Autry Intends Ending Bulldog Career In Style

Sure, the leading story line is a record fourth-consecutive bowl appearance; and the handful of Bulldogs who will complete entire careers having gone bowling four times. Yet Denico Autry belongs in a special club too, since the former junior college star is going to end both his Mississippi State seasons in the post-season.

And ending is very much on the defensive end's mind now. Ending with a win, he says. "Oh, man, that would be great. It's my last game with these guys so I want to go out strong."

So Autry hasn't had any difficulty cranking it back up one more time for Mississippi State and himself. With the serious preparation stage for the AutoZone Liberty Bowl date with Rice underway, reality is arrived. This, Autry says, is It.

"It has hit me. It's motivated me a lot to do good this last game." Such motivation helped Autry rattle off any rust from the post-Egg Bowl victory break and a few days watching younger defensive Dogs do the heavy work in camp. "It was a little tiring," said Autry of returning to rhythm. "But I got the hang of things."

This Liberty Bowl trip offers a fitting end to what has been an interesting season for the senior. Autry finished the regular schedule with 30 tackles, 5.5 of them for losses and a sack. Not bad numbers in the context of this year's defense…but maybe not what Autry expected of himself. A year ago after all, in a more static style, he had 42 tackles in 13 games with 4.0 sacks.

Then again numbers aren't the full story here. "I think I kind of started slow because of the injuries. But I think I finished strong," Autry said. The injuries began before the season, when during two-a-days an incident with a thumb required surgery to fix. Not the most encouraging of starts, for sure.

"And I had a banged-up ankle from the first week at Oklahoma State, it never really healed." But, neither did Autry skip a start. And he plugged away at the job without complaint. "Nah, I didn't. That's not my style."

Or of any Bulldog for that matter, on either side of the ball. With the series of lesser or greater injuries this team endured in 2013, Autry was part of a weekly-growing club. His wasn't the worst hurt so he wasn't about to whine. In fact, "Those guys kept me going," he said of the daily training-room throng. And if a Dog was really hurting that's where he needed to be, Autry added.

"I guess it's the way our coaches coach us. Because you know if you don't get treatment on it they don't want to hear about it! So that's how it is!" Besides, watching a Nickoe Whitley run around the secondary on a knee needing surgery; or tackle P.J. Jones plugging away on a bad ankle; or the November heroics of hurting quarterbacks Tyler Russell and Dak Prescott...

"Nah, no excuses," Autry said. "You can't complain because everybody is going."

This is why the 2013 season's best back-story is the way so many gimpy Dogs sucked it up and, if given clearance, kept playing. The disruptions obviously contributed to some of the defeats, but the relentless efforts paid off at the very end in the form of two overtime victories, return of the Golden Egg, and a bowl berth.

"We just knew that we had to fight," Autry said. "We really had to finish, so we just played together and finished."

There is another explanation for why one Dog's statistics were down this senior season. The rest of the defensive line and the defense in general became more effective as the year went on. Moving former end Kaleb Eulls inside paid off, especially as the older Jones blossomed in the junior season and the younger exploded onto the SEC scene. That being precocious pup Chris Jones of course, the wanna-be end who is already a true force at tackle.

Besides, with defenses tilted towards older Dog Autry, other end Preston Smith had easier access to passers. No statistics sheet will credit Autry with an ‘assist' on all the stats from Smith and Jones etc. but they know. Speaking of ‘know' there was many a game Autry wasn't entirely sure who he was lining-up alongside that start, that quarter, and so on.

"Nah, I didn't! But we made it work, we had to. That's how we did it in practice so it kind of rolled into the game."

Speaking of rolling, the Bulldog defensive line ought to be on one not just this post-season but on into 2014. Autry and end Corvell Harrison are the only upperclassmen in the entire meeting room. All tackles are underclassmen, as are most of the ends. Smith has the most experience and an obvious edge to stay in the lineup, but Autry's job is open…well, unless Chris Jones coaxes Coach David Turner into letting him go back to end for a while. That battle of wills should be great spring-training fun to watch.

Autry does like how the other alternates, Ryan Brown and A.J. Jefferson, have come along this season. Though he has one criticism. "They're humble, quiet, you won't even know they're in the room with you they're so quiet!" It's OK though if these ends make their noise on the field. Autry won't pick a ‘favorite' between the two, though he will grant that in base-defense which is biased to run stopping Brown would have an edge; then Jefferson when it's second- and third-downs and such.

During the past few days Autry has offered a little expertise to the '14 contenders. "Oh yea, always. I was telling them what to do with their hands and how to move around. Those are great guys. I don't know, it's going to be tough with everybody fighting for it."

What is a little ironic is how when Autry signed on with Mississippi State out of East Mississippi CC the defensive front was short on numbers and experience alike. Now? It looks like a conveyor belt with the list of starters and veterans and backups and reserves rolling through the season and seasons.

"I kind of do feel I helped start something," he said.

Then again Autry is about to start something of his own. When the Liberty Bowl ends and the calendar turns to 2014 his attention can be entirely on getting ready for the next level. Two seasons at State have made a real difference in his body and his game, Autry said. "I came a long way. Just weight wise, the strength, some of my moves and techniques. I think I came a long way." Feedback from experts is he does need to add some more weight to play end professionally, so he and Coach Matt Balis will remain acquainted in spring.

And on January 11 he is scheduled to participate in the inaugural Medal of Honor Bowl. The all-star game is in Charleston, S.C., and not so far from the Albemarle, N.C., native's home.

Before that though is his final appearance in a Bulldog uniform. And, a second bowl trip. The first one didn't turn out well for State with a loss to Northwestern, though Autry did make his only so-far interception. The experience was fun—"I remember just hanging with a great group of guys in a different state"—but this one could be even better.

"It's going to be great. We've got to finish strong."

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