Well, I've had the privilege of watching a young man as he starts his journey to becoming a football coach. Wes Slay is his name. Wes is currently working within the Mississippi State football office as a Administrative Graduate Assistant. While his primary job is helping out Brock Dulaney, the Coordinator of Filming and Computing Services, he also has a lot of administrative duties in the recruiting aspect of the football program. With David Wilson leaving, Wes' duties have just become even more important.
I'll let Wes give you a little background information about himself. "I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi and attended Clinton High School and Jackson Academy," Wes said. "I was very fortunate to grow up in the state of Mississippi, so I have been around Mississippi State my whole life. Unfortunately, I was injured in high school and unable to play in college."
Although Wes' injury in high school was the end of his playing career, he wasn't ready to give up football. "After my injury, I wound up here after a couple of years. Andrew Seago, a good friend of mine, was here so I decided to come here. Since I couldn't play, I wanted to volunteer and assist in different ways," Wes said, explaining how he wound up working in the Mississippi State football office. "I helped out in the office and other places."
His duties over the past three years have covered many aspects of the football program at Mississippi State. "I started helping out the football program in the spring of 1999," explained Wes. "I did things in the office and any other type administrative work Coach Wilson wanted me to do. During the fall of 1999 and 2000, I ran the defensive scout team. Basically, my scout team was the defensive team of the team we were playing that week. That was a great opportunity for me, because whereas position coaches only get to coach one position, I got to coach every position on the defense."
That was a lot of responsibility for a youngster, but Wes was learning from some of the best coaches around. "Coach Woods and Coach Wilson were very valuable in teaching me how to run the scout team and how to work with players and relationships," Wes said. "What you have with the scout team are a lot of players that may be discouraged, because they want to be on the other field getting ready for the game. A lot of what you deal with is egos and emotions. You, basically, are a big brother to those guys as well as their coach. You have to teach them and let them know that they will get their opportunity some day."
From that position, Wes moved to his present position as Administrative Graduate Assistant. Working with Coach David Wilson as far as the recruiting is concerned, he has been given many duties in that position. "I work with Coach David Wilson and do whatever administrative work that he needs," Wes said. "I have helped him organize the official visits and the unofficial visits. There is a lot more to official visits than people realize. We have to make sure all the paperwork is in. We have to make sure travel arrangements are made. And when you have a player coming in, sometimes they want to fly and sometimes they want to drive. You have to make sure everything is covered. And you have to make sure when they get here all the meals are taken care of and you have to line up hosts. One of the most important things we do here, and something we do well, is lining up the players we are recruiting with players that they will be friends with when they get here. We also have to line up hotel rooms. We try to always use the best facilities possible."
While Wes mentioned a few aspects of the official visits, there are many details that very, very few regular fans know about. Wes explained them in a little more detail.
"During the entire recruiting process you are trying to get an official visit from a prospect. If you cannot get an official visit from a prospect, it is going to be very difficult to get him to sign the paper come February. The official visit is a great opportunity to really show your football program to the prospect. We are the school of choice in the state of Mississippi. There is no question about that. From junior college students to high school students, there is no doubt about that. If we can get kids from the state of Mississippi on our campus, we feel like we are going to get them. We also offer a lot for kids out of state. We have been very successful with kids from Atlanta, Georgia. They get here and tend to love it. There is a niche here for everybody.
"As far as the official visit itself, we can provide an airplane fare for the prospect, but we can't provide one for his family. If the youngster wants to fly an airplane, we can fly him in. Normally, we will bring prospects in on Friday. Friday evening, after they get here, we will take them out to dinner at a very nice restaurant. The players' hosts will meet us at the restaurant. After dinner, the player and his host will go out. We are very fortunate here in Starkville because it has something for everybody. The middle-class person can do things in Starkville and have a great time. You don't have to be wealthy to make it socially in Starkville. You do in some areas, but in Starkville, Mississippi, you don't.
"Saturday morning, we will pick them up and go eat breakfast at Perry Cafeteria, which is an excellent facility. It is beautiful. If you haven't been there, you have to go. After that, we have our academics meetings. Miss Ann Carr, from athletic academics, meets with each player and their parents. As everybody knows, she does an excellent job because Mississippi State is one of two schools that has graduated at least 70% of their players for 11 years in a row. That is an excellent recruiting tool. The parents are very interested in the academics. After Saturday morning, the parents totally understand that if their son attends Mississippi State University, he will not only play football in the Southeastern Conference and the best school in the state of Mississippi, but he will also graduate with a degree from the best school in the state of Mississippi.
"After the meetings with Miss Carr, we have professors and advisors from each academic school meet with the players. In the state of Mississippi, if you want to major in Engineering, Business and Education, Mississippi State is by far the place to go.
"Once Saturday morning is over with, we will take the youngsters out to eat lunch. We have some excellent restaurants in Starkville. We strictly use local restaurants. We take a lot of pride in Starkville, Mississippi. We don't hide who we are.
"After lunch, we will come back to the Bryan Building where the players will meet with their individual coaches. We will head from there to, hopefully, a home basketball game. As you know, Humphrey Coliseum is like Scott Field, it is full of excitement.
"After that, we will escort the prospects back to their hotel and let them get a little rest. We will then pick them up for supper where their host will meet them at the restaurant. After that, the player and the host will go out on the town for social fun.
"Sunday morning, we will pick them up again and take them to breakfast. Coach Sherrill will meet with each of the prospects and the coaches will again meet with each prospect.
"From there we give our goodbyes to the players."
As you can see from this detailed description of an official visit, Wes has learned the official visit portion of the recruiting process very, very well. You also see the passion he has for recruiting and his love for Mississippi State.
This passion is also seen by others within the MSU football office. "Wes is a graduate assistant for the video director," said former Mississippi State Coordinator of Football Operations David Wilson. "He helps get film of our opponents and helps to distribute those to the proper coaches. That is his first responsibility. Generally, that happens early in the week. Once he gets that done, he is then available to help me pick up the slack of the many administrative duties that I have in the recruiting aspect of my job. I need a lot of help to get recruits to the various places on campus and in town when they are in for their official visits. Wes, along with Rob Morgan and Paul Lacoste, help take care of that for me. He has done numerous tours for us. He is very good at talking to recruits and parents. He will answer their questions and talk endlessly with them about Mississippi State and the positives about Mississippi State. They trust him. He is a tireless worker and will devote all of his time to Mississippi State and doing whatever Coach Sherrill or I would want him to do. He knows the logistics of our process here."
Here is a final word from Coach Wilson about Wes and why he is so good at what he does. "Wes has such a passion for Mississippi State and for helping to see Mississippi State become successful."
Wes thinks just as highly of Coach Wilson and Coach Sherrill. "They have been unbelievable," said Wes, talking about two of the men who have had a tremendous influence in his young football career. "They have been role models from day one. I have learned a tremendous amount about the business. I have learned a tremendous amount about life from them. Coach Wilson knows how to work with people, from a little two-year old to a ninety-year all man. He knows how to work with people in every aspect of life. Both coaches have done a lot for Mississippi State. When I was little you always heard about how good Auburn, Alabama and other colleges like that were. Folks didn't think Mississippi State could compete with schools like that. Coach Wilson and Coach Sherrill came in and it was like a whole new mentality. They brought that winning attitude in here. From the moment they came in here, there was no inferiority complex at all. It was not a we can compete, it was a we will compete and we will be successful attitude."
Wes will finish his Masters degree this summer. He is proud of his time at Mississippi State and even prouder of the education that he has received at State. "I got my undergraduate degree in Mathematics, which is an excellent degree," Wes said with obvious pride. "Mississippi State has the top math program around. I am very proud of that degree. My Masters degree will be Sports Administration. I feel like that will help me out with head coaching responsibilities. I have also tried to always take some Psychology classes. I am a firm believer that when you bring a large crew together, the mental aspect is very important."
With the end of his college education near, Wes already knows what he wants to do next. "I want to stay (at Mississippi State) and I hope an opportunity will present itself here," said Wes. "If I have to leave, I will have to leave, but I want to come back eventually. I want to eventually get on the field and have some coaching responsibility. Right now, my duties call for more administrative work. If that is where I suit Mississippi State best, then that is what I'm more than happy to do."
There are many reasons for Wes wanting to stay at Mississippi. He talked about several. "I love it here," Wes said. "When folks ask me where I'm from, I say Jackson, Mississippi, but there is no doubt that Starkville and Mississippi State is my home now. My folks ask me all the time when I'm coming home, and I say to them they have to come see me because my home is here in Starkville. I have been privileged to be here. I have learned so much from people like Coach Jackie Sherrill, David Wilson, Sparky Woods, Melvin Smith and so many others. The learning experience has been invaluable. When folks ask me what I want to do, I tell them that I want to be the head coach at Mississippi State University. I don't want to be the head coach at any other division-I school other than Mississippi State. This is my school. I bleed Maroon and White and this is where I want to be."
Wes, here's hoping we see you on the sidelines of Scott Field in a few years figuring out what play you need to call to win that SEC Western Division Championship.
[If you know of a possible prospect, you can email your information to Wes Slay at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 662-325-1158.]
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page (http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com), the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. You can contact him by email at email@example.com.