Royalty with Hazlehurst roots, Bully XXI set to retire

Published 2:55 pm Wednesday, March 22, 2023

HAZLEHURST — Mississippi State University announced the 2023 edition of Super Bulldog Weekend at Mississippi State University will be highlighted by Dak running onto the field at Davis Wade Stadium for a halftime ceremony in his honor as Jak retires. Dak is an English Bulldog replacing Bully XXI, known as Jak, as live mascot for MSU athletics.

“Jak” has been the face of Bulldog athletics for the past eight years and has Copiah County roots. He was raised in Hazlehurst by Tammy Nelson for the first months of his life before being sent to Mississippi State where mascot handler Lisa Pritchard trained him. Jak was born to Nelson’s bulldog Pippa and Champ in 2014.

“They normally retire the bulldogs by the time they get to eight. Jak visited here this weekend. He comes to visit regularly and I’ll go up there and visit him,” Nelson said. “We are all sad to see him retire but we know he needs to live a dog’s life. When he comes to see us, he is a regular dog and gets to play in the yard with the other four bulldogs. He gets to sleep and be a normal bulldog.”

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His handler Pritchard has trained bulldogs for the last 25 years or so. Nelson said she is astounded by what Pritchard can do with the dogs. She was also blown away by the amount of work mascots have to do. Jak could have his picture taken with 300 to 400 fans each night, Nelson said.

Jak’s mother Pippa and his brother Fitz and sister Lizzie still live with Nelson as does Jak’s “wife” Willa-Rose.

The English Bulldog has been the live mascot of MSU since 1935, when “Ptolemy” or “Tol” first captured the hearts of State fans after Head Football Coach Major Ralph Sasse acquired “Tol” from a Memphis family. “Dak” Bully XXII comes from a line of royal blood including “Tonka” Bully XIX and “Champ” Bully XX.

“Dak,” born March 1, 2021, and owned by Julie and Bruce Martin of Meridian, succeeds “Jak” (Bully XXI) and will officially assume his duties at halftime of the Spring Game with an on-field “passing of the harness” and blessing ceremony. “Jak” will serve as mascot in the first half and then after the halftime ceremony, “Dak” will serve as mascot from that point forward.

Nelson said she might be biased but she believes Jak is the best mascot MSU has ever had.

“To see it in action. To watch him walk in the stadium or arena and he just commands attention,” she said. “All of the people are here for me and they all need to pet me. It is so amazing to me. Jak loves people. There will never be another like him.”

“Jak” will return to the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine after the ceremony where he will live a lavish life with Pritchard. Nelson said the Bulldog is still in good health and continues to run around the yard and play. He might be able to live another three to five years. Jak’s mom Pippa is 10 years old and in perfect health thanks to Brookhaven Animal Hospital veterinarian Bob Watson.

Watson has delivered puppies from Jak’s sister and is Nelson’s bulldog go to. She said Jak will still come visit his Hazlehurst family.

In 2021, representatives of Mississippi State University began their search for the successor of “Jak.” Soon after the search ensued, it became clear that “Dak” is the essence of MSU. He was the smallest of his litter, but Dak’s determination and perseverance despite the odds led to his selection as the future live mascot of Mississippi State.