Mississippi State fans saw departed kicker Evan Sobiesk develop into a consistent weapon during the 2014 season. Despite having a year or eligibility left, the Oak Grove native elected to forego his final season and enroll in dental school.
The Bulldogs went back to the drawing board and opened up competition for a replacement. As Mississippi State finishes up two-a-day practices, veteran booter, Devon Bell, is in line to handle the scoring chances for the kickers.
"I am focusing on punts, field goals and kick-offs right now," Bell said. "I have great competition pushing me and I am trying to push them to be the best they can be. We're all doing really well in camp."
As a freshman, Bell set the Mississippi State single season record for points scored by a kicker with 85 points tallied. After some struggles as a sophomore, Bell became the program's primary punter as a junior.
With his senior season approaching, Bell is hoping to return to the placekicking form that vaulted him into one of the nation's best early in his career.
"Mentally, I am altogether with it now," Bell explained. "The past couple of years when I was focused on trying to do all three, my head would be all over the place. This year, I feel a lot more stable with everything mentally. I just have one mindset and that is to just go out there and get the job done."
While Bell has the ability to handle the full kicking chores, Logan Cooke, has pushed Bell to become a better player through some friendly competition.
"Logan is one of the best punters that I have ever seen," Bell said. "To compete with him and keep my spot, I have to bring my A game every single day. I can't let off of the pedal one bit. He is pushing me and I am pushing him. We are both just working hard to be the very best we can be and help the team."
The team as a whole is not getting a lot of respect nationally despite a run to #1 in the country last season and a Heisman candidate at quarterback in Dak Prescott. Bell reports that none of the pre-season prognostications have had any impact on the Bulldog psyche.
"We don't pay any attention to any of that," Bell said. "We know who we are. We know what kind of players we have and we know what kind of potential we have. We're just ready to get out there and show it."
While many have picked the Bulldogs 6th or 7th in the SEC's Western division, Bell has a much different opinion of how things will play out this season.
"I feel like we can be the best in the West," Bell said. "Everybody on the team feels that way. People say we lost all of these great players, but the guys replacing them are great players too.
"I feel like we have a chance to be just as good as last year if not better."
One of the key reasons why those who actually follow Mississippi State are so optimistic about the season is due the to caliber of players that have joined the Mississippi State program over the course of the last few years.
Bell reports that the commitment to football made by the Bulldog administration is paying dividends on the recruiting trail.
"I think the new facilities we have now have a lot to do with everything," Bell said. "We have a lot of nicer things now that we didn't have when I was being recruited. The coaching staff is great and we have great players with great attitudes.
"The whole Mississippi State mindset is about toughness. I feel like that is helping us bring in players who are tough and want to work hard to be great."