SEC Media Days, known as the “official start of college football,” is in full swing and Mississippi State took their turn on Tuesday afternoon.
So what exactly is SEC Media days?
All 14 member institutions of the Southeastern Conference send their football head coach and three select players to the Winfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama to meet with radio, print, and television media from all over the country. The event lasts four days, and each team makes an appearance on their given day and spends hours talking about their upcoming season.
Tuesday featured Florida, Georgia, Vanderbilt and the Bulldogs of Mississippi State. Head coach Dan Mullen, offensive lineman Martinas Rankin, wide receiver Donald Gray, and linebacker Dez Harris took their turn looking ahead to the 2017 season.
However, before the look ahead, Dan Mullen started the day with some reflection of his time at Mississippi State.
“This is my ninth year up here on stage, and I was thinking about the time has flown quickly in those nine years some ways,” the league’s second-longest tenured head coach said. “Other ways, it’s been quite a long time. I looked up, you know, the iPad had not even been released on my first SEC Media Days. So now everybody, I think, in the United States, there are more iPads than people. They hadn’t been created the first time I came up here. So it’s been a long time.
“Going out to my son’s baseball games and caddying yesterday for him yesterday in a golf tournament, he was 6 months old,” he continued. “The time’s flown a little bit for me, but it’s been a fun ride. You know, I’m blessed to be a head coach at Mississippi State, to be there, and have the opportunity to go into year nine. I think we’ve been able to do a lot with the program over those nine years.”
After the historical reflection came football discussion. A lot of eyes will be focused on Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who is entering his second season as a full-time starter, and Mullen talked about the areas where he needs to see improvement entering the 2017 season.
“The biggest strides we need to see in Nick is his consistency throwing the football. The balance, the accuracy, the decision making of when he’s getting the ball, how he’s throwing it, what type of throw, is he taking a little off it on this drag route, is he leading receivers, the accuracy, balance to maybe make an off-balance throw and not just I’m set in the pocket to make a throw.” Mullen said.
“How quick can I get the ball out of my hands in a bubble screen when it’s there? How can I stay in the pocket a half a second longer or slide the throwing lane to make an easier throw for me? Those are skills that are developed over a very long period of time. And the more you develop on them, the more successful you’ll be as a quarterback,” he added.
Despite having moved on to the Dallas Cowboys, Dak Prescott still remains a major topic of conversation at SEC media days. Prescott, according to Mullen, has helped grow the Mississippi State brand even after his departure from Starkville.
“You have a former player that now is really almost on a one-name basis in the sports world, which is pretty special,” he said. “I think it opens up a lot of the doors with recognition of the program. I don’t know that we’ll reap the benefits of it, but I tell you what, there’s a lot more people around the country that know an awful lot about Mississippi State than maybe did three to four years ago.”
There are no more important teammates to a quarterback than their offensive line, and Nick Fitzgerald has the respect and admiration of an important member of the Mississippi State offensive line, Martinas Rankin.
“He’s a great guy,” Rankin said. “We have a good relationship between him and the offensive line. He’s a guy that I respect a lot and I’m glad to have him on my team.”
In Mississippi, of course, the annual Egg Bowl game between Ole Miss and Mississippi State is of the utmost importance. Rankin gave a concise, yet very clear, answer when asked about the Bulldogs win over the Rebels in November.
“It was a great day bringing the Egg Bowl trophy back to Starkville. That was the number one goal for the season,” Rankin said.
Although Mississippi State is set with an experienced quarterback, the wide receiver group as a whole is young. They will rely heavily on senior Donald Grey to be a leader. A role he has accepted fully and had to make some adjustments this off-season to allow himself to be the best leader he can be.
“My attitude has changed,” he said. “I am still trying to find ways to get better. I’m trying to be more vocal. I’ve been trying to bring more energy, whether it’s the jugs machine or anything else. It’s been good to grow and become comfortable in uncomfortable situations. I had to prove to Coach Mullen that I could step up and be a leader like he was asking me to be.”
One of the more compelling stories coming out of SEC Media days is that of Mississippi State linebacker Dez Harris. The senior has had three severe knee injuries. He used his time in Hoover to talk about his approach to the game after those injuries.
“I try to prepare myself the same way every week. I really don’t worry about my knee,” he said. “I trust that each doctor that has operated on me every time, so that is really not a thought in my mind anymore; I just focus on coming out and winning a game. My family has been behind me the whole time and I just stay prayed up about the situation. My mom and my sister have always had my back. It’s been a hard road getting here but at the same time I wouldn’t change anything about it because all of those setbacks made me who I am today.”
Mississippi State made changes at the Defensive Coordinator position this off-season, as they hired Todd Grantham from Louisville back in January, and Harris spoke on the adjustment.
“It is always a little difficult at first not knowing what he expects and trying to figure out what he wants from defense, but at the same time – defense is defense. Every guy that comes in will have his own plays. We are still defense and we go out to execute every day.”
Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze, quarterback Shea Patterson, offensive lineman Javon Patterson, and defensive lineman Breeland Speaks will make their rounds in Hoover on Thursday.