Naturally. Because there he was, one time zone and over 1,300 flying miles from home. A packed stadium, loud crowd, tied game, his offense facing 3rd-and-8. And the starting right guard lying on the turf.
Yeah. All this would get a redshirt freshman’s head spinning. “But like Coach always preaches, next man up. So I was ready.”
Story indeed was ready.
Stepping in for the first time with the first offensive line, Story even got to enjoy playing his part in a first college touchdown. Mississippi State converted that situation with a 17-yard pass play and two snaps later quarterback Nick Fitzgerald got through right guard for a halftime lead.
That wasn’t Story’s side, for clarity. Calhoun’s place was taken by starting left guard Devon Desper, opening the left slot for the younger blocker. And, “That’s just the position I practice at,” Story said.
What mattered was Story really is the ‘next man up’ at either of the interior positions. Up to then his second-season duty had been on kicking teams. But when Calhoun went down with a sprained ankle Story knew…his chance had come.
“Yeah, because that’s my guy. I was checking on him, making sure everything was alright. I just told him I had his back.”
As Mississippi State (2-4, 1-2 SEC) prepares for Kentucky (3-3, 2-2), Story has a front-line responsibility. Calhoun is questionable at best and Coach Dan Mullen downplays chances of a return. This should seem to ramp-up pressure on a young blocker.
Not really. Not the way Coach John Hevesy trains his linemen.
“Through the week I practiced preparing to play and get ready,” Story said. “And my number was called. I went out there and did my job, what I was supposed to do all week.” He did it pretty well, too.
“Yeah, I graded out somewhere in the 70s. I’d like to grade out Champion each week. I mean I’d like to be perfect but ain’t nobody perfect. But just grade out Champion and help the team win.”
Mississippi State did not win in Story’s initial experience as a first-teamer. The Bulldog offense did score twice with him at left guard, including Fitzgerald’s spectacular overtime touchdown. It wasn’t enough as Brigham Young matched that, and got the decisive score in a second OT.
It was valuable experience for a younger Dog who wasn’t supposed to take serious snaps until 2017 when he presumably becomes a full-time starter. Not that Story was thinking so far ahead when ordered into action last Friday.
“Just me going in there and being a redshirt freshman, going in a big crunch time in the game and just picking up and going and keeping things normal,” he said. As to when the kid got comfortable? “Probably around the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth, I started getting a feel of the game. It was easy from then.”
Easy for him to say. The flip-side to his exposure is now the next opponent has game tape to study. Attacking the newest line-link should be irresistible to a Wildcat defensive front. So Story is scouting what to expect.
“Study their base fronts, what they like to do, how they play. And be ready to get out there this weekend.”
A big weekend for both ball clubs. Mississippi State has owned the inter-Division rivalry since Dan Mullen came to campus. But this year Kentucky comes in with the momentum, the confidence, and the crowd at renovated Commonwealth Stadium.
The Bulldogs are in a real crunch time, well-behind the bowl eligibility curve and the toughest half of the schedule still ahead. Pressure, yes, one could call it that. And a larger share of that has to be focused on the newest member of the line line-up.
Yet after keeping his cool in the heat of last week’s moment, Story said nothing really changes.
“It’s going to be the same as any other work. Prepare, be ready to play, being on top of my stuff. Knowing what I’ve got to do to keep it going from there.”