The Mississippi State football team has had quite a layoff since the last time it saw the gridiron.
That all changed on Friday.
The Bulldogs had their first bowl practice in preparation for the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl. MSU faces Northwestern on Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013 in Jacksonville. ESPN2 will televise the 11 a.m. kickoff.
The Bulldogs are going to their third bowl game under head coach Dan Mullen.
“It’s great to get bowl practice started, (and) to get back out there on the field,” Mullen said on Friday. “Our guys have had a couple of weeks to let their bodies, their minds rest and get ready to go. As we go through bowl practice, we’re going to kind of get everybody running and stretched out and ready to go today, and get themselves going over the next week.”
Just like the previous two years, younger players will get a bulk of the reps early on.
Mullen said mainly freshmen will get the work.
“We will do some experiments, (but) not as many this year,” Mullen said. “I think I am going to try Christian Holmes at tight end, (and) fullback our motion back a little bit. He is the only main one right now look to be moving around.
“A lot of the freshman that have some talent are going to have that opportunity to get out there on the field, (and) some of the younger offensive lineman. I want to see really those young running backs jump up onto the scene. We’re going to hand them the ball, time after time at practice and see them respond. (On) the defensive side of the ball, it’s all those freshman. There is some solid defensive players that we are expecting some big things out of in the future.”
The Bulldogs have many seniors at defensive back and wide receivers.
That is where Mullen and his coaching staff will put much of their focus.
“The two positions, when we take the seniors all out of the lineup, is going to be corner and wide receiver,” Mullen said. “That’s where you really want to see a lot over the next week because when you take out those five senior wide receivers, obviously there’s going to be a lot of holes in a lot of spots and a lot of opportunities to fill on the field.
Bowl prep and spring is going to be huge for us at that position.”
The Bulldogs will have open practices for the media and public from Wednesday to Saturday.
It will end with an open scrimmage at Davis Wade Stadium at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
Banks winning Thorpe,
victory for program
Johnthan Banks made history at Mississippi State when he won the Thorpe Award Thursday night.
The award goes to the nation’s top defensive back.
He is the first player in Mississippi State history to win a nationally recognized award.
“It’s unbelievable,” Mullen said. “As a coach, (and) we do this, you want to see and you want to help young people develop them to be the best they can in life, and see them have their dreams come true.
“Here is a young man from Maben, Mississippi, that believed in our program, believed in what we were doing right here, bought in 100 percent in everything he does and here he is first team All-American, (and) Thorpe Award (winner) as the top defensive back in all of the country.”
Banks has been in the secondary for four years at Mississippi State. He has played with some great defenders, including senior safety Corey Broomfield.
Broomfield and Banks have gone through the ranks together and the fact Banks won the award was not a surprise to either of them.
“It’s great,” Broomfield said. “I remember our freshman and sophomore years. We were writing down goals. I wrote down Thorpe. (Banks) was like ‘I think I’m going to do that too.’ He wrote it down and I’m glad to see one of us actually achieved it. It was a great feeling watching that (Thursday night).”
For the whole secondary, the award is something the younger guys can see and strive to obtain.
“It is really great for the younger guys just to see all the hard work that you put in, one day you can be called the best DB in college football,” Broomfield said. “Coach (Melvin) Smith really instills that in us to always believe that you can be the best and that you are capable of being the best. (With) him doing that was a great achievement.”
This is only Mullen’s fourth year as the MSU coach, but he believes he has seen one of the best players in Banks.
“(Banks is) one of the great players in Mississippi State history,” Mullen said. “I think that’s pretty special. Just to be there, to be with him and apart of it knowing all that he has went through before he got here and all that he has gone through while he’s been here to become the best that he can be is pretty special.”
pulling in honors
MSU freshman linebacker Benardrick McKinney has had a successful rookie campaign.
On Friday, he was honored again.
McKinney was selected the FoxSportsNext Freshman All-America first team.
This is a day after earning All-Southeastern Conference Freshman honors in a vote by the league coaches.
“It’s a blessing to be an All-American and something that when you’re a kid, you grow up dreaming about but not really thinking it’s possible,” McKinney said. “All i wanted as a kid was to play for a big college team and then my goals changed the minute I got here.”
McKinney is believed to be only the third player in school history to be chosen a freshman All-American. Billy Jackson was picked Freshman All-American by Sporting News in 1980, while Mardye McDole was also a Sporting News Freshman All-American in 1977.
McKinney is the first State linebacker since Jamon Hughes in 2006 to be selected by the SEC head coaches to the All-SEC Freshman team.
McKinney is from Tunica.
“To be a Mississippi-born kid and get all those rewards is pretty special,” Mullen said. “It worked out very well for him, and I think because of that, those situations, I think our guys kind of trust us and know that we’re going to try to help them as much as possible to become successful.”
Jackson, Whitley to fill
out NFL paper work
Juniors Gabe Jackson (offensive line) and Nickoe Whitley (defensive back) both plan to fill out paperwork with the NFL.
It is common for juniors to do this, but many times players come back for their senior seasons.
“We’re going to fill out some paperwork to the NFL advisory board,” Mullen said. “What we do is we wait, we get the paperwork back, we sit down with the players and families and try to give them the best advice possible. It seems to have worked out.”
Banks filled out paperwork last year, but came back for his senior season.
Bulldogs injury free
for bowl game
The Bulldogs appear to be in good health.
Junior quarterback Tyler Russell was somewhat of a concern after getting banged up in the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss, but he should be ready to go.
“(The trainers) expect everybody to play in the game,” Mullen said.
“We’re going to shut a lot of guys down this week, so you won’t see a lot of the older guys getting lots of reps out there, but I don’t think there’s anybody really a new injury that is expected to miss the bowl game.”