Diamond Dawg Gavin Collins shares his thoughts on Mississippi State baseball, cowboy boots and reggae.

Two seasons ago, then freshman catcher Gavin Collins drove in the game winning run to give Mississippi State a come from behind win over rival Ole Miss. A national record on campus crowd of 15,586 saw Collins cap a four run tenth inning that sent the home fans home happy. Two years later, Collins and Mississippi State enter Super Bulldog Weekend in much different positions.

Gavin Collins is now announced as the Bulldogs' every day third baseman. Mississippi State is now ranked among the nation's elite and on top of the SEC Western Division standings. In 2014, the Bulldogs ended the season on the road on the downside of a 5-3 regional championship game to host Louisiana-Lafayette. Diamond Dawg fans hope their final game in 2016 win or lose takes place in Omaha, Nebraska.

Having the chance to play for it all was one of the main attractions for Collins who left his home in Lake Forest, California to settle east in Mississippi and play for Coach John Cohen's Bulldogs. The transition outside of baseball was a bit of a culture shock for Collins who did his best to acclimate to his new surroundings. 

"I think the second week that I was here I went out and bought a pair of cowboy boots," Collins said with a grin. "I got them and I thought these were sweet. I got those boots and I think I wore them about three times. 

"I guess I went through a bit of a southern phase. I may have even said ya'll subconsciously maybe four times since I have been here."

Local dialect and fashion withstanding, the El Toro High School product has learned to make Starkville his home away from home.

"I have learned to live in this part of the country a little more and how life works down here," Collins said. "Everyone here is so polite and they want to talk to you. It's awesome."

Growing up as an Orange County kid in California, Collins was near the sand and surf making memories with childhood friends and family. While the big stage of the Southeastern Conference is a big part of his life these days, Collins has not forgotten where he came from.

"I usually tell people it's about an hour north of San Diego and about 45 minutes south of L.A.," Collins explained. "I grew up about 15 minutes away from the beach. It's a beautiful area to live and I am very fortunate to have grown up there and went to high school there with the people I did. I think about them everyday and I miss them.

"There are some beautiful places around the country, but I feel like I will probably end up back somewhere in California near San Clemente. That's my dream place to live."

Collins' baseball dreams brought him to Mississippi and they will likely take him elsewhere once his time wearing the Maroon and White is done. Before that day comes, #8 is doing all he can to move this team forward towards the post-season and a chance to leave a lasting legacy at Mississippi State.

While Collins no longer lines up behind the plate, he is still a catcher at heart. When he sees a Bulldog hurler struggling just a bit, a word of encouragement or two now comes from third base.

"Coach (Wes) Johnson and Coach (Nick) Mingione both advocated to me that they really wanted me to continue doing that after I made a couple of visits," Collins explained. "A good example of that was this past Sunday. We had Elih (Marrero) behind the plate and Konnor (Pilkington) on the mound and those guys are both freshmen.

"I have been in those situations before where things just seem to speed up. I know at this level that you have to go out there and slow things down and try to slow down what they're trying to do offensively."

Looking back over the weekend where the Bulldogs won two of three on the road against then #1 Florida, Collins sees an opportunity where perhaps the Bulldogs could have done more and possibly had a different outcome in game one.

"On Friday night, I feel maybe I should have made a visit or somebody could have made a visit to the mound," Collins said. "Maybe that would have slowed Florida down against Dakota (Hudson), because he pitched his heart out for us and they had a lot of cheap hits off of him.

"Maybe if we go out there and slow things down a bit that maybe those hits go right to someone. If I had gone over there or someone else that might have just slowed the game down. Who knows? Stuff like that is always on my mind.

"You have to know when to go over and when not to. Sometimes you just have to let guys roll, but I am starting to learn about all of that now that I have made the move over to third base."

After spending two years catching Bulldog pitchers, Collins made the move to third in hopes of shoring up the Bulldog defense and adding another strong bat to the Bulldog order. Initially, Collins was hesitant to change spots, but the more he considered what was best for the team Collins agreed to the move.

"At first, I really wanted to stay behind the plate and I was pretty adamant about staying there," Collins shared. "As the fall went on and I thought about it more, I just felt like I wanted to do whatever was going to allow us to have our best nine guys on the field. I was glad to be wherever if that helped us put our best lineup on the field. 

"I really just wanted to be a part of this talented lineup, because it's hard to make it everyday. We have a lot of talent on this team."

The move has paid off for Collins and Mississippi State who are now ranked as high as #2 nationally. Of course there is still more baseball to be played, but the Bulldogs have a special look about them. Collins reports that even inside the dugout and locker room that there is a sense that good things are happening.

"It's pretty awesome," Collins said. "We expected this and we prepared for this.We just knew in the early Spring, in the Fall and during the Christmas break that we had the chance to be really good. It's awesome.

"We used to say, even if some of the guys didn't believe it then, that we are a good team. They all believe it now. We have that confidence now, all of us.

"Every time you walk up to the box, you want to pick the team up. It's just in the back of your mind that you're part of a good team and it's just chance to do something to help the team. I think we're all feeding off of each other really well."

Earlier this season, Collins was able to return to his home state of California with the Bulldogs and play a game in Dodger Stadium. Perhaps the ocean air served the native son well as he blasted his first home run of the season deep into the Los Angeles sky. That moment holds a special place for both Collins and his family.

"That was pretty cool," Collins said. "That was the first one of the season. My family saw it and all of my friends were there to see it. It was a cool feeling. My mom was crying as usual."

Yes, it was good to be home for the Bulldog third baseman. With the west coast recharge in place, Collins hit two more home runs in his next appearance at Dudy Noble field and now leads the team with five round trippers on the season.

As Collins steps to the plate each and every at bat, a bit of California makes the trip to the dish with him. "Reelin" by Santa Barbara based band Iration got the nod as the walk up song for Collins. While there is no special connection between Collins and the tune other than being products of the Golden State, the song simply reminds him of home.

"It's a real cool song and I just like it," Collins said of his selection. "I have always liked Iration, Rebelution, Slightly Stupid and Sublime and all of those reggae bands. I know that's not the southern thing, but back home I listened to a lot of reggae. 

"I guess it could be a California thing, but I just really like the band and I really like that song. It's just a really cool song."

Collins and the rest of the Diamond Dawgs will be back in action on Wednesday as Memphis comes to town before the Aggies of Texas A&M arrive at Dudy Noble for a match up between top five teams battling for post season position. 

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