Felker receives plenty of praise

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Rockey Felker received a standing ovation Monday night. Theformer Mississippi State University quarterback and coach was thefeatured speaker at the MSU Lincoln County Alumni Chapter meetingat the Brookhaven Country Club.

Felker’s exploits on the gridiron are legendary. Twenty-nineyears ago he was directing the Bulldogs to a thrilling 26-24victory over North Carolina in the Sun Bowl as clouds of fogsteamed off the artificial turf in El Paso, Texas.

It’s now the late summer of 2003. Felker is the Coordinator ofFootball Operations at MSU. After coaching stints at Texas Tech,Memphis, Alabama, MSU, Tulsa and Arkansas, Felker is back inStarkville. He was head head coach at MSU from 1986-90 before thehoneymoon ended with a 21-34 worksheet.

“I was disappointed when I left State,” Felker admitted.”Coaching is a tough profession. I’ve been let go three times in 24years and it humbles you.”

MSU alumnus Jimmy Moreton asked Felker to retell that storied,98-yard drive for the winning touchdown against Memphis State.Felker almost blushed as he relived the moment of some 30 yearsago.

Talking about his present job, Felker said, “I do a little ofeverything. I coordinate recruiting. I tell the coaches where to goto games, who to see and what players to watch.”

Felker requested input from the alumni on high school and juniorcollege prospects. “You know what a good player looks like. Let usknow. Our coaches can only watch one game a season,” according toNCAA rules.

Mississippi is recognized across the nation for producingtremendous high school players. National powers like Miami,Oklahoma, Florida State, Notre Dame and Southern Cal often cruisethe country roads in search of talent. Throw in the SEC schools andyou realize how keen the competition is for Magnolia Stateplayers.

Felker said he made 25 alumni meetings in his first year back atMSU. This was his first one in Brookhaven.

The MSU Bulldogs are coming off back-to-back losing seasons andsome alumni are calling for Coach Jackie Sherrill’s dismissal. Thisis considered a make or break season for Sherrill. In fact,Sherrill unloaded five assistant coaches after last season’s 3-9record. The Bulldogs were 3-8 in 2001.

“The last two years have not been good,” Felker admitted. “Theywere very disappointing.”

According to Felker, Sherrill and his staff have instilled a newattitude in the players. “When the new coaches got here, all theyheard was about the lack of discipline on the team. They took careof that problem.

“The way the players act and what they say in practice hasreally changed,” said Felker. “They know what not to say.”

Felker said the Bulldogs would be much improved. They face anawesome opener when the Oregon Beavers invade Starkville Aug. 30.Hopefully, the field temperature for the 8 p.m. kickoff will be 110degrees.

Naturally, Ducks prefer cold weather.

Asked about the Bulldogs’ strengths and weaknesses, Felker saidthe defensive line should be exceptional. “We are two deep andCoach (John) Blake plans to rotate them in and out.”

Odell Bradley, a Copiah-Lincoln Community College alumnus, isexpected to be a force at cornerback for the Bulldogs. KamauJackson, another former Co-Lin star who recently was grantedanother year of eligibility, should give the defense a boost attackle. While at Co-Lin, Jackson played a whole season atlinebacker with a torn ACL.

At linebacker, MSU’s Marvin Byrdsong has the potential to beAll-SEC.

The offensive line is a big question mark. Only one seniorstarter returns. Several players could be rotated from one positionto another, depending on injuries.

Quarterback should be strong with the return of Kevin Fant andKyle York. Fant is the superior athlete but York has tons ofcharacter.

Felker recalled MSU’s 29-17 victory over Memphis last season.There were five game balls presented in the Bulldogs’ dressing roomas the team loudly celebrated the triumph. York was presented withthe first game ball of his career.

Recalling the joyful scene, Felker remembered what York said toSherrill. “Coach, I don’t deserve this game ball. It should go to(receiver) Darius Tubbs. He caught that pass over the middle whenwe needed it. Darius knew he was going to get hammered and probablybreak a rib or get knocked cold but he hung onto my pass.”

York smiled and flipped the ball to Darius.

“The dressing room went crazy,” said Felker, emotion filling hisvoice. “I’m 50 years old and I cried.

“That’s the kind of player Kyle York is.”

Obviously, college football needs more players like York andmore coaches like Felker.