Bulldogs Open Post-Season Practicing; Mullen Yet to Meet on Contract; Williams Expected at Bowl

Mississippi State began official bowl practices with a fast, and indoors, Friday session. Coach Dan Mullen spoke with media afterwards. An edited transcript follows.

How is the team getting ready for the bowl? “It’s good. We just did helmets today, kind of running around a little bit, getting stretched out. We haven’t done a lot of football so it was a real short practice today. We’ll put some pads on tomorrow.”

“We’ll do a favor for you guys, and for everybody. As long as you write about it and fans want to come we’ll open up practice the next two days, Saturday and Sunday open up for everybody. So y’all can come watch practice if you want and fans can come watch practice and go enjoy yourself out there and have a good time!”

 

Is Damian Williams going to make the bowl trip? “Yeah, we expect him to be there for the bowl game. I don’t think he’ll be at practice the next two days. Maybe Sunday he’ll be back. But he’s going to be at the bowl game with the team.”

 

Will Nick Tiano? “I don’t think Nick’s going to be with us for the bowl game.”

 

Does Damian still intend to transfer? “Yeah, I think so. We’re helping work all that stuff out. So I think he’s looking at all his different options right now and seeing what options are out there for him.”

 

How much of practice is helping young guys get reps and how much is preparing for the bowl? “Right now it’s all about the young guys. You know, a lot of the guys that maybe didn’t get as many reps during the season or guys that were redshirting. It’s their opportunity to really kind of jump-start, refresh their brain. Guys that have been on the scout team have got to go run our offense, run our defense, and get that jump-start going into the off-season.”

“Really to me the next four practices that we’re going to have are going to be about that. About total player development, base offense, base defense, learning, improving. Because everyone is at a different level. About improving the level you’re at, getting ready to move forward.”

“And we’ll get into game prep starting Wednesday.”

 

Will Anfernee Mullins be out there? “Yeah, he was at practice today.”

 

How much have you looked at the Redhawks? “You know what, flying around recruiting I’m kind of catching them here and there, watching film. You look at them as a team, a much different team obviously the second half of the season than the first half of the season. Not that they weren’t one of the top defenses in the MAC. So when you look at that defensively, when their quarterback comes back the second half of the season, a new quarterback in there he starts lighting it up, lights a spark. All of a sudden you get momentum.”

“They tied for the Eastern Division in the MAC and a championship. So a much different team at the back end of the season than they were at the beginning of the season and just the confidence they play with and how to win games. So it’s going to be a great challenge for us. I think they were joking yesterday (in St. Petersburg press conference) like ‘hottest team in the country’. But I think they are in a six-game winning streak. When you go 0-6 your back’s to the wall. And you go win six in a row, I mean you are that team.”

 

Is getting rewarded with a bowl trip like the football gods evening out some of the brutal early losses? “No. You know what, I think it is God’s way to show and teach young people a lesson in life. That it’s more than just football that we’re here for.”

“We’re getting to go to a bowl game because of academics. Because of the work that our guys have done. We’re getting to go to a bowl game because I think we had 17 guys graduate today. And the work they do in the classroom, beyond just the football field, becoming champions at life which our program is all about.”

“So I think it’s one of the great lessons that guys in our program will learn during their whole career here. That it was academics, it was off-the-field that got them rewarded with this trip this year.”

 

What does it mean to see guys finish their degrees? “It’s always something I’m so proud of. I know they came here, they love football. So to go play football I know you’re getting everyone’s best. But to see these guys, a lot of times it’s the first person in their family to ever graduate. Guys maybe never thought they could or people questioned it.”

“So to see it, and to see the guys that are out there…I mean all the guys that are graduating are players. Not just you know a guy that maybe doesn’t play much. All our guys that were the players, were the leaders, the guys that made everything happen on the field; also are the guys graduating today and making it happen off the field.”

 

What is the excitement of being in a seventh-straight bowl game? “Well I think it’s huge. I said we’ve gotten used to it here now. And I think our fans have gotten used to it and everybody is getting used to it.”

“When I came here eight years ago…(looks at watch for date)… Eight years ago just about tomorrow, right? We wanted to change the program and what it was, and build a successful program. Going to seven-straight bowl games is the type of program we envisioned building when I came here.”

 

Is there any experimentation with positions this bowl practice? “Haven’t yet. We’ve talked about it a little bit as a staff, something I might think about doing. But we haven’t yet moved guys around.”

“If we do you might see it tomorrow, we might try to move a guy here and there and see what they do different spots. I’m trying to think because I don’t want to throw y’all off if you guys get out there and are all confused! But nothing, I don’t think we have.”

 

A couple of years ago you had Jamaal Clayborn taking first team snaps, do you anticipate doing that to find a center? “Yeah, we’re going to give a lot of different guys reps. Especially these first four practices are going to be about a lot of young guys. Older guys are going to get some reps here and there just to keep themselves up and fresh.”

“But it’s a lot more about the young guys and we’re going to rotate different guys at center, see who is comfortable doing it.”

 

Are any guys bummed to spend Christmas break at football or are they excited? “No, I tell you what. We started off practice with our Christmas practice music right there! There’s nowhere you’d rather spend Christmas than out here!”

“But Christmas break starts today in college. This is exactly where you want to be. I certainly would never want to be at home trying to explain why I’m at home. You want to be out practicing this time of year.”

 

Who are the guys that could be working at center? “We’ll see. We’ll give Elgton Jenkins some reps. Martinas Rankin some reps. Deion Calhoun will end up getting reps. Harrison Moon’s going to get reps there. I’ve had Stewart Reese snap a little bit.”

“So just a lot of guys. We want guys learning how to snap, now whether they’re going to be a center for us we’ll see as we move forward.”

 

When would you like to have that solidified? “I think you want to have several in the spring. I think coming out of spring we want to have at least three that you’d feel good about. Now it doesn’t mean they’re there. But three guys that can do it at least, you want to feel good about.”

 

You’ve been a MAC assistant, and coached with the #1 team in the nation, can you explain the giant-killer attitude? “Well I know this. We’re going to get this team’s best effort. I’ve been there. Coaching at Bowling Green you have the opportunity to go play up at the time they were BCS schools. I think during my time at Bowling Green we were 5-0 against BCS conference schools.”

 

You had a good head coach? “Yeah, he did OK. He had a lot of good assistants! But I mean we’ve been there before. So I know the opportunities these guys feel, the excitement that they feel. And especially being a team that’s on a hot streak. I mean we’re going to get Miami’s best effort.”

 

It’s offseason which means your name is thrown around all of the place. What emotions do you have as a coach? “It’s really nothing now. I guess at first it was flattering; then it got annoying! I mean, like here’s the thing.”

“I bet early on everyone was saying I wonder if he’s going to be there? Then in the middle you’re like he’s definitely not going to be there. Now, I think y’all just assume I’m still going to be here! Some people that’s probably a good thing; others are like this guys is still here. Some are like great, some are like man I thought this was the year we’re getting rid of him!”

“But you know what? It is what it is. I think everybody, I mean I love being here. We’ve built this program, I mean when you get the opportunity to build a program the way you want to build it whether it be facilities, with the personnel with the people that you have…”

“I mean my kids were born here, that’s all they know. My son, I don’t know what he would do, he loves it here. He told me he saw Clemson, we have to build a mini-golf course here because Clemson has a mini-golf course facility, we’ve really got to pick it up here!”

“But my kids, it’s just all they know, it’s all the family knows. We love living here, our coaches love being here. I’ll be honest, out doing some recruiting this week and you sit in traffic some places? I’ve really got accustomed to some Mississippi living right now. When I sat there and you’ve got to go eight miles in I think an hour and 15 minutes, I could run that fast. Literally!”

 

Have you had a chance to talk to John Cohen about your contract status? “I have not sat down with him. I think they’re working on it. Well I know they’re working on it back-and-forth. But I have not got to speak with him about it. He was working too, we just hired a soccer coach I saw so that’s exciting.”

“But I’ve been all of the place. I’m going to be very happy to sleep in my own bed tonight, I know that.”


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