Bulldogs Stoking The Season-Opening Fever

Justin Malone in the Seal Complex locker room going through pre-practice routines, when the call came from somewhere outside Davis Wade Stadium. "My girlfriend sent me a picture, showing everything going on. I was like, that's a lot of people! That's a long line to go wait for some tickets!"

It indeed was a long line at the Junction student ticket distribution Saturday morning. In the afternoon fresh lines formed of other folk, a few thousand of them, to circle Palmeiro Center for Fan Day at Mississippi State. The visitors ranged from babes literally in-arm, to Bulldog fans whose memories go back to Allyn McKeen's era.

Know what? Those elder Dogs were as energized as any pup for the 2013 event. Or any player for that matter.

"I think it's the most people it has ever been, from what I can see," said safety Jay Hughes. "It ain't a whole lot of space left, and it's a real good turnout. I'm enjoying myself."

In fact Bulldog players did appear to have a fine 90 or so minutes with their fans. Such an event is something an athlete can take for granted or even begrudge as a loss of weekend downtime. Especially since Coach Dan Mullen put his team through a full morning's practice.

Yet when the Dogs entered Palmeiro the attitude was genuinely upbeat. They probably couldn't help catching at least a little of the fan fervor. "This is great," said defensive tackle Kaleb Eulls.

"We've got fans and friends out here to support us. it shows in their faces, to get a chance to come see their favorite player, their favorite team, come out and support us. And we really do appreciate how they come out."

"Everybody is just eager, you know," Hughes said. "If everybody is that eager it means it's going to be loud on third down! So that's what we love!"

Also contributing to players' willing participation was how their morning on the job had gone. With their flight to Houston six days away and a new season to open this is an intense point of practices. A sloppy Saturday and, well, it might have been a different mindset showing. Fortunately reports were positive.

"Practice was good," Malone said. "We got a few things worked out and got some stuff put in place for next week. So it was really good."

As did the Fan Day process itself. Unlike last year the weather cooperated entirely this time. So did the guests who respected, mostly, requests to limit what was presented for autographs to the single official poster provided by State. A few fans even had fun with the posted sign at entrance regarding prohibitions on seeking autographs and photos for sale; they posed for shots with that warning.

The newly-imposed limit proved no problem either, especially as it kept the long lines moving a little faster this year. There were some witnessed exceptions; a kid presenting a well-worn football for signing and getting the names he wanted, or boosters having their Bulldog Club car tags signed.

Younger kids were kept happy while waiting by the big inflatable slide and jump-house and such, though their real hero wasn't a player or coach or cheerleader. Everyone wanted a photo with Champ, and the dog was a trooper dealing with all sorts of poses and people.

Players were placed on opposite Center sides, with Mullen in the middle on his own. The offense was on the west, defense on the east. And the latter were joined by specialists, sort-of…as kickers, snappers, and holders were at the far end of that line a good long hike from the nearest teammates.

"We're considered a different bunch. Elite," offered punter Baker Swedenberg. Or as punter Devon Bell said, "One unit." And besides said Swedenberg, "They don't want to put the thoroughbreds with everyone else right now."

Some bigger hosses got quite a laugh at that. "Yeah, they're a special group of people," cackled defensive end Preston Smith. "They can't be seen!"

All Bulldogs were certainly out in the open for seeing, and snapping and talking to as they signed poster after poster after poster. Yes, they had some fun with this, what else would be expected? Running back Nick Griffin tweeted how he was putting his name across quarterback Tyler Russell's face each time.

Malone admitted he was doing the same to offensive line-mate Dillon Day. "I've signed on his face a couple of times. I just like making fun of him and Gabe (Jackson) sometimes." The guard grinned at suggestions the sight of Day might scare some folk off what with the tattoos and Norse deity haircut and such. "Nah, they're not scary guys, people love them!" For that matter the bravest folk in the house might have been the youngest because several wanted to be held up by big Nick James for a photo.

Defensive end Denico Autry showed his versatility, of sorts, because with his right and writing hand in a half-cast for the broken thumb he had to sign with the left. Autry joined Day, running back LaDarius Perkins, Russell, defensive tackle Kaleb Eulls, and Jackson as this year's poster-Dogs.

"Man, it' pretty fun and exciting to be on the poster and get a chance to have everybody trying to recognize my face," said Eulls. Sure, but in that case why not have the poster-photo taken wearing the same glasses he had on for Fan Day? "No! I take the glasses off, it leaves a glare on the screen and you don't want that!"

What some of Eulls' fellow underclassmen want is to be on a poster too. Asked how his cohort made that cut, Smith said of Eulls "Great effort and dedication to the program!" before breaking down cackling. Regardless, next year he said "I'll put in a special request."

"Yeah, I hope they put me on it," said Hughes. "It's been a long time coming and I feel I'll need to be on there!"

This was a Saturday for jokes and fun. Next Saturday? That is time to get completely serious as the Bulldogs take on Oklahoma State in Reliant Stadium. A fair percentage of the fans who turned out today plan on making the trip to Houston too. This is commitment, agreed Malone. Though…

"They're not quite as excited as we are! We do, we're tired of hitting each other, we want to hit other people." Meaning Malone takes the honor for uttering the annual opening-week cliché, too. The only downside of today was that State is preparing for a road game instead of a home-field debut, so most of those students lined-up in the early hours will have to wait a little longer to watch their peers play on Scott Field.

Some of whom waited a very long time, too, Malone said. As to whether this adds any pressure to deliver for them this season? "Well, I can't say anything about that…but it's going to be worth it! We're going to win some games, we're going to have some fun, and it's going to be a good year doing it."

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