. We’re next to a couple of fraternities, too, and we joke with them about their soy burgers. But we all try to cook unique things from time to time, even having pizza on the grill.” And “unique”, added Hobart, describes that Dudy Noble tailgating scene the best. “It is the most unique place in all of college baseball,” said Hobart. “Very few places can call themselves unique and original but Left Field Lounge and the outfield is just that. Plus, it is the least marketed venue in sports because it markets itself.” While it is a laid-back atmosphere in Hobart’s section and others in that location, there is a normal routine that takes place on

SEC weekends. And it starts on Friday morning and there’s even a cooking schedule. “Normally I take the kids to school that (Friday) morning and we swing by Dudy Noble Field to make sure the coolers are iced down and do our daily chores,” said Hobart. “We don’t really have designated things for everyone but they all bring their own food. We go through the normal things on Friday to get ready and we have a cooking routine where we have chicken  on Friday, pork  on Saturday and beef on Sunday. “Then everyone brings all the side items and we go with that. We all take turns at the grill. I am on the grill for the first five innings and then others take over and it all works out well.” This past season, another new tradition at Dudy Noble Field began - the Roll Call. During pre-game and early innings, Hobart and his section will call out a player’s name and See ROLL CALL - Page 31 MAROON MAGAZINE - 21


No Slowing Down

For nearly three decades, Richard Akins has been a staple of Bulldog athletics

By PAUL JONES Contributing Writer Photos by Greg Pevey



oaches come and go regardless of the level of sport and regardless of the sport. But for nearly three decades, Mississippi State strength coach Richard Akins has been a staple of Bulldog athletics and he doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon. However, there was a time in Akins’ life where he thought his future in athletics would always be in the coaching ranks. Serving as the strength coach for numerous MSU sports, including his current stint with the MSU basketball programs, Akins graduated from Mississippi State in 1977 and would later coach at Grenada High School and then at Horn Lake High School. But in January of 1982 he arrived back at MSU to began his career in strength coaching. Outside of a two-year coaching stint at Heritage Academy, Akins has been involved with Bulldog athletics ever since. Yet it was a career Akins never envisioned when he graduated from MSU. “Not for one second,” said Akins. “To be honest, I thought I would be coaching in Grenada until I died. I started out coaching junior high football and I thought that is where I would remain. It was just the luck of the draw and my background was in powerlifting. I was a powerlifter for years and years and that part of my background game me the chance to be a graduate assistant at Mississippi State. “Back then, I was under Mississippi State’s first-ever full-time strength coach J.E. Loicano. He was at one time the head coach at Gulfport High School and was really the first coach who put an emphasis on weight lifting in high school football.” During his tenure at MSU, it’s obvious the individual sports have evolved whether it’s the athlete or the coaching schemes. But in weight training, Akins said the basics do not change or go in cycles. “There’s always new ideas out there,” Akins noted. “But what I’ve always strived to do is when you have something that works and


works well, that’s what I have stuck with. My philosophy hasn’t changed much over the years. You have to have discipline and be fair with all the kids and be consistent in everything you do. Once kids figure out you treat them all the same, whether it’s an All-American or a walk-on, then the kids will respond with how you coach them. “The whole deal is if the kids know you care about them, then you will be able to work with them. Now we have changed a few things with what we do in the weight room but not a whole lot. It is basically the same type of program we had 20 years ago.” And that goes for different sports, too. Naturally, head coaches desire different areas

of training depending on the sport. But the basics all remain the same. “There is not a whole lot of difference when you are talking basketball, football, baseball or other sports,” said Akins. “My philosophy is to give the coaches the most flexible, most explosive and well-conditioned athlete I can give them. Then it’s up to the coaches to get them to play the sport well. “We hear about the rotator cuff in baseball and all those things. Any kid that plays with their hand above their head - baseball, softball, tennis or volleyball - then you do need to do more shoulder exercises. But building the best athlete I can is basically it and then I send them to the coaches. My deal is to build

Photo by Greg Pevey, MS Sports Magazine

the most-rounded athlete I can.” But it is not all work and no fun for Akins. There are enjoyable parts of his job and most of that centers around watching young kids become men and women. “Seeing the kids being successful and seeing them grow into young adults is very rewarding,” said Akins. “And I don’t talk to them much about their sport during workouts, we talk about other things. I mean, everyone else is talking to them about their sport so we talk about other things they have going on. I couldn’t tell you who averaged the most points or who led us in rebounds last year. But the big thing to me is to see them grow up and be good people and be successful 5-10 years after they leave. Those things are important to me. “Of course I want to win and I want us to win the SEC as bad as anybody does. Don’t get me wrong there. But these kids have enough people talking to them about their sport already. So a lot of times these kids need to talk about other things going on in their lives.” And Akins sees that respect returned in person once the athletes move on from college. “Probably once or twice a week I will hear from some of them,” said Akins. “And it’s not just with men’s basketball. (Former Lady Bulldog) LaToya Thomas was in here recent-

ly and when Erick Dampier, Daryl Wilson or Russell Walters are on campus, they come by and see me. That means a lot to me that they would take time to come by and visit. I’ve had volleyball players, softball players and track kids and baseball players all stop by when they are on campus. If only for five minutes, it means a lot to me they would take time to see an old guy like me (laughing).” Along with tutoring numerous athletes in Starkville, Akins has also worked under several head coaches. Those changes, added Akins, go hand-in-hand with his job. “I will say this, a strength coach is only as good as the coach you work for,” said Akins. “If a coach lets you turn loose on them, then you can be really good. The thing people have to remember is we are doing something in the weight room and in conditioning that nobody wants to do on a daily basis. So you’ve got to have total control with what you are doing in both areas. When a coach supports you 100 percent you can do a good job. If not then you can struggle.” And that includes talking weekly to make sure everyone is on the same page. “I talk to the coaches at least three or four times a week, sometimes more and sometimes less depending on their schedule,” said Akins. “Rick (Ray) may be on the road recruiting but will still send me text messages and we interact a lot. You have to sit

and listen to what they want and then apply it to what you do. If you have a great situation, then you are both talking philosophy and you mesh them together and go from there.” Of course, athletes train in the offseason and during the season as well. And that schedule can vary depending on which season it is. “It doesn’t change a whole lot when we are in the season,” Akins noted. “We train two days a week but that can depend on what part of the season it is and depends on the travel schedule. If we are going to South Carolina and Florida one week and then coming back and heading out to Arkansas, we will adjust the schedule because we want them fresh on the court. If we have three straight home games we may go harder. But you never want them to run out of gas on the court because of something stupid we did in the weight room.” Speaking of the court, it is also common for Akins to be observing other things than just the scoreboard. “When I watch the game I want to see what our guys look like performing on the court,” said Akins. “At what point did Gavin Ware get tired and is he good for 5-6 minutes straight going up and down the floor? Are we as quick in the last 6-7 minutes of the game as we were in the first 6-7 minutes of the game? “I am watching the game but not really watching the game, if that makes sense. I am seeing how we are performing from a physical standpoint and I do the same thing when watching practice. I have developed 8-10 conditioning drills based on what they do on the floor. Most of the time I am watching to see how they play when they get fatigued so I can bring that back to what we do in the weight room.” Looking towards the 2013-14 MSU basketball campaigns, Akins said he holds great excitement for the Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs. Last year was the debut season for both men’s coach Rick Ray and women’s coach Vic Shaefer at MSU. “We talked about maturity a lot this summer with our kids,” Akins said. “We had a great summer with both the men and women and their work ethic was tremendous. I am ready for the season to start, to be honest. When you have kids that are performing well at something they were brought here to do, you have a good chance to be successful.” And for Akins, building up MSU athletes is something he was brought to Starkville to do and no doubt, he has been successful in his career. As long as he enjoys coming to work every day, which he does, he plans to hang around just a bit longer. “As long as I still enjoy doing what I do, I will be here as long as they let me,” said Akins. “In this business you never know but I still enjoy what I do.” - MM




Contributing Writer Photos by Aaron Boersma




ver the past decade or so, Mississippi State has produced its share of talented running backs and a few of those have moved on to the NFL. With LaDarius Perkins - a 2013 Bulldog senior - now trying to follow in those footsteps, MSU rising junior Josh Robinson is seeking to maintain that trend back in Starkville. In his first opportunity on the field in 2012, Robinson ranked third on the team with 335

rushing yards and capped off his redshirt freshman season with an outstanding performance (team-best 91 rushing yards) in the Gator Bowl. This past season, Robinson saw his opportunities increased and, once again, he ranked third on the team in rushing with 459 yards and three touchdowns. He also averaged 5.9 yards a carry and that number ranked tops among the MSU running back. Before Perkins took over the starting role, he learned the ropes from former Bulldog back, Vick Ballard, who is now with the Indianapolis Colts. And now Robinson plans to keep that “trend” going. “It is a trend,” said Robinson. “When I came, it went from Vick (Ballard) to Perk, and now it’s to me. Perk taught me a lot, and Vick taught Perk. It is all a trend.” As noted, Robinson brought a lot of momentum into the 2013 season due to the way he finished up his redshirt season on the field. But his Gator Bowl showing wasn’t all that

“I won’t say that I don’t want to make people miss, but my mentality is that I want to hit you before you hit me.” much of a focus, considering the Bulldogs dropped that outing. It did boost his confidence that day, but he wasn’t smiling. “It helped my confidence but we didn’t win the game,” said Robinson of the Gator Bowl. “I was just focused on the game and not worried about myself as an individual. I was just trying to do things for my teammates.” What also motivated the Franklinton, La. native, was a friendly joke made in his direction from MSU running backs’ coach Greg Knox. Last spring, Robinson was over 220 pounds and on one particular play in spring drills, he was caught from behind on a long run. Knox joked with Robinson that he wouldn’t have been caught if not for the extra weight he was carrying. Robinson took that quip to heart and dropped some 10-15 pounds last summer and the difference was noticeable in his game in the 2013 campaign.

“I feel a big difference,” said Robinson. “That year in the Gator Bowl game, I got caught, well, I won’t say I got caught, because the guy had a good angle on me (laughing), but I could see the difference in that bowl game, and this season, with my long touchdown run at Texas A&M. I didn’t get caught that game and that is the difference - getting six points or not six points.” Robinson also expanded his talents in the passing game, something Perkins did often during his MSU career. After having just two catches in 2012, Robinson totaled 12 receptions for 115 yards this past season. “I mean, if you want a great investment, check it down to the running back,” said Robinson. “We are going to get you, at least, the first down. And that is what the game plan is - get first downs. I was a slot receiver in high school. So that is key for me and another aspect I have. It is just now starting to be exposed in games.”

While his speed and quickness are factors with his game, Robinson also prides himself on being physical. Nicknamed ‘bowling ball’ Robinson has displayed that physical aspect early and often in his career. “I am the type of back that is going to hit you,” said Robinson. “Perk is the type of back that can do that, too, and also get away from you. I won’t say that I don’t want to make people miss, but my mentality is that I want to hit you before you hit me. “This season had its ups and downs. But I’ve proved a lot and proved I can be a good running back here. We know things could be better but we are making the most of the situation and working to get it going better.” However, Robinson fully understands that open void in the backfield won’t just be given to him. He will face stiff competition from senior Nick Griffin, sophomore Ashton Shumpert, and also incoming freshman Aeris Williams of West Point. “We are all conditioning for it,” said Robinson. “We are conditioning for this year and conditioning for next year, too. We all compete and we compete daily, so nothing changes there.” “We push each other daily. We have to get better than we were yesterday and that’s the bottom line. If you get better than you were yesterday, you will be fine.” Robinson and the Bulldog backs are far from the only returning weapons for the MSU offense in 2014. Grabbing some of those headlines will be junior quarterback Dak Prescott, who helped the Bulldogs produce a strong finish last season and also in the bowl game. “He has that energy,” said Robinson of Prescott. “He brings that ‘juice’ like everybody likes to say. Who’s got the juice? Dak’s got the juice and once you bring juice to the team, everybody will gravitate to you.” But it is more than just the return of Prescott that has Robinson excited about the possibilities for 2014. “I mean, it’s not only Dak, but it’s the whole team,” Robinson said. “We’re going to have a great defense and defense wins championships, and Dak is that extra ‘umph’ that you got in the backfield. Then you got me and Shump, and we got Nick and everybody else back. You won’t know who to guard. Then we got Jameon Lewis and Bear (DeRunnya Wilson) on the outside.” And yes, Robinson is hoping to keep that tailback tradition and keep that “torch” going for the Bulldogs, as well. “We were roommates so we were always together,” said Robinson of Perkins. “I learn a lot from him. When he leaves, he is just going to pass the torch down to me, Nick (Griffin), and Shump (Ashton Shumpert). He’s just going to pass the torch down to us and expect us to keep it going.” - MM MAROON MAGAZINE - 25



Contributing Writer Photos by Aaron Boersma



s a redshirt freshman in 2012, Mississippi State’s Kendrick Market got his feet wet in the SEC and spent time on special teams and receiving a few reps in the defensive secondary. Entering the 2013 season, the former South Panola High School standout knew his reps would increase, but his role did more than that. In the 2013 season opener, the Bulldogs lost starting, strong safety Jay Hughes to a season-ending, Achilles’ heel injury. And just like that, Market’s mind-set changed as he immediately entered the starting lineup. “I wasn’t expecting it to go down like that,” said Market. “Jay worked hard and for his season to end like that, I wasn’t expecting to start that early. When I first came in Jay was my big brother, and now, we hang out and I text him every day. Every time we go in the film room, he tells me what I did wrong, and when he is at practice, he gives me pointers to tell me what I need to do better.” But, like always, Market never hesitated to step his game up. After all, that is what he’s done his whole life. “It is a big step up and there’s nothing like a Jay Hughes with his enthusiasm, his confidence and great attitude back there,” said Market. “So I had to step up for him. Jay could communicate well out there and I normally don’t talk that much. So that was the biggest deal for me.” “It wasn’t too bad, though, because I’ve been doing it. It was just when Jay got hurt, that I had to step up my game a little more.” What was different for Market; was having to make more calls on the back end of the secondary. In 2012, Market saw most of his time at free safety and finished the year with 13 tackles and one interception. But this past season, and with Hughes going down in the opener, Market moved to strong safety. 26 - MAROON MAGAZINE

“At free, you are going to be in the box more,” said Market. “Then at strong, you are roaming. I can play both of them and I like both of them, but I like staying at strong (to make the calls).” “You are a leader back there and you have to know what the quarterback is going to do before he even does it. Some quarterbacks in college, they just look at their receivers and stare them down. So I know then where they are going with the ball.” Of course, being that “leader” is a title that Market has carried since he first stepped on the gridiron and, dating back to his days at South Panola, he learned that role from others, he said. “I used to look up to guys in high school like (former MSU safety) Derek Pegues,” said Market. “That was mainly who I looked up to. Then the way Coach (Lance) Pogue taught us in high school, you had to learn that leadership. That is mainly where my leadership comes from - Derek Pegues and Coach Pogue.” Standing at 5’10” and 190 pounds, Market has always taken on that ‘underdog’ role and is normally one of the smallest guys on the field. So Market simply relies on other areas of his game to make up for that lack of size and that produced a solid defender for the Bulldogs this season. “The big thing is getting the guys lined up and knowing what the offense is going to do before they do it,” said Market. “It is a big thing for me. I am small and I am not that fast, so I have to be a coach out there on the field. I think I tackle well, too.” “I just play football and do my job. I get support from my teammates and coaches, and I make sure I deliver whenever I am on the field. If I am an underdog, then that’s fine, but that means I am on the field playing.” Market did tackle very well this past season. His redshirt sophomore season in the Maroon and White, he ranked third on the team with 62 tackles and had one memorable tackle in MSU’s narrow win over Kentucky. With the Bulldogs clinging to a six-point lead in the final minutes, Market had a touchdown-saving

“I just play football and do my job. I get support from my teammates and coaches, and I make sure I deliver whenever I am on the field.” tackle near midfield and that play helped MSU win six of its regular-season games in order to reach bowl eligibility. “The difference from that first game against Oklahoma State was that I learned a lot,” said Market. “The Oklahoma State game was really my first-ever game to play a lot and to be in a big game. I learned a lot from that game and looking now, I just knew when to do things and how to do them.” While Market proudly carries the ‘underdog’ term, he is known by his teammates and coaches as ‘Poke Dog’. That nickname was given to him at an early age and evolved into what he’s called today. “I was called that when I was in junior high, like in the 8th grade they started calling me that,” said Market. “One of my old friends

gave the nickname that I used to have. My name was ‘pokey’ at first and then they added the ‘dog’ on it. You stick your nose in there and you gotta hit, and (Pokey) is something my grand dad used to call me.” Looking towards the 2014 season, the Bulldogs will only lose veteran Nickoe Whitley from the safety depth chart. The Bulldogs will also get the return of Hughes next fall, and that obviously has Market excited about that scenario. “Next year we are going to have a fine rotation,” said Market, “We will have a good safety group and all of us will get a lot of reps in the game. So we should be alright.” “Man, me and Jay back there at safety is going to be crazy,” said Market. “There is no telling what you’re going to get. We are going to be out there on the field talking together. I will probably get moved back to the other side (to free safety), but as long as I am out there with Jay, I know I got confidence.” And yes, Market will still be carrying that ‘underdog’ role with pride. “I hope not,” said Market. “And, really, I want to always be the underdog. I always like to come out and show people what I can do and shock them, but it is never a shock for me.” - MM MAROON MAGAZINE - 27

2014 RECRUITING By PAUL JONES Contributing Writer 247Sports

Signing Day 2014 Mullen fills immediate needs with 2014 signing class By PAUL JONES

Contributing Writer Photos by Aaron Boersma



ississippi State capped off another season of recruiting as the Bulldogs signed a total of 23 players for the Class of 2014. There were some late surprises for the Bulldogs - both good and bad - and several needs were met on both sides of the football. “It’s a great day to be a Mississippi State Bulldog,” said head coach Dan Mullen. “It was another exciting signing day for us. I couldn’t be happier with what happened and who we got. “The class we have coming in will obviously fill some needs for us immediately, and also in the future. That to me is so important.” MSU also have a pair of 2014 signees already on campus - junior college offensive tackle Jocquell Johnson and quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who graduated high school early and even participated in bowl practice. “Some of the immediate needs that I know I haven’t spent a lot of time talking about are the two guys who came in early - Jocquell Johnson and Nick Fitzgerald,” Mullen said. “Obviously those are two high-need positions, one on the offensive line with some


Aeris Williams

guys leaving last year. “Most importantly we fill in at the quarterback position where, fortunately, we had three this year. I’ve gone a couple of seasons with two and that wouldn’t have worked out so well for us this year. Those guys are here to go through spring practice and I’m really excited about them.” Cream of the Crop Several of MSU’s top signees were long-time commits, as well as some of the top players from

Mississippi. Among that group was the state’s Mr. Football and West Point High School running back, Aeris Williams, who rushed for over 2,200 yards as a senior with 30 touchdowns. Also from the Magnolia State and high on the list, MSU inked GreenvilleWeston linebacker, Gerri Green, Petal receiver, Jesse Jackson and Newton County receiver, Jamoral Graham. “Then you look at Aeris Williams who was the state player

of the year here in Mississippi,” said Mullen. “He’s another guy who played both sides of the ball on his team. He carried the load at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds. He is a load at running back. He’s going to put on some size and some strength when he gets here. With the athletic ability, the strength and speed he has, the gamebreaking ability that he has, I think he is going to be a pretty special player.” That group of four was all rated four-star prospects by 247Sports and among the state’s Top 11 prospects. Possibly the most under-rated MSU signee and a guy very deserving in this category is Columbia (Ga.) High School linebacker, Deshon Cooper. Owning 16 sacks as a senior, Cooper could very well come off the edge of the MSU defense during his SEC career. “To me when you look at the class, it is headlined by Gerri Green,” said Mullen. “He has all the tools and is a big time linebacker. We’ve had him in camp and have gotten to work with him, he also has all the leadership and character you’re looking for. He has a chance to finish as a valedictorian of his high school. That’s the type of guy you look for.” “On the defensive side of the ball you look at the linebacker position at Deshon Cooper. He was a young guy we had at our camp, an he’s an extremely athletic, play-making type of player. He has played on both sides of the ball. He was a wide receiver as well. That shows you his athleticism.” Up front, MSU got a nice surprise on signing day when former Tennessee commit, Cory Thomas ended up signing with the Bulldogs. A long-time lean

rison Central’s Lashard Durr. Bryant could end up on either side of the ball while Gray appears to be a prototypical SEC safety and Durr is expected to play at corner. One of MSU’s last pickups in the Class of 2014 was Dandy Dozen member and Clinton High School defensive lineman, Grant Harris, also at a position of need for the Bulldogs. “The defensive line is obviously of huge, huge importance to us. When you look at the inside guys we got, Braxton Hoyett and Cory Thomas will be huge for us. Those are guys who are going to have to make immediate impacts. It might not be in game one next year, but it’s going to be in a hurry with four senior defensive tackles on the roster for next season. “Will Coleman coming in as a junior college player is an explosive pass rusher off of the edge on one side. Grant Harris as a big, strong, physical, athletic defensive end on the other side.” And on special teams, MSU signed punter/kicker, Logan Cooke of Columbia Academy, rated 247Sports No. 2 punter prospect in the country.

Elijah Staley

Deion Calhoun

to MSU before committing to the Vols, Thomas was a must-get for the Bulldogs on the defensive line. Rounding out this category is a pair of junior college transfers in Copiah-Lincoln tight end, Darrion Hutcherson, a former Auburn signee, and Tyler (Texas) defensive end, Will Coleman. Hutcherson has NFL potential and will be a much-needed big target in the red zone while Coleman fills an immediate need as a pass-rusher off the edge. Best of the Rest Starting up front, the Bulldogs reeled in Jordan Harris early in

the recruiting process, when the Stephenson (Ga.) offensive lineman committed to the Bulldogs in June and held strong with his commitment. Within that summer time frame was Wheeler (Ga.) twosport standout Elijah Staley, who is expected to play football and basketball for the Bulldogs. His talent in both sports is obvious along with the needed work ethic to play both football and basketball in the SEC. In the secondary, MSU solidified that future with the signing of defensive backs J.T. Gray of Clarksdale High School, Rosa Fort’s Brandon Bryant and Har-

Sleepers Since I saw Deion Calhoun in camp back in June, I was wondering how long it would take for MSU to offer the Restoration (Ala.) Academy offensive lineman. It did take a while but Calhoun quickly committed when that offer did come in December. Athletic and physical, Calhoun fills a big need on the interior line for the future. Also up front, Clarksdale High School’s Elgton Jenkins was a late pickup by the Bulldogs and like Calhoun, is versatile on the offensive line and could end up at offensive tackle. “Deion Calhoun is a guy who we had in camp who is extremely athletic,” said Calhoun. “When you got to watch him play at Restoration Academy, he played at a small football school. One thing you noticed about him is that he’s got the size. “Elgton Jenkins is one who I couldn’t be happier with in this class. I don’t know if there was a

better athlete for us. On the line coming to camp last year, our concern with him was his size. He came on his visit at 6-foot-4 and 285 pounds, so that kind of threw the size concerns out.” Another pair of long-time MSU commits that made it official Wednesday were Pelham (Ala.) High School’s Braxton Hoyett and Byhalia defensive back, Chris Rayford. Like Thomas, Hoyett played in the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star game while Rayford lined up at numerous spots during his prep career. Rayford could play corner, safety or the nickel position for the Bulldogs. “In the secondary, Chris Rayford might be one of the most underrated players in the state that I’ve seen,” Mullen noted. “He can flat out fly and is one of the fastest kids we had all year on campus when he was working out and practicing at camp. He is a guy who has natural cover skills and played just about every position on his team at Byhalia High School.” Overall Grade C+ For the most part, MSU met their needs at most positions and did so on offense, defense and special teams. But there were a couple of misses on the defensive line and offensive line, making those spots top priorities for the Class of 2015. But overall, Mullen found that balance he always seeks in recruiting. “Hopefully we are getting to that point now where we don’t have to overload at one position or another, but that you keep getting that balance,” said Mullen. “You want to try and avoid years where you need a large group of players at one position because down the road it gets you in a situation where you get a large clump of players leaving at one position and it’s hard to get out of that cycle. When you look at this class I think there is very good balance throughout the group. “Our staff did a great job. We identified the guys we wanted, priority guys for us early, and we got all those priority guys. That has been huge for us.” - MSM MAROON MAGAZINE - 29

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TO SUBMIT PHOTOS: Bulldog fans, this page is just for you! Submit your “More Cowbell” photos to be published in each issue of Maroon Magazine™. Put your photos on our Facebook page ( maroonmagazine) or email them directly to greg@ Please include the names of those featured in the photo, location taken and/ or hometown.

(L) James Dexter Nanney, (R) Tradarious Tisdale, both of Booneville, MS

From the field at DWS

The Tipton Family

Photo courtesy the Tennessee Titans

Roger Glover (far left)

Reliant Stadium

ROLL CALL - Continued from Page 21

that player will tip his hat or give a wave. “It was actually the players that started that,” said Hobart. “I talked to equipment manager Jason Hubbard and also with (MSU outfielder) C.T. Bradford about the roll call. We talked about how the New York Yankees do that. To be honest, it started from there and we then put our own twist to it. “The players knew we were doing it and it just caught on. The first day we did it, we threw their name out there and they tipped their hat. It just evolved from there. When they went to the Super Regional in Virginia, it was cool to see it carry over there and then it took off in a huge way in Omaha. It was all very cool to see.” And yes, that tradition will continue this season. “We will have the same ol’ roll call this year,” said Hobart. “We just have to see the

“To see us back in Omaha playing for a national championship in baseball, it has returned to the point now where it’s expected. Then once again, we showed why we have the best fans in the country with the way we showed up in Omaha.” lineup and the new guys in the lineup. But the thing is how that is so big for recruits to see and hear the support we have for the players. It’s just another unique part of Mississippi State baseball.” Like many in Hobart’s generation, it’s been a long time coming for Diamond Dog baseball to return to the glory days. Yes, there have been several trips to Omaha but in 2013, Mississippi State was back to competing for national championships and played UCLA in the College World Series championship series. “That was really cool,” said Hobart. “But you kind of feel sorry for those other players we got to know over the years that didn’t always reach Omaha. But they kept it going all these years. Now we are at a peak again. “To see us back in Omaha playing for a national championship in baseball, it has returned to the point now where it’s expected. Then once again, we showed why we have the best fans in the country with the way we showed up in Omaha. It’s cool to see baseball is back. And 20 years from now, we will be talking about the same kids we are doing the roll call for.” - MM



Bulldogs Look to Make Big Jump in 2014 >>>>>>>>>>>>>> By JAKE WIMBERLY Contributing Writer Photos by Aaron Boersma

cause lots of teams’ fits in 2014. The uber – talented Jones was a force along the defensive line last season and will only get better under the tutelage of defensive line coach David Turner. Joining Jones along that front is 6-6 Preston Smith who returns for his senior year at defensive end, after flirting with the NFL. P.J. Jones, Curtis Virges, Kaleb Eulls, A.J. Jefferson, as well as the return of Nick James give the Bulldogs a deep and talented group of defensive linemen. Anytime the Bulldogs have a defensive front like this one, you can expect big things. CHRIS JONES

M 2013 CAPSULE RECORD: 7-6 Overall, 3-5 SEC West

Bowl Game: Defeated Rice 44-7, 2013 AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Memphis, TN

KEY WIN: Injured QB Dak Prescott came off the bench early in the 4th quarter to help lead the Bulldogs to a 17-10 overtime win over arch-rival Ole Miss. With the win State became bowl eligible for the 4th year in a row, the longest streak in school history. State has won four of the last five Egg Bowls and five in a row at Davis Wade Stadium.

TOUGH LOSS: Nick Marshall hit C.J. Uzomah for an 11-yard touchdown with 10 seconds left to lift Auburn to a 24-20 victory over State on September 14, ending the Tigers’ 10-game Southeastern Conference losing streak. 32 - MAROON MAGAZINE

ississippi State head football coach Dan Mullen enters year six in Starkville, with a pretty impressive resume. Four straight winning seasons, 36-wins as the Bulldogs head man, four straight bowl games and a 4-1 record versus his instate rival. There is no doubt; Mullen has raised the bar in Starkville. But - as the Bulldogs enter spring practice in preparation for the 2014 season, just what is the bar and how high should it be set? Let’s take peak at the 2014 Bulldog football team as they enter spring practice and head towards summer workouts. Returning Starters: 17 Offense: 8 Defense: 8 Special Teams: 1 Defense Should Set the Tone in 2014: You can look back in time and the one constant for any good Mississippi State football team has always been a really good defense. The Bulldogs return eight defensive starters and a ton of experience heading into the 2014 season and as expected, expectations are going to be high for this unit, which means high expectations for this football team. The Bulldogs bring back the bulk of a defense that allowed only 23-points per game and this unit really grew up on the back half of the 2013 season. It all starts up front for the Bulldogs and boy does this unit pack a punch. Led by sophomore-to-be Chris Jones, this unit should

Roaming the Middle: Geoff Collins who is not only the defensive coordinator for the Bulldogs but, the linebackers coach did his best as well, recruiting job this past year, convincing Benardrick McKinney to return for his senior year. McKinney, along with Matthew Wells, Richey and Benny Brown, as well as Ferlando Bohanna and others, give the Bulldogs a very athletic and physical group of linebackers; one of the better units in the SEC. The No Fly Zone: Many fans had heartburn after John Banks and Darius Slay left for the NFL but, after the 2013 season, it’s evident this team had more than just two defensive backs on the roster that could play.

the backfield. He will be joined by Nick Griffin, Ashton Shumpert as well as true freshmen Aeris Williams and Dontavian Lee. All of these backs are big, fast and can tote the football. Are you seeing a trend? Big, physical, fast quarterbacks and running backs.


Lewis Leads the Way: When Prescott decides to throw the ball, the first person he will look for is Jameon Lewis. Lewis broke records and took names in 2013 and he is back to do it again in 2014. Lewis’s versatility allows him to be used in a variety of ways in this offense and he is truly a playmaker. Robert Johnson and Joe Morrow return on the edge as well to give the Bulldogs size and experience. Throw in De’Runnya Wilson and all that he offers on the outside, plus guys like Fred Ross, Fred Brown, Brandon Holloway and Jeremy Chappelle and the Bulldogs have a great mixture of wide-outs. Incoming freshmen Jessie Jackson and Jamoral Graham will also get a look early. Up and out Front: The Bulldogs return a ton of starts and experience along the offensive line, which is crucial to being successful in the SEC. Dillon Day returns for his senior year at center, Justin Malone at right guard and Blaine Clausell at left tackle. Ben Beckwith, Archie Muniz and Damien Robinson also return with significant SEC snaps. Juco transfer Jocquell Johnson will get every opportunity to contribute this spring, as will redshirt freshmen Jake Thomas and Kent Flowers.

PRESTON SMITH Taveze Calhoun and Jamerson Love both proved they are more than capable to lock the corners down. Throw in Will Redmond and Gabe Miles, along with redshirts Tolando Cleveland and Jahmere Irvin-Sills, and you are two to three deep at corner. Justin Cox moves over to safety this year, to join a rehabbed Jay Hughes - Kendrick Market and Dee Arrington also return to give this secondary experienced, athletic and physical players. Any of these guys are good in the passing game and physical enough to have a presence in the run game. Overall –this defense should set the tone for this football team in 2014. Offensive Explosion Expected in 2014: For the first time in the Dan Mullen era, the Bulldogs feel they have the right pieces in place at the right time, to run the type of offense Dan Mullen wants to run. It all starts and stops with Heisman hopeful Dak Prescott

at quarterback. Prescott wowed everyone in 2013 with his ability to run and throw the football, causing many to compare him to former Florida Gator, Tim Tebow. Prescott’s ability to lead on and off the field is what you want in your quarterback and he is finally healthy – which is bad news for opposing defenses. In the event Prescott should go down, the Bulldogs now have adequate depth at the quarterback position and every quarterback is big, physical and athletic. Damien Williams showed last year he has what it takes to play in the SEC. Add in true freshmen, Nick Fitzgerald and Elijah Staley and State has as good of quarterback depth as they have ever had. Backs Galore: Josh Robinson finally gets the call this year as the teams feature back. The 5-9 225 lb junior has shown he has what it takes to run between the tackles and catch the ball out of

Special Teams: Devon Bell and Evan Sobiesk return to handle the kicking duties and this is one area that needs significant improvement. The Bulldogs are going to be in some tight ball games this year and this unit could make or break what kind of season the Bulldogs have. The Bulldogs also have several options to choose from in the return game. Final Take: Anytime you return 17- starters and a Heisman Trophy hopeful, you are going to have big expectations. The Bulldogs return a ton of snaps and experience and play a much easier schedule in 2014. The key for spring training is to continue to develop continuity amongst the team, specifically along the offensive line and keep people healthy. There’s no denying the hype around this team for 2014. It all starts this spring as they prepare for the 2014 season, which opens at home against Southern Miss on August 30th in the expanded Davis Wade Stadium. - MM



Making the Most of the

Cowbell Compromise >>>>>>>>>>>>>>




hen the SEC created the “Cowbell Compromise” in 2010, it was celebrated among Mississippi State faithful who had been held back since the conference banned artificial noisemakers in 1974. In the four years since this rule has been in effect, it has slowly developed into what I believe is a lost art of making noise among Bulldog fans. The cowbell has become a crutch, and is in many ways hurting the atmosphere and effectiveness of the crowd at Davis Wade Stadium. We all know cowbells are really loud. When a stadium full of them is in full CLANG it’s nearly impossible to hear yourself think. But here’s the deal - if we want to keep the cowbell compromise in effect, we have to “ring responsibly.” There’s no ringing allowed while the plays are going on - which is ideally when you want to make the most noise. So, if we want to keep the cowbells legal and we want to make the most noise, what do we do? We yell (like H-E-L-L…) But it’s more than just yelling. It’s how we yell. Most people who bring their cowbell into the stadium have it in hand for most of the game. Understandably they want to be able to ring on a moment’s notice. If State scores a touchdown it’s time to CLANG away. Well, if you’ve got your cowbell in one hand, you’re not cupping your voice. Sure, you can cup it with one hand, but two are better. A stadium full of fans yelling can be just as loud as a stadium full of cowbells clanging. When you ring your bell, the noise is pointed in the

A stadium full of fans yelling can be just as loud as a stadium full of cowbells clanging. When you ring your bell, the noise is pointed in the direction of the sky. The sound is louder, but on the field it isn’t. direction of the sky. The sound is louder, but on the field it isn’t. When you cup your voice towards the field the noise goes in that direction. The sound isn’t as loud where you’re sitting, but the noise level on the field is nearly the same. MSU fans aren’t supposed to ring during plays anyway, so the noise comparison is really irrelevant - the point is: don’t underestimate yelling. Too often State fans have their cowbell in one hand as their noise-maker, and ne-

glect the ones God gave them. The cowbell in hand also eliminates clapping, the twohanded whistle, and the aforementioned full cupping of the mouth which generates the loudest, most consistent noise in a sports stadium. Put the cowbell down. On the bleacher, by your foot… wherever. When MSU scores bend down or reach over and pick it up, then go CLANGA crazy. There’s another benefit of improving our cowbell skills.

The collective energy and atmosphere of Davis Wade Stadium would vastly improve. Mississippi State’s administration is so worried about fans ringing at inappropriate times they blast music right up until a kickoff, or a play coming off a timeout. If you’ve been to a recent football game you know what I’m talking about. The music is played over the loud speaker right up until the point the kicker’s toe meets the ball. It sucks the energy right out of the stadium. What you’d like to have is a stadium coming together right before a kickoff - in unison yelling, “Heeeyyyyyyyyyy, Go State” once the ball is kicked. From there the atmosphere and enthusiasm of the crowd continues. As presently con-

structed, the music suddenly being turned off results in a silent stadium - the crowd was not revved up for the kick. Instead, everyone is in their seats listening to the music, and sometimes many aren’t even aware the kick is about to occur. It’s the same thing coming off a timeout. Music is playing right up until the ball is snapped. It’s loud because of the music, then it’s not when the ball is snapped because no one was yelling before the play, and it’s hard to just start yelling at once all of the sudden. It’s eerie to be honest. There’s no doubt this music is being played to prevent a violation of the rules regarding cowbells. Fans are allowed to ring during timeouts, but not plays. MSU doesn’t have faith its fans will stop ringing once play resumes. Solution? As a fan base, administration, etc. we’ve got to figure out a fun and unique way to use the cowbell. Ringing after touchdowns is excellent. Timeouts? Meh. Let’s find music that can be molded into a rhythmic motion of clanging. Use the video board to create times to ring as loud as you can. Then say, “STOP, put down your bell, and YELL like H-E-L-L!” The cowbell can be used to our advantage, and can really create an incredibly intimidating environment for opposing teams. Constant yelling, while loud, can be tuned out as the game progresses. The mix of cowbells and yelling mix things up and doesn’t allow for the opposing player’s ears to get used to one sound….a unique advantage for MSU. Cowbells are great. Davis Wade and the fans that fill the stadium are great. We’ve got room for improvement though. By taking a few steps in the right direction we can help our players by giving them the home field advantage they deserve. Let’s make the most of the Cowbell Compromise to create a rowdy football stadium in 2014. - MM



YEAR ONE Drafted by the San Diego Padres as the #13 overall pick in the 2013 MLB draft, former Bulldog great, Hunter Renfroe hits the minor leagues in his quest to make it to the Show By PAUL JONES

Contributing Writer Photos courtesy the Eugene Emeralds and Fort Wayne TinCaps



early four years ago, Hunter Renfroe faced an easy decision concerning his future on the diamond. It was midsummer and the former Copiah Academy standout had just been drafted in the 31st round by the Boston Red Sox, but had also committed to Meridian Community College and was getting ready to enroll there. Back then and after a showing at a summer baseball tournament in Millington, Tenn., a new option was on Renfroe’s plate. It was a late offer from Mississippi State and that offer eventually changed his path at the next level. It was an option that eventually led Renfroe to All-American status for the Diamond Dogs and later, a first-round Major League Baseball Draft selection by the San Diego Padres. “I had already been drafted and graduated from high school and was committed to Meridian,” said Renfroe. “It was just two weeks before I went off to college. Then (MSU head) Coach (John) Cohen and (MSU pitching) Coach (Butch) Thompson came to see me play in Millington, Tenn., at a tournament at the USA Baseball field. They offered me right after the game. So I sort of thought about it and then went back home and talked with my mom and dad. “We talked about it as a family and decided that I wanted to go to Mississippi State. So I called the coaches on a Monday, or a Tuesday, and accepted that offer to be a Bulldog.” Even without the MSU offer, Renfroe said 36 - MAROON MAGAZINE

he was headed to college and put minor league baseball on hold for a bit. “I was going to college no matter what even though I was drafted,” said Renfroe. “I wanted that experience in college and I had to grow up a little bit. It was the best decision I ever made. Being in the pros now and seeing all the high school guys not knowing anything, it was a great decision I made. The younger guys don’t know the game as well as the college guys. It is ten-fold what you learn in college compared to going straight (to the pros) out of high school.” But his Diamond Dog career didn’t ex-

actly start off with a bang. In his rookie season, Renfroe played in just 20 games and hit just .154. Known for his power arm in high school, Renfroe did see limited time on the mound and also played catcher and in the outfield. “It was pretty frustrating,” Renfroe recalled. “To be there and knowing how good I should be doing, it was frustrating to not do it. At first I was hitting the ball all over the field and then I started struggling and got frustrated. That is the worst thing I could’ve done because then you start to press and try harder. “But when I wasn’t playing, I was sitting in

the bullpen and doing some catching, knowing I had to pay my dues. I thought it was great at the time because I was learning and getting that experience. Plus, we had two senior catchers above me but there was no one else besides them. So I thought I would go into my sophomore year as the starting catcher.” Yet once again, Renfroe saw his original plans change heading into that sophomore season. “It was actually after Christmas when I talked with the coaches,” said Renfroe. “We just signed two Juco catchers - Mitch Slauter and Nick Ammirati., but even then, I thought it would be me and Mitch doing most of the catching. I was sitting the bench in my first game and then in my second game I was playing in left field.

“After that, I swapped out in left field and right field. Then C.T. (Bradford) went down and I took over in center field. After that I started to blossom in the outfield and just stuck with that.” And did he ever. Renfroe hit .252 that season with 16 doubles and four home runs. No longer on the mound either, Renfroe still displayed his powerful right arm and led the SEC with 10 outfield assists in 2012. Yes, he does miss hitting triple digits on the radar gun. But sticking to the outfield was obviously his best move. “Yeah, I always liked pitching,” said Renfroe. “In high school I always tried to throw it as hard as I could. It intimidated a lot of people. Then I went to Mississippi State and got to where I could hit my spots better and

I was learning a lot of stuff, but it started to wear on my arm. With pitching and my outfield practice, I was throwing 200 times a day in practice.” “It was so much wear and tear on my arm and my arm was constantly sore. So after my first season (at MSU), the coaches sat me down and said I needed to make a decision to either just pitch or be in the outfield. That was when I decided to just focus on one position.” Following his sophomore season at MSU, Renfroe carried that momentum over to his summer schedule in the Cal Ripken League. What a summer that proved to be. Renfroe set league records with home runs, won the league’s home run derby and eventually had his number retired by the Cal Ripken League. “That was a great learning experience and really huge for my confidence level,” said Renfroe. “Really, my sophomore year was an important year for me because that’s when I knew I could do it. I hit the ball hard but it didn’t go anywhere and a lot of that was because of the bats. I wasn’t used to that and then I got a more open stance and started to toe tap at the plate. Then I was hitting the ball in the middle of the field and got more hits and a few left the ball park. So I knew I was on to something.” “Then in the Cal Ripken League, I was exploding the ball all over the place. I found a bat i really liked and was still crushing the ball. So going into my first game of my junior year (at MSU), my confidence was so high and so was my experience level. I knew exactly what to expect and I knew I had to be the leader of the team and that I had to do well.” And doing well was an understatement when describing his junior season for the Diamond Dogs. Renfroe ranked second on the team with a .345 batting averaged and paced the team with 16 home runs and 65 RBIs. His arm was still a weapon in the outfield and he once again ranked among the SEC leaders with eight outfield assists. Along with other vital leaders on the team, Renfroe and company ended the season in the College World Series, falling to UCLA in the CWS National Championship Series. Their run in Omaha all started with an opening win over Oregon State, a game in which Renfroe caught the final out just a couple of feet from the fence to secure the win. “Omaha was expected of this team and the same goes for the guys coming back for next season,” said Renfroe. “It wasn’t expected in my first two years but we knew if we got to Omaha, we had a good chance with our pitching staff. We got there and all of our pitchers were feeling great and they were dominating guys. Then our defense helped a lot and guys like Trey Porter came through in clutch situations.” See Renfroe - Continued on Page 39 MAROON MAGAZINE - 37



Assistant Basketball Coach

Wes Flanigan By PAUL JONES

Contributing Writer Photos courtesy MSU Media Relations



ississippi State assistant coach, Wes Flanigan, grew up in a basketball-driven family and he continues to be around the game today. Flanigan played at Auburn while his younger brother Jason also played in the SEC at Ole Miss, and another brother played college ball at Central Arkansas. Flanigan also grew up as the son of a successful high school coach and is now following his father’s footsteps. Flanigan is currently in his second season at MSU and on the staff of head coach Rick Ray. Q: What was it like growing up in your house with your dad being a coach and all of your brothers involved in sports? Flanigan: We were always around sports, whether it was football, basketball, baseball. We tried a little bit of everything. You see kids today and they don’t spend a lot of time outside. Back when we were growing up, we were always outside. It could be 8 or 9 in the morning on a Saturday and we had a little wooden backboard with a rim on it nailed to a tree. We spent a lot of our days out there playing basketball. And if it wasn’t basketball, we were playing football down at the park. We always grew up around sports and learned to compete. We played against older guys a lot in the neighborhood. Just seeing my dad while I was growing up, he was a really successful coach. Even when he was in junior high, he was successful. We watched him win a lot of championships and a lot of games; being around that helped to build an inner fire within my brothers and I. We just learned how to compete and play the game the right way. Q: What were those games like between you 38 - MAROON MAGAZINE

and your brothers at a young age? Flanigan: (Laughing) They were very competitive. And it was always older guys playing with us from the neighborhood. So that built a little toughness in us. We learned how to fight for everything we got out there in that dirt and playing on the rocks. That is where we learned how to compete. Q: Was there ever a moment you knew you would end up coaching? Flanigan: Well, I knew early on in the back of my mind. My dad is a guy I’ve looked up to ever since we were small. As I got older, I knew coaching was something I definitely wanted to do and I always knew I wanted to be around the game as I got older, especially going through high school. So he was kind of the guy that implanted those thoughts into us by watching him motivate guys. There were a lot of guys in Little Rock that he coached that he actually kept off

the streets at times. Seeing that, I knew coaching was something I wanted to do. Obviously, we are here at a different level now and I didn’t know I would get to this level when I started coaching. But I want to try to give back to some of these guys. You ask some of the players here, I call the kettle black. I am real upfront and truthful with them, and they respect that. That is something I learned from my dad. Q: After playing in the SEC, what is it like being back in the SEC as a coach? Flanigan: It is great, man. Just being around familiar faces, growing up as a kid you were always around this league and watching this league on Jefferson-Pilot Sports on TV. So I have a lot of different connections with schools in this league. I think the biggest thing is I had a great opportunity at Nebraska to work for (head coach) Doc Sadler, which was something that kind of took me away from this region.

But it gave me connections in recruiting in Chicago and Kansas City while I was there. But at Nebraska, I kind of got away from my realm. To be back here around my circuit and my league whether it is in recruiting or high school coaches or friends, it feels really good. Q: How different is SEC basketball now compared to when you played? Flanigan: I would say back when I played, there was a lot more talent from top to bottom with teams. Maybe my junior year or senior year, I think we had three teams that were in the Final Four. So there were a lot of lottery picks and a very competitive league. You look at, for instance, the Auburn team I played for went to three NITs but we had two guys on our team that went on to professional basketball. To play against an Antonio McDyess, an Erick Dampier and Tony Delk and all those names, it was a great experience to play in this league. Q: What’s it been like to be part of this MSU program that is basically building back up from the ground floor? Flanigan: I would say it is a little bit gratifying. I wouldn’t say we are close to being satisfied with what we are doing right now, but it is a whole lot easier to come to work every day this season. Last year there was something every week that we were dealing with. To be honest with you, I think that built some character with our team and character we see today. We faced a lot of adversity last year, probably more adversity than any team has faced in the last 10-15 years. Whether it was someone getting hurt or disciplinary action or whatever it may be, we went through it and dealt with a lot as a staff and as a team. Hopefully, during the course of these guys and their careers here, it will help them and help us get this program back to where we want it to be. - MM QUARTERBACK - Continued from Page 20

What Mullen was able to do with him, should not go unnoticed. Mullen also has criteria he follows when recruiting his quarterbacks. He wants them to obviously be able to throw the football but, he wants smart, sharp-cerebral quarterbacks and winners. It is to be noted also that most every quarterback that has come to State under Mullen, has won a state championship in high school. There’s no doubt the Bulldogs have come a long way in the quarterback department over the years. Once a fan base that always cheered on the back up, in hopes of great quarterback play, the Bulldogs will now enter the 2014 season with a Heisman Trophy hopeful in Dak Prescott. My how things have changed in Starkville – the rest of the SEC can laugh at State’s quarterback play no more. There’s some serious signal calling going on in Bulldog country these days. You can thank Dan Mullen for that – he is doing what he was hired to do back in 2009. Produce a winner and upgrade play at quarterback. I’d say he has more than delivered. Who would’ve ever thought you would hear the word Heisman and Mississippi State quarterback intermingled? Lord knows I sure didn’t. - MM

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Renfroe - Continued from Page 37

“In that first game, that (Oregon State) player hit the ball really well. My first instinct was to just find the wall first and then go make a play. It felt great to get that first win and it was very important to stay in the winner’s bracket.” “Also aiding MSU’s momentum in Omaha,” added Renfroe, “was the steady flow of MSU fans to the College World Series. In fact, it seemed like a home-field advantage at times for the Diamond Dogs.” “It felt like we were playing at Dudy Noble Field and we had phenomenal support,” said Renfroe. “Baseball American didn’t say we have the best fans in the nation for no reason. They follow us anywhere. We had fans follow us to Virginia (for the Super Regional) and ran their fans out of the stadium.” “Then at Omaha it felt just like we were at Dudy Noble. Even the people from Omaha became Dawg fans. We had 20,000 fans there for our final game, doing all that chanting and doing the roll calls. After we lost, our fans were still yelling ‘Maroon’ and ‘White’. It was just a surreal feeling.” While in Omaha, Renfroe also experienced good news concerning the next level. He was drafted in the 1st round of the MLB Draft and went 13th overall to the San Diego Padres. Once his junior season concluded, Renfroe signed with the Padres shortly afterwards and began his professional career. His first stop was in Eugene, Oregon, and then eventually moved up to low Single A ball in Fort Wayne, Indiana. “It wasn’t bad and it went smoothly,” said Renfroe of his initial pro campaign. “I would say I did really well in Eugene and played great in the outfield, too. I played 25 games there and then moved up to low A in Fort Wayne. I struggled early at Fort Wayne but then I tore it up after that. Then we got to the playoffs and I barely even got out and it was to a point where I was so locked in. “So all in all, it went really well. It was a lot different than college ball. I got to meet different cultures in Oregon and Indiana and it was a big learning experience.” With the jump to low Single A, Renfroe saw a huge jump in competition, as well, and was reminded of his recent SEC days. “In Oregon it was less competition because the pitchers throw hard but they don’t always know where the ball is going,” said Renfroe. “But in Fort Wayne, there were a lot of Friday night SEC guys pitching, trying to refine themselves and throwing hard and hitting their spots. It was a lot different than Eugene and I wasn’t ready for it when I first got there. It was a lot like SEC ball in Indiana.” In just a few weeks, Renfroe will resume his path on the minor league trail, and has a goal in mind for his first full season in the minor league ranks. “I am not sure where I end up yet and it depends on spring training and what guys are injured and other factors,” said Renfroe. “I go to mini-camp and spring training (with the Padres). So I will be getting ready for that and then at the end of March, I will head out to wherever they tell me to go.” “Of course, my main priority is to stay healthy. But I do hope to get to Double A this season. If I can achieve that, I would be in San Antonio and closer to my family and we have a lot of family in Texas, too. So that would be a phenomenal opportunity.” As well as one step closer for Renfroe reaching the ‘Big Leagues’. - MM BASEBALL - Continued from Page 40

there, but if they fall short of the goal; heartache will take its place. In order to fully experience what may be the great joy of winning a national championship, one has to be willing to fully experience the heartache that can follow if it does not happen. - MM


Justin Sutton manages For Whom the Cowbell Tolls, the Mississippi State blog for, and he hosts the Daily Grind on Bulldog Sports Radio.


Follow @JustinRSutton


Being Sold On MSU Baseball

2014 Will Bring Either Great Joy or Great Heartache


quick browsing of the Mississippi State message boards and blog sites shows that Mississippi State fans have high hopes for the 2014 baseball season, and they have every reason to have these hopes. The Bulldogs came within two wins against UCLA of winning the national championship, and while they lost some important players from last year such as Hunter Renfroe, Chad Girodo, and Adam Frazier to name a few, a strong team still returns to the diamond this season.  However, one thing we all know is that the 2014 season will have a difficult time matching the excitement of the 2013 season, but the upcoming season could create its own brand of excitement. The beauty of the 2013 Mississippi State baseball season lies in the fact that it can never be replicated.  Nothing short of watching the Bulldogs win the national championship will ever compare to watching the Bulldogs play for a national championship for the first time in school history.  That postseason run, full of magical moments,


created feelings and experiences that Bulldog fans never before had been able to feel. For myself—and I suspect many others—a love of Mississippi State baseball took root in my heart during that run. There was the one moment where emotions went from really liking Mississippi State baseball to loving it, and once that moment occurs, everything changes. This moment provided the sporting world’s analogy to realizing that you love someone, not just the high school crush love, but the real, I-hope-I-am-withthis-person-forever love.  Something changes when you realize that about another person.  In that instant, you become more vulnerable than you ever were, but at the same time, you may never have been happier.  I remember standing under a carport in Starkville and realizing that about the girl I would go on to marry.  In just a moment, so many of your hopes and dreams center around a future with that person, and that person obtains powerful sway over making or shattering those dreams.  For myself and I suspect for many

others, Mississippi State baseball gained this power over our sporting world’s hearts during the run to the 2013 championship series. For once, daring to dream of a national championship seemed acceptable and realistic. For as long as I have supported Mississippi State, I have always liked the baseball squad.  I looked forward to going to games and watching the Bulldogs play.  I always hoped to see them win a national championship.  I wanted good things for them, but I never felt that I would live or die with the baseball team, until it happened.  Watching Mississippi State take out Central Arkansas in a do-or-die game in the Starkville Regional was fun.  Watching Wes Rea scoop an errant throw from Jonathan Holder to close out Virginia put my heart in my throat for a second.   Each time, I felt joy that Mississippi State found a way to advance, but nothing quite had me ready for what I would experience in the Bulldogs’ next game. That moment came when a fly ball stuck by Danny Hayes settled harmlessly into Hunter Renfroe’s glove on the right field warning track.  In that moment, forever engrained in my memory, I knew that Mississippi State baseball had the power to break my sporting world’s heart, and just about a week later, I sat along the left field line in Omaha feeling the sting of watching Mississippi State go down to UCLA. Never had I been happier as a Mississippi State fan, and never had I been sadder.  The Bulldogs had been on the cusp of winning a national championship, but they came up a series short.  Filled with pride in their run, I stood and cheered for the team, and at the same time, I longed for what might have been as UCLA celebrated on the field.  As we now sit in the early stages of the 2014 season, per-

haps one of the toughest things to do will be to let this season be its own season. All too often we want to recreate magical moments instead of letting them exist in the past, and in doing so, we often miss the next magical moment in front of us.   The unexpected made 2013 so much fun for baseball fans.   The emergence of Ross Mitchell, the clutch play of Rea, and the Bench Mobb did not show up in the preseason talk, and while all could play a prominent role in 2014, none will quite recapture the 2013 magic.  While all will still be a treat to watch, someone else will emerge at the story to watch in 2014.  Part of the fun of the upcoming season will be to see who becomes the headline generator for Mississippi State in 2014. As far as expectations go, many expect the Bulldogs to make a return trip to Omaha, and these expectations are hardly unfounded.  While some important pieces of the 2013 squad have left, many other key players remain.  The coaching staff that willingly defied baseball logic time after time returns to guide the ship. All signs point to another solid run by the Bulldogs. However, the Road to Omaha comes fraught with peril.  Escaping a season without major injuries, winning in the talented SEC, and advancing through regional and super regional play always creates a daunting challenge.  Only eight teams prove able to solve the riddle, and only two end up with a chance at the ultimate prize. The Bulldogs made that run last year, and now that Mississippi State fans have tasted that moment, they again want to taste it. Those hopes and expectations will lead to great joy should the Bulldogs get See BASEBALL - Page 39




Maroon Magazine Mar_Apr 2014  
Maroon Magazine Mar_Apr 2014  

Recruiting recap, Liberty Bowl coverage and More!