Big maroon bus visits Brookhaven

Published 6:34 pm Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The large, silver and maroon bus resembled a seagoing ship as itdocked outside Poppa’s Restaurant at noon Monday. Obviously, thiswas the famous BankcorpSouth Road Dawgs Tour. It was the first stopon the Tour and anticipation was high as over 150 Mississippi StateUniversity faithful crowded into the restaurant’s South diningarea.

Eager joy filled the atmosphere as the long, awaited day finallyarrived. Men smiled and girls giggled. It resembled Christmas Dayin 90-degree heat. Unloading from Santa’s giant bus were MSUdignitaries, led by athletic director Scott Stricklin and headfootball coach Dan Mullen.

They brought along a large sack of goodies, including the EggBowl and Gator Bowl trophies, plus stacks of MSU memorabilia tomake everyone happy. Included was a pictorial display of theproposed athletic center.

“We have a record enrollment and record ticket sales for ourfootball team,” said Stricklin. Relishing MSU’s impressive 52-14triumph over Michigan in the Gator Bowl, Stricklin proclaimed,”Michigan has more money than God in their athletic program but ourMississippi State team beat them soundly.”

Stricklin’s comments were short and to the point. The reigningKing of Mississippi football was waiting in the wings. “Help mewelcome your football coach.”

Mullen’s introduction was greeted with a standing ovation andthe loud ringing of cowbells. It felt like a game day inStarkville.

Fresh from a 9-4 record and a second straight win over archrivalOle Miss, a.k.a. the school up north, Mullen is riding a tidal waveof success. Recruiting is great and ticket sales are up.

According to Mullen, this is no time for self satisfaction. “Wecannot slow down one bit. We are still chasing an SEC championshipand a National Championship. We have not arrived yet.

“When we win a third National Championship, we can pause and patourselves on the back.”

With eyes riveted on their fearless leader, Mullen asked thecrowd, “How do we take the next step?”

He turned to the hard-work ethic for an answer. “I believe thatyou can achieve anything in this world with hard work.”

Mullen asked how many of those in attendance were at the GatorBowl. Several hands were raised.

“Do you remember that good feeling you had when you walked outof that stadium?

“We want to walk out of the Georgia Dome in December with thatsame sense of pride in our team.”

In other words, the Dawgs would be SEC champions and headed fora probable National Championship game.

For sure, Mullen has set high goals for his team. He doesn’twant them to be satisfied. He isn’t.

State boasts one of the best returning SEC quarterbacks in ChrisRelf, a powerful, 6-foo-4, 240-pound miniature version of Auburn’sCam Newton. Relf has made great strides as a quarterback and aleader.

“Chris has improved his passing accuracy and he has become aleader for us,” said Mullen. “He wants to be a leader.”

Mullen was offensive coordinator at National Champion Floridabefore coming to MSU. He coached All-American and Heisman Trophyquarterback Tim Tebow, now with the Denver Broncos.

How to Tebow and Relf compare?

“They are different,” said Mullen. “They’re both physicalspecimens. Tim is probably more powerful as a runner and Chris ismore athletic. Tim throws it better but Chris is getting better,too.”

Matthew Wells (6-0, 190), a redshirt freshman from LawrenceCounty, is the closest local connection to the team this season. Hehas been playing strong safety and linebacker for the Bulldogs.

“Matthew has been doing a great job for us and he’s veryathletic,” said Mullen. “He is playing outside linebacker for usand has a ton of ability. I expect him to see a lot of playing timethis fall.”

There’s no hint of fall in the air right now but footballremains a popular item wherever you travel in Mississippi. Mullenshared his feelings with folks on the Gulf Coast Monday night inBiloxi before busing to Lucedale for a morning breakfast in GeorgeCounty. It was on to Ellisville for a noon meeting and then a 6p.m. meeting in Meridian. The final two days, May 12-13, featureout-of-state appearances in Memphis, Nashville and Atlanta.

Making 12 events in five days will light the football fires ofenthusiasm even if the air conditioning thermostats have to belowered for the next four months prior to the 2011 campaign thatkicks off Sept. 1, at Memphis.

The Bulldogs are at Auburn for their first SEC West encounter onSept. 10, and will host LSU for a Thursday night special Sept. 15.Nine days later, Sept. 24, Louisiana Tech invades Starkville.

October playing dates are 1, at Georgia; 8, at UAB; 15, SouthCarolina; 29, at Kentucky.

November features UT-Martin for homecoming on the 5th, Alabamaon the 12th; at Arkansas on the 19th and Ole Miss on the 26.

Write to sports editor Tom Goetz, c/o The DAILY LEADER, P.O.BOX 551, Brookhaven, MS 39602 or e-mailsports@dailyleader.com