Canadian Dog Claims the State’s College Blocking Honor

Had his sports career taken a different turn Justin Senior would still be wearing padding and hitting people every play. Just, doing it on skates. And with a stout stick to back it all up.

Yes. This offensive lineman was once a defenseman prowling the rinks of Montreal. “Just run around with my stick and enforce people,” Senior said. “I didn’t have the fleet-of-foot to be a forward or something like that.”

No problem. If he lacked pace on ice, Senior ultimately found his way onto close-cropped college grass where speed isn’t an issue. And he can play offense, or offensive line at least.

In fact Senior has played right tackle well enough as a Mississippi State senior, that Tuesday he was announced as winner of the Kent Hull Trophy. The award goes to the top-rated offensive lineman from the state’s four-year football programs, as selected by coaches and professional scouts.

The public heard the word Tuesday. Senior got advance notice though.

“Coach (John) Hevesy called me into his office and told me yesterday. And he told me not to let it get to my head and focus on this week.”

Easier asked than done. Senior was still beaming Tuesday evening over the most-unexpected recognition. Back home Yvette Reece and Ricardo Senior are more emotional, Justin reported.

“They were so excited. They’re not really big football people! But any time you get an honor, something like this, it’s exciting for everyone. I think they’re trying to come down to be there with me whenever I do receive the award.” Which will be next Tuesday at the annual college football honors presentation at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.

For Bulldog football fans there’s a fine symmetry to this selection. The Hull Trophy obviously honors the all-time Mississippi State great Kent Hull for both his Bulldog career and his long NFL tenure. The first Hull Trophy went to another State blocker, guard Gabe Jackson in 2013 when Senior was a second-year freshman.

“When Gabe won it, I looked it up,” said Senior. “I know a little about his career at the Buffaloes and his career here. Then I talked to one of our doctors who knew him and heard he was a great guy, easy to get along with. After I looked at what he’s done he’s really an impressive guy. Like, I really hope that I’ve been able to live up to his name, to be as good as he was.”

That is setting sights high as Hull is now recalled as the greatest Bulldog blocker of the last half-century and maybe greatest ever. Yet, in his college career at center Hull was never named all-SEC much less all-American! After a couple of years in the soon-gone USFL he was picked up by Buffalo and became one of the NFL’s great centers.

So in this ironic sense Senior has one-upped Hull by winning a college honor. The other twist is simply that Senior ended up in American football in the first place. As a Canadian kid “I played everything. Hockey, soccer, basketball, water polo. Yeah, every sport you could play I played.”

But the only football was in backyards, or on TV. Until a friend made a local team and invited Senior and another buddy to join in. This simple choice changed everything.

“Since then I’ve been loving playing the game. I played almost every position and never found a game I’d rather play, anything I’d rather really do.”

Bulldog fans may recall his 2012 signing out of Hargrave Military, which was invaluable in exposing the raw kid to something closer to real football. Mississippi State spotted Senior, looked at his 16-year-old physique, and gambled the scholarship.

Since then Senior has played in 47 games and started 37 of them, at right tackle. Being a blocker there aren’t a lot of stats and highlights for the four seasons. About the only notice has been the occasional flag for holding or jumping the snap count, an occupational hazard.

Yet experts have seen something. Because the Hull Trophy team relies on coach and scout input, and this was even more welcome news to Senior as he thinks about the future.

“I didn’t know that ‘til just now! So that’s really exciting, it’s great news! It just means I have to keep doing what I’m doing, even get better to live up to my standards. If they think I’m pretty good then I think they’re going to be really impressed with what I’m trying to become.”

Something Senior has become in his five Mississippi falls—not to mention those five summers—is a sort-of Southerner. It did take time and only now does Senior feel fully acclimated.

“I don’t get that whole ‘oh, are you northern?’ because my accent has kind of gotten a little bit more Southern. I’ve been able to understand people, I kind of get the pace of this town. And after five years being I the South I can honestly say I would definitely come back. You know, when I just got here ‘I don’t know, it’s so hot! I don’t get the people!’ But after being here for a while I like it. I really do.”

Likes it enough that Senior said he’ll be happy to return, not least to hit up Chik-Fil-A which they don’t have back home. He will also miss Southern campus scenery such as Daisy Dukes. As he should.

Wherever his post-college career takes him, Senior would like to stay at least peripherally involved with the sport he loves. Not as a coach per se, but a conduit maybe? Senior wants more of his countrymen coming to this country to play college football.

“I feel there’s a lot of talent in Canada people don’t know about. And I think (colleges) would be really happy, we’ve got some freaks. We’ve got some people that could play with the best of them. But we’ve got no real coaching because it’s not as serious.”

“And to get more Canadians in a situation where they can play against Americans, get American coaching, they’ll thrive I feel like. It’s not just me up there, there’s a lot of people that play.”

If those folk will pull off the skates, put down the sticks, make the move South and come to play, maybe more can carry a Trophy back home. Just as Justin Senior will.

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