Bites from the Bay: The Latest From Tampa

TAMPA, Fla. – On Monday, Jan. 2, No. 22 Mississippi State closes its football season with the ReliaQuest Bowl against Illinois. However, a lot is happening before the Bulldogs and Fighting Illini kick things off.

Keep it here over the next few days for all the latest updates from Tampa. Updates are posted in reverse chronological order, so the most recent information can be found first.

Enter The Bulldogs in the home of the Bucs

There is so much going on under the hood in the world of college athletics. The players and coaches are front and center, for good reason. But behind them all sits a staff of totally committed people doing everything they can to ensure that the machine runs as smoothly as possible.

It’s no different at Mississippi State. Just ask associate athletic director for football operations David Wilczewski, a man who often leads the charge for the Bulldogs when it comes to planning all the Maroon and White details.

“We have an absolutely fantastic support staff in place here,” Wilczewski said. “If you were to ask me what my favorite part of working for this program is, this would have to be it.”

For the last few days, a number of Bulldogs have been brilliant behind the scenes, ensuring that the State’s players had the absolute best when it comes to nutrition, preparation, treatment, equipment and any other possible needs in Tampa. On Sunday, and early Monday, a new challenge awaits many of the MSU employees – for the Bulldogs to enter Raymond James Stadium, the home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Bucs are scheduled to step inside their facility against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday afternoon with kickoff set less than 24 hours before the ReliaQuest Bowl. That obviously doesn’t leave much turnaround time for the Bucs and Panthers to get out and MSU and Illinois to get in.

So how will it happen? Wilczewski explains:

“First, we will have [what we consider to be] our normal Friday walk [on Sunday]… We will have the high school one that we have been practicing at (Jesuit High School) and then we” I will return [to the team hotel] for our meetings. Now, that should be about the time the Bucs game will be ending. [Director of football equipment] David Case and his staff and [head athletic trainer] Thomas Callans and his staff, will have everything ready to go [on the stadium]. We still don’t have one thing at Raymond James Stadium because of the Bucs game. Therefore, the [Panthers] will come out of the locker room. as soon as they get their equipment out, that locker room will be cleaned and about two hours later, David Case and his staff and Thomas and his staff will be able to come in. stadium maybe at 8:00 [Sunday] night and they will be going straight until about midnight. They will be back [at the hotel] about 12:30 a.m. and be immediately back at the door at 6 a.m. to go prepare for the game. So, it’s a big strain on them, but they are professionals. They are rockstars. They’ll do it for us.”

Being set up in the stadium removes one obstacle. A few days ago, both MSU and Illinois had to clear another.

The Bucs logos in the end zones and midfield will be replaced after Sunday’s game to prepare for Monday’s bowl game. Well, the planning process for all that provided another example of the many moving parts that must be taken care of before a big college football game.

“We’re playing Illinois and we’re both fighting and striving to become ReliaQuest Bowl champions, but there are certain things in a situation like this that you have to collaborate on and you have to work with Illinois. So, we were in the pregame meeting [on Friday] and the representative from Raymond James Stadium said, “Hey, we’re mirroring the sod in the endzone. We’re rocking the midfield logo. We are putting on new paint. We “We’re laying new sod. So, nobody can be on the field. No warm-up before 10:22 in the morning [on Monday.]”

So, Mark Taurisani, who is my counterpart from Illinois, is sitting probably three tables away from me and we both turn to each other and make eye contact. He is shaking his head. I am shaking my head. I point to my phone, and start texting him. He starts texting me back. We are on a united front right here. We are saying that we want to be able to enter the field for the warm-ups at 9:55. And the bowl was great about it. They understood once we brought the concern to them of, ‘Hey, we have a group of guys who need to get ready and be able to play a game. When we have to be off the field 41 minutes before the game, allowing us about an hour and a minute to warm up just isn’t enough. Therefore, they could work with us. We were able to get this by 9:55. But we have to be very careful with the end zone and midfield logos in case they are still wet. Their staff will be monitoring this throughout the morning. But there’s a good anecdote about how two teams are trying to win games and be competitive, but at the same time, behind the scenes, you have people who are bringing a united front to come up with a solution to a problem.”

It really does take a village to bring a game like Monday’s to life.

For more behind-the-scenes information from Wilczewski, check out his interview with MSU senior writer Joel Coleman and assistant communications director Logan Lowery on the latest Dear Ol’ State podcast.

Click HERE to listen, or check it out on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Jersey Exchange

Mississippi State wide receiver Rufus Harvey is listed at 165 pounds on MSU’s official roster. Meanwhile Bulldog offensive lineman Percy Lewis checks in at 335.

Do the quick math on that and you’ll quickly see that it pretty much takes two Harveys to make one Lewis, but that didn’t stop the two Dawgs from having fun at football practice on Saturday as the two jerseys swapped for the day. . Harvey showed off Lewis’ oversized No. 75, while Lewis squeezed into Harvey’s No. 82.

“Yeah, it’s a great shirt,” Harvey said with a smile after practice, looking down at the oversized jerseys he was wearing. “We’re trying to find another way to have fun.”

Harvey and Lewis were not alone. In fact, more Bulldogs than not found a partner to switch jerseys during what was essentially the team’s last practice of the season – not counting a walkthrough scheduled Sunday afternoon before Monday’s ReliaQuest Bowl.

Linebacker Jett Johnson traded in his usual No. 44 for cornerback Emmanuel Forbes’ No. 13. Quarterback Will Rogers had No. 69 on offensive lineman Quatrivous Johnson. Wide receiver Caleb Ducking took over Rogers’ green No. 2 practice uni, and defensive end Jalen Green donned defensive lineman Cameron Young’s No. 93 among some of the other exchanges.

“I told Cam I was going to play defensive end, so he said I had to live up to the hype that was going on,” Green joked. “I told him I would make it happen.”

Jersey swap day has become somewhat of an MSU tradition over recent years of bowl practices. So, consider that the tradition has continued.

Don’t worry though. All Dawgs will find their right sizes by Monday’s game.

“Yeah, it’s pretty heavy,” said a laughing Harvey as he continued to assess Lewis’ shirt. “He had me a few miles an hour slower.”

Dear Ol’ State Podcast: One Last Practice In Tampa

On the Dear Ol’ State podcast, MSU senior writer Joel Coleman and assistant director of communications Logan Lowery give you a sneak peek at what was almost State’s final practice of the season, then bring you interviews exclusive with Jalen Green, Rufus Harvey and ex. Mississippi State intern writer Bob Carskadon.

Click HERE to listen, or watch the show on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

A Quick Look at the ReliaQuest State Bowl Practice Site

A Quick Look at the ReliaQuest State Bowl Practice Site

It is possible that a bunch of Tigers could have become Bulldogs this week.

That’s because Mississippi State is holding its practices for the upcoming ReliaQuest Bowl at Alumni Field at Corral Memorial Stadium – home of the Jesuit High School Tigers. The facility is conveniently located just over six miles from MSU’s team hotel, the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay.

Corral Memorial Stadium features a state-of-the-art synthetic playing field that was resurfaced in 2015. The field is used by Jesuit’s football, soccer and lacrosse programs.

The north side of the venue is overlooked by the Al Lopez Sports Complex, which contains locker rooms, showers, offices of the Jesuit High athletic department and various other facilities and amenities.

The Bulldogs are also utilizing a practice field near Corral Memorial Stadium, located directly behind the bleachers on the east side.

According to Jesuit High’s website, the school claims to be home to the area’s premier athletic facilities, providing student-athletes with top-of-the-line venues, top-of-the-line training equipment, updated locker and shower facilities and an aesthetically stimulating athletic environment.

Well, as of Wednesday, the grounds have certainly been energizing the Bulldogs as seemingly every practice, the focus and intensity has increased as ReliaQuest Bowl gameday draws closer and closer.

Among several Bulldogs who will play for the last time in Maroon and White on Monday will be center LaQuinston Sharp. You better believe he plans to make the most of it in the ReliaQuest Bowl.

“It’s definitely sunk in [that it’s my last game at MSU],” Sharp said Friday after practice. “Sometimes, it gets emotional [that] he played all these years here and I enjoy it. Man friends, I’m going to miss those boys, but I’m going to enjoy the last ride with them.”

Sharp had a stellar Bulldog career on and off the field. He already received a college degree, then with the pads on, he accumulated an award after the award.

This season alone, Sharp has won either Southeastern Conference Offensive Lineman of the Week or SEC Co-Offensive Lineman of the Week three times. He also did it once last year, en route to being selected as an honorable mention All-SEC player by Pro Football Focus.

That’s in the past though. Right now, all Sharp is concerned with is the present and putting a bow on his career with a good game against a tough opponent.

“[Illinois is] very good up front,” Sharp said. “They turned a lot. They have a good defense. We just have to play.”

However, no matter how things end, nothing can erase what MSU meant to Sharp.

“Honestly, it’s been a real blessing,” Sharp said. “I’ve had trials and errors, injuries and things like that. It’s just a blessing to be able to play here.

“As a Mississippi State Bulldog, this experience has been great. It’s family oriented. I’m big on family. I love the atmosphere here. When I first got here, they treated me like home. This is d -home. It’s a great atmosphere that I love to be in.”

Of course no matter where Sharp goes, he will forever be a part of the Bulldog family. No future destination can ever change that.

But where will that next stop be? Time will tell. After the ReliaQuest Bowl, Sharp will play another collegiate game on January 14th in the Hula Bowl.

This gives Sharp a chance to impress scouts as he looks for a professional football future.

“I can show them what I have,” Sharp said.

And as Bulldog fans all know, Sharp has a lot to give.

Shout out to Jalen Green

Shout out to Jalen Green

He’ll play in one more game as a Bulldog, but now State defensive end Jalen Green has another contest on his schedule for later in January.

The NFLPA Collegiate Bowl announced via its Twitter account on Friday night that Green will take part. The game is scheduled for January 28 and will be televised by NFL Network.

Green has put together back-to-back strong seasons for Mississippi State since arriving in Starkville after three years at Texas. Green collected 88 tackles including 4.5 tackles for loss during his two years as a Bulldog. He also picked up four interceptions, deflected 14 passes and had a pair of fumble recoveries for the Maroon and White.

And now, after the ReliaQuest Bowl, Green is showing off his skills alongside other NFL Draft-eligible players.

After Mississippi State closed practice early Friday afternoon, the Bulldogs headed to Clearwater Beach to enjoy a few hours among fans, bands, cheerleaders and more.

But the most impressive thing on the beach was probably not the incredible athletes roaming around. Instead, it was a ReliaQuest Bowl-themed sandcastle. For those who are already in or headed down to Tampa for the bowl game, can you top this?

#HailState in Clearwater Beach

Take a look at what else the Dawgs have been up to on the beach:


Dear Ol’ State Podcast: Tampa Talk With Sharp, Charlton And Arnett

Hear as MSU senior writer Joel Coleman and assistant communications director Logan Lowery bring you the latest from Tampa, including exclusive interviews with LaQuinston Sharp and Randy Charlton. The guys also bring you comments from head coach Zach Arnett.

Click HERE to listen to the show, or check it out on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Coping With Egg Bowl Heroes

As Mississippi State defensive lineman Randy Charlton walked off the practice field on Friday, it had been more than a month since he had cemented himself on MSU’s highlight reels for years. coming Remember, it was Charlton’s right hand that deflected a football, denied a late Ole Miss two-point conversion and essentially wrapped the Egg Bowl in Maroon and White back on Thanksgiving.

Charlton has his sights set on making more plays for the Bulldogs in Monday’s ReliaQuest Bowl, but he said Friday he’s still enjoying the win at Oxford that ended State’s 8-4 regular season.

“It was great walking into our facility and seeing the Egg Bowl trophy sitting there pretty much where it belongs,” Charlton said. “I still got people tweeting at me and showing me videos of the [game-winning] moment. It felt great to do something good for our team.”

Now, if Charlton wanted, he could have let his Egg Bowl heroics be his final act as a Bulldog. The fifth-year veteran in the trenches has his sights set on the NFL after all.

However Charlton, like many of his other teammates with pro aspirations, made the call to join the Dawgs one more time. And why?

“Why not?” said Charlton. “I believe that if you start something, you should finish it.”

Charlton continued by noting that he is also committed to playing so that he can honor a certain Pirate who opened a door for Charlton to continue his career in football. Charlton spent his first three seasons at UCF before transferring to MSU.

“The legend, Mike Leach, gave me a second chance to come here and play football again,” said Charlton. “I will never forget this. Just to be able to be here and finish something that started with me, and I started with him, is just great.”

It’s safe to say that Leach would be proud of how Charlton are attacking things ahead of Monday’s game. Like all the Bulldogs, Charlton has been enjoying the bowl experience. However, he is starting to shift his focus to Monday.

“You have to be a grown man about your business and manage what you have in front of you,” Charlton said.

Well, Charlton has already shown that he knows how to handle business when it counts. Maybe he can do it again in the ReliaQuest Bowl and help the Bulldogs bring another trophy back to Starkville.

I Make It Possible

Before Thursday comes to a close, how about a special shoutout to Mississippi State defensive lineman Cameron Young?

Young was selected as MSU’s recipient of the ReliaQuest Bowl’s Make It Possible Award. The honor was given based on Young’s leadership qualities and play on the field.

Anyone who has watched Bulldog football in recent years can attest that Young’s accolade was well-deserved. Young has paced the State defensive line in tackles in each of the last two seasons.

It was only a few weeks ago when MSU defensive line coach Jeff Phelps was asked about Young’s presence along the Bulldog front. Phelps’ words almost led to an award like the one Young got in his hands on Thursday.

“He’s such a constant presence,” Phelps said of Young. “He’s like the glue that holds everything together. I joke and say he’s the senior of the program. He comes to work every day. He’s tough as nails. He loves the game of football. He loves Mississippi State. He loves. to be around his friends. Everything you want in a young man, he has.”

Congratulations again to Cam, who will suit up in the Maroon and White one last time on Monday when MSU faces Illinois in the ReliaQuest Bowl.

Dear Ol’ State Podcast: Picking Up The Pace

Senior writer Joel Coleman and assistant communications director Logan Lowery were at MSU’s practice in Tampa on Thursday and bring you their thoughts on what appeared to be a group of Bulldogs starting to flip a switch for the way of business. Plus, the guys bring you commentary from Nathan Pickering, Will Rogers and Jett Johnson.

Click HERE to listen to the show, or check it out on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Bulldogs At Busch Gardens

Bulldogs At Busch Gardens

With practice done, it’s time for fun.

On Thursday afternoon, Mississippi State took a team trek to Tampa’s Busch Gardens to explore, ride the rides and live it up. Take a look at a few scenes:


Thanks for having us, @BuschGardens! #HailState🏴‍☠️ x #FootballinParadise

Thanks for having us, @BuschGardens! #HailState🏴‍☠️ x #FootballinParadise

Zach Arnett’s elevation to Mississippi State head coach obviously came under the most tragic of circumstances. And while Arnett’s resume and experience speak for themselves as to why he was selected as the Bulldogs’ new best Dawg, listen to some of his players talk about him and you’ll get an even clearer picture of why Arnett is the the right man at the right time for the State.

Linebacker Jett Johnson is a man who has seen his career take off since Arnett’s arrival in Starkville back in 2020. After practice Thursday, Johnson was asked his opinion on how Arnett transitioned from Johnson’s defensive coordinator to Johnson’s head coach. Well, praise for Arnett soon flowed easily from Johnson’s mouth.

“Me, personally, and all the guys were happy for Coach Arnett,” Johnson said. “We think he deserves a lot. He’s worked his tail off since he’s been here. He’s probably had many opportunities to go somewhere else, but he’s stuck with us and now he’s reaping the benefits of it. We’re very happy to have him. He a great coach. He knows when to jump on you, but also off the field, he’s very personal and wants to have a relationship with you.”

While it was a surprise to see it happen right here, right now, the way it happened, what was not a surprise to Johnson and others was that Arnett would one day be running his own show.

“You could tell pretty early on by the way he carried himself and the way he went about his business,” Johnson explained. “You could tell early on that he was going to be a head coach sooner rather than later.”

Johnson added: “Since [Arnett] has been here, all the offensive guys have loved him and obviously everyone on the defense has loved him too. We’re very excited for him. We all think he deserves the opportunity. We all want to play hard. It’s hard for him and it’s just us ecstatic for him.”

Oh, not to mention, Johnson also potentially sees another benefit to the Arnett era now that Arnett has a little more responsibility on his plate.

“Maybe I’ll do a little less butt-chewing than before,” Johnson joked.

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