Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Westin Graves Living Childhood Dream

Mississippi State sophomore kicker Westin Graves talks one-on-one with Gene's Page about how he wound up at Mississippi State and starting his first game as a Bulldog.

You were a really good soccer player in high school but, according to your MSU bio, didn't play much football, playing a couple of games as a sophomore, none as a junior and the entire season as a senior.
"I have been playing soccer so long that I can't even remember when I first started playing it. Soccer came natural to me. I always loved the sport of football but I'm small, not big and muscular. I enjoyed soccer and kicking the soccer ball. Once my 9th grade season came around that is when I really learned to kick field goals. I loved it but I took soccer more seriously up until the 11th grade. But I had someone in front of me that was really good. So, I didn't get a chance to start until my senior season."

How did you wind up playing football at Mississippi State?
"I tried out as a walk-on as a true freshman in 2013 and redshirted that season. Then, in the spring of 2014 they started putting me in as the second-string field goal kicker with Evan Sobiesk. Then we battled (for the starting position) throughout the spring and into the summer, then into camp of last year."

It sounds like you were more serious about soccer than football in high school. Why did you decide to walk on in football instead of trying to play soccer somewhere in college?
"In high school I played sports because I loved playing sports. I used to play select soccer in high school. That is how you get recruited in soccer. But when I was about 12 to 14-years-old is when I quit playing that. In high school our quarterback, Ryan Buchanan, was being recruited by everybody. I saw that. And I didn't want to quit playing sports. I knew that soccer wasn't that big in Mississippi or in the SEC. Because I didn't (play select soccer) any longer I didn't have a lot of (colleges) looking at me for soccer. So, in my senior season of football I really started to try (and get recruited). I went to a lot of camps before that season. I got recruited by a lot of junior colleges but I didn't think I wanted to go that route. I really wanted to come to Mississippi State because my entire family came here. I love the school and I love everything about Mississippi State. But I didn't really get recruited that hard by Mississippi State or really by any schools. Going into the summer I still wasn't sure what I wanted to do. Then, during the middle of the summer I finally told myself that I was going to give it a shot. I thought that I could play, so I tried out during the first week of August."

You came in that first year, had guys playing in front of you, then you redshirted. What kept you going?
"I don't really know what kept me going. I guess it was just the dream of playing football for Mississippi State. Like I said, I love Mississippi State and love the school. And they gave me the opportunity to play. So, I took advantage of that opportunity."

Then, last year, you finally lived the dream of playing in real games wearing the Mississippi State uniform. What was that like?
"I guess you could say it was surreal because I had always grown up a Bulldog fan. It was a blessing."

This year, you won the first game starting role as the field goal kicker. You made two field goals and four extra points.
"Yes sir. But the competition between me and Devon Bell will be ongoing. I am still fighting for that role. Just because I started one game, I can't quit fighting. I have to continue to do well (in practice). Devon pushes me and I push him to make each of us better."

When did you find out that you were starting the Southern Miss game?
"I found out Friday afternoon after class. We came for meetings before we did walk throughs."

Being a Bulldog fan, it had to be a thrill for you to start the game.
"It was awesome. I had a lot of fun. It was a great win for the whole team."

What was it like going out for your first kick?
"It was a little nerve-wracking. The main thing is being comfortable. You have to try to find that comfort zone. But the first kick always has those extra nerves. It had been about six to eight months since we had kicked in an actual game."

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