Gay Jr. more prepared heading into second year with Bulldogs

Willie Gay Jr.
Staff Writer

Mississippi State linebacker Willie Gay Jr. walked off the practice field earlier this week with a big grin on his face.

It didn’t seem to be for any particular reason, other than the former Starkville High School product was having fun at spring practice.

Gay, who’ll be a sophomore this fall, is now about a year into his Bulldog career. That experience is making a world of difference in how Gay views things as he gears up for his second season. He’s still learning for sure, particularly with a new defensive coordinator in Bob Shoop and a new linebackers coach in Tem Lukabu. However Gay’s head isn’t quite spinning the way it was prior to last season.

Now, Gay feels comfortable in an MSU uniform, thus it’s a bit easier to smile.

“That’s one reason I didn’t want to redshirt last year,” Gay said. “That way I could come into this year prepared and know what I was getting myself into.”

Gay made an impact in his first year with the Bulldogs. He played in all 13 of MSU’s games, made 23 tackles, had two tackles for loss and forced a fumble. He’s hoping for even bigger and better things in 2018. With his impressive size and physique, Gay knows he’s built for improvement. He says for him to take the next step in his career, it all comes down to what’s in his head.

“(All the coaches) know what I have physically,” Gay said. “Now it’s just about growing mentally and being able to execute.”

It’s on Lukabu to get the most out of Gay. Lukabu, a veteran coach who spent the last two years as a defensive quality control coach with the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, brings a resume that has caught Gay’s attention.
Like many players, Gay has professional football in his sights, so Gay says he’s listening intently to Lukabu’s teachings and he’s enjoying his style of coaching.

“He kind of comes with a harder coaching technique,” Gay said. “I’m cool with that though. Whatever it takes to make me better and get me to the next level. I don’t want a soft coach. I like it.”

Lukabu agrees that Gay seems to be responding to his way of guidance.

“ I’m not a pat-you-on-the-back guy just for the heck of it,” Lukabu said. “If you do really good, I’ll let you know, and most of the time I just coach you up when you do something wrong. That’s how we get better.”

It’ll still be about five more months before Gay gets to show in a real game how much he has grown. The Bulldogs don’t kick off its season until September 1.

In the meantime though, Gay plans to keep working and sharpening his skills under Lukabu, and he can do it all with the confidence that he belongs.

“I know what I have to get ready for,” Gay said. “It’s exciting.”