Thousands of fans gathered Saturday at Mississippi State, the state's largest university, and the nosiest, at least on this special occasion, to greet their beloved Bulldogs."> Thousands of fans gathered Saturday at Mississippi State, the state's largest university, and the nosiest, at least on this special occasion, to greet their beloved Bulldogs.">

Thousands 'ring in' 2002 Mississippi State Fan Day

Next to "ringing" in a New Year, Mississippi State's 2002 rousing "Fan Day" rally ranked right up there alongside the annual celebration.<P> Thousands of fans gathered Saturday at Mississippi State, the state's largest university, and the nosiest, at least on this special occasion, to greet their beloved Bulldogs.

The Dean of the SEC Coaches, Jackie Sherrill, received one of the dozens of standing ovations when he was introduced as Mississippi State's winningest football coach and the fourth winningest active coach in NCAA Division 1.

A couple of young Bulldog fans, including four-year-old Olivia Blansett, who sang "Hail State" to the delight of the "high-spirited" crowd and the Dogs' 12th-year head coach who has become a big hit with the youth as well as with the seniors while leading Mississippi State to unprecedented heights on the gridiron.

Rylee Dahlem, the 11-month old great-nephew of Mary Ann and Gene Swindoll, appeared extremely happy making his first "Fan Day" appearance, while two-year old Ryan was "thrilled" to ring the "traditional" cowbell to celebrate the occasion.

Not only is Sherrill delighted to welcome the young fry aboard, but he's thrilled with the Dogs' talented first-year signing class.

"We have an awful lot of talented young people," he told an enthusiastic and high-spirited turnout at The Hump estimated at four to five thousand.

"Don't be surprised to see us take as many as 19 redshirt and true freshmen to Oregon," Sherrill said in reference to the Bulldogs' season opener next Saturday against the Oregon Ducks at Eugene.

Following the introduction of the 2002 Mississippi State Bulldogs by the coaching staff, a recording was made of the ringing of the cowbells to be played at MSU games this fall. Certain rules were passed during the off season by the SEC to restrict the ringing of the bells, long a tradition at MSU.

There's no question that the ringing of the cowbells for the recording rivaled a high-pitched concert, both in intensity and noise level, definitely music to the ears of thousands of Bulldog fans everywhere.

Once the recording was finished, the players moved to the concourse of Humphrey Coliseum, which hasn't experienced the aforementioned level of noise since Rick Stansbury's SEC Tournament champs defeated arch-rival Ole Miss last February. The players autographed posters, schedules, hats, and shirts and had their pictures taken with fans.

A "12th Man" component, often utilized by Sherrill during a brilliant coaching career, was in evidence by Mississippi State's cheerleaders, the Pom Squad and by Bully, who helped welcome the huge turnout joined by longtime MSU announcer Jim Ellis, fast-becoming a legend as has the "Voice of the Bulldogs" Jack Cristil.

"Fan Day" was moved from Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field to the comfortable, air-conditioned coliseum because of the heat factor. It turned out to be an excellent idea. Not only was it extremely hot outside, but it came a downpour during the height of the "Fan Day" activities.

Mississippi State Athletic Director Larry Templeton couldn't have been happier with the turnout and with the "high energy"program along with the fans.

Sherrill's introduction of Defensive Coordinator Joe Lee Dunn, launching the "Meet the Bulldogs" segment, brought the roof down. Long adopted as a favorite among the Mississippi State faithful, Dunn "thanked the fans for their presence" before introducing the defensive ends.

Junior defensive end Jason Clark, spokesman for the ends, is one of several Starkville products hoping to have an impact with the Bulldogs this fall: "Thank you the fans for coming out on this day as we get ready for our first game. We'll be ready," he promised.

The veteran of the MSU staff, assistant head coach/linebackers, Jim Tompkins called the LB's to the podium headed by All-American Mario Haggan - again the roof was threatened by the applause and the ringing of the bells, sounds of joy to the Dogs and MSU fans.

"I'm ready," said Haggan. "I hope you're ready. Thank you the fans for coming out. We're not planning to let you down."

Highly-touted freshman Marvin Byrdsong, of Longview, Tx., brother of former MSU standout DB Shawn Byrdsong, received a warm welcome as did everyone from No. 1 redshirt freshman wide receiver McKinley Scott to No. 99 junior transfer tight end Kyle Wiley.

Defensive line coach John Hendrick, who played under Sherrill at Pittsburgh and coached under the Dogs' head man at Texas A&M, said he appreciated the fans coming out before calling junior defensive tackle Tommy Kelly to say a few words.

The noise was so loud that it was difficult to hear what the massive, 6-6, 305-pound tackle said, but he thanked the fans and urged them to come to the games.

Newcomer Curley Hallman introduced a "talented group" of defensive backs headed by All-SEC free safety Josh Morgan, Demetric Wright, Milas Randle, Gabe Wallace, and Korey Banks, who said he "appreciated the fans coming out and thanked them for their support."

Senior Michael Gholar "received a tremendous hand" in his house, something that he became accustomed to during the MSU hoopsters drive to the SEC Tournament title and an ensuing NCAA invitation. Highly-touted freshman Darren Williams of Clarksdale, Miss., was warmly welcomed by the legion of fans.

Taking a closeup of the offense, Sherrill invited Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks coach Sparky Woods to present his "talented" cast headed up by three veterans, although one will be a junior, one a redshirt freshman and one a true freshman.

Junior starter Kevin Fant of Moss Point, Miss., who came aboard to lead the Dogs over the final couple of games after senior Wayne Madkin was sidelined with an injury, received a thunderous ovation when he was introduced.

The three youngest QB members are Justin Tyler of Macon, Ga., Ken Topps of Shannon, Miss., and Aries Nelson, of Cleveland, Miss. Kyle York is a redshirt freshman form Spring, Tx., while Joe Judge is a sophomore from Philadelphia, Pa.

One of the Bulldogs' key offensive leaders, Fant thanked the fans and urged them to keep up their support of the team. He came through in a big way toward the end of the season, guiding the Dogs to a big win over arch-rival Ole Miss on Thanksgiving.

Receivers coach Craig Stump pointed out "an outstanding" group in veteran pass catchers in Justin Jenkins, Terrell Grindle, Ray Ray Bivines, Darius Tubbs, and newcomers Tee Milons of Starkville High School, McKinley Scott, Brandon Wright and Will Prosser of Starkville Academy.

"Thanks to everyone for coming out and get ready to support us on the field," said Jenkins, who had an outstanding second half catching the pigskin.

Glenn Davis called on a "talented" group of running backs headed by a couple of veterans and newcomers alike: Dontae Walker, Fred Reid, Justin Griffith, who encouraged the fans "to come out and support us," Nick Turner, Jerious Norwood, who inherited graduated Dicenzo Miller's old No. 12, Darnell Jones, Willie Evans and Elmore Wonsley.

Second-year assistant Terry Lewis, waving his towel in an aggressive fashion, introduced the offensive tackles and tight ends headed by senior All-SEC candidate at tight end Donald Lee of Maben, Miss., tackles David Stewart, Donald Tucker, Carl Higgins, Richard Burch and Carl Hutchins, who said the Dogs hope to contend for the SEC.

Centers and offensive guards coach Carroll McCray called on some imposing veterans and first-year players in Michael Allen, one of the largest players on the team at 349 pounds, Brad Weathers, Will Rogers, Monte Collins, Blake Jones, and Chris McNeil.

Graduate assistant Rob Morgan, brother of All-SEC Josh Morgan and freshman Brett Morgan, introduced graduate assistant for defense J.J. Plummer, the kickers led by John Michael Marlin. Keith Andrews, Brent Smith and punters Jared Cook and Robert Wallis.

Sherrill rendered a warm welcome, along with the fans, for former MSU hero, Rockey Felker, who joined the Bulldogs staff during the off-season as Coordinator of Football Operations. Once the nation's youngest head coach during an earlier stint at MSU, the former Bulldog quarterback-SEC Player of the Year, said it was "great to be back home."

MSU head athletic trainer Paul Mock received plaudits from Sherrill who also noted the viable and "easily recognizable" head strength coach Mike Grant.

Meanwhile, the countdown to the 2002 season opener against the Oregon Ducks of the powerful PAC-10 Saturday, at Eugene, Oregon has long been underway.

Don Foster, a veteran newspaper writer, is the Sports Editor for the Starkville Daily News. He will be writing regular feature articles for Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports and Mississippi High School sports on the internet.

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