Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Gray Collecting Dog Tags

Mississippi State sophomore linebacker J.T. Gray was forced into action last fall after linebacker Dezz Harris was lost for the season. Gray went from sideline supporter to special teams standout overnight. Now expected to play each and every week, Gray entered last Saturday night's contest with Southern Miss looking to make big plays. For his efforts, Gray was awarded a pair of "Dog Tags".

Since Dan Mullen's arrival, the Bulldogs have been named champions for championship caliber efforts in each game. This season, rather than just having the label of champion, the Bulldogs are able to pick up a little hardware to display that signifies their high level of play.

"I got two Dog Tags for last week, one or defense and one for special teams," Gray explained. "You earn them if you play a certain number of plays on defense, offense or special teams and you grade out over 80%."

Looking down and the pair of his official issue dog tags, Gray shared his grades for last week's season opening win over Southern Miss, 34-16.

"I got 88% for this one and 89% for this one," the Clarksdale native shared with a smile. "We've been doing the champion grades for years, but the dog tags are new. We also get the cowbells for players of the week for offense, defense and special teams now.

"I want to get a dog tag every single week. I take pride in my dog tags and that's why I wear them."

The Bulldogs learn their grades after film review with the Mississippi State coaching staff and each player who received good to excellent grades are recognized.

"Coach Mullen gives out the awards when we have the team meeting," Gray said. "Everybody goes into the meeting and they tell us how we did. We get to watch film to see what we did good and what we did bad. 

"If you get champion, then they call us down, we get claps and our awards. Even if you don't get in on enough plays, you still get recognized if you graded out good. You just get the golf claps for that though."

With the Tigers of LSU coming to town the noise emanating from Davis Wade Stadium on Saturday will easily surpass the golf claps of productive and proficient player recognition. Gray hopes that both he and his teammates grade out well on the field, but most importantly on the score board.

"We've been coming along real strong," Gray said. "The first day we did a little install, the second day we picked it up and now on the third day we're getting everything down. We're getting ready."

The atmosphere around Starkville has been buzzing all week. Gray reports that the excitement surrounding this weekend's SEC tilt has been evident throughout the week as the players attend classes.

"It's real crowded and hard to get around some times," Gray explained. "Friday, we will be able to go to the hotel. We'll be able to get away from all of the distractions. We don't want anything to distract us from our preparations. 

"It's kind of a relief to get away from campus and just get in your own zone to focus on your play book. You just want to get your mind right and get everything else out of your system."

A big part of Gray's mental reps revolve around stopping LSU steam roller running back Leonard Fournette. The sophomore linebacker reports that the Bulldogs have spent a lot of time and effort to prepare for the challenges a player of Fournette's caliber brings.

"The first thing we have to do is play great defense," Gray explained. "We're going to have to be very solid on tackling. Tackling is going to be a big part of this game. If we don't tackle well, then there really is no defense."

Some have suggested the Bulldogs are at a disadvantage without some fresh game film of the Tigers in action. Gray believes LSU will simply be LSU and do what they have always done best.

"LSU likes to ground and pound and they are a real physical team," Gray said. "It's going to be a real physical game. We are going to have to bring everything we have to the table and just be ready to compete."

The Bulldog defense allowed just 102 yards rushing a week ago despite losing the battle for time possession by a considerable margin. Gray believes some of the confidence gained after week one in a new system is a solid building block for the rest of the season.

"We can take a lot from last week," Gray said. "We are going to take all of the preparation we do each and every week and just add to it. We are just building every game. We just have to be focused on the different things that each team brings to the table."

This week, the Bulldogs know that Fournette is the founder of the LSU feast. Gray is hopeful that the Davis Wade home field advantage will be the fuel the Bulldogs need to get an early lead in the race for the SEC Western division crown.

"It's going to be a big time atmosphere. This week is going to be a real game changer," Gray said. "I have to get myself prepared. This is my first time playing LSU, but I know I am going to be prepared. I came here for games like this. I came to Mississippi State to play in the best conference in the nation. It's time to go play some hard-nosed football."

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