Bowl Bites Final Practice and Team Dinner

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From left: Senior All-American Gabe Jackson, head coach Dan Mullen, director of athletics Scott Stricklin and president Dr. Mark Keenum.
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. – As the 2013 AutoZone Liberty Bowl inches closer, the Mississippi State football team enjoyed its final full day of bowl activities on Sunday.

The Bulldogs spent the morning in meetings before conducting their final practice at Rhodes College and attending the Player/Coaches Dinner. Much like Saturday’s offensive press conference, the defense took to the media platform between the workout and dinner.

Afternoon Practice ...
With the game plan fully in place for Rice, MSU fine tuned elements during Sunday’s spirited practice. The team worked out in helmets from approximately 1:15-3:15 p.m.  The session was the team’s final full practice of the 2013 campaign.

The squad split into positional groups at the beginning of the session and focused on individual skills. MSU spent a large portion of the middle of practice on kickoff and punt returns. The Bulldogs also spent much of the workout going against the scout teams one more time.

At the end of practice, senior James Baldwin talked with the squad about how the Bulldogs came to Memphis to win a football game and how much that victory would mean to all the seniors.

Defensive Press Conference ...
As the offense took center stage Saturday, it was the defense’s turn to meet with the media Sunday. After practice, defensive coordinator Geoff Collins, senior defensive end Denico Autry, sophomore defensive back Taveze Calhoun, sophomore defensive back Kendrick Market and sophomore linebacker Benardrick McKinney headed to the Embassy Suites for the second press conference of AutoZone Liberty Bowl week.

Collins spoke about the quality of Rice and how they have good players all over the field. Collins, who spent time at UCF, knows the importance of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl to all Conference USA teams. Collins praised McKinney for his ability to make those around him better and said Calhoun’s last three games were as fine as anybody in the SEC had all year. Collins wrapped up his time on the podium talking about how much he enjoyed his first year as the defensive coordinator and how much fun his group is to be around. They play with passion and heart, two of his favorite components.

The four student-athletes all conducted break-out interviews with the media members in attendance.

Player/Coaches Dinner ...
In the biggest dress-up event of the week, all the players, coaches and staff members with Mississippi State traveled to the Hilton for the official dinner of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

Everybody was treated to a chicken, mashed potato and green bean dinner with cheesecake and carrot cake for dessert. After opening remarks from Steve Ehrhart, Executive Director of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Kellye Cash sang the national anthem. Not only was Cash the 1987 Miss America winner, but also the niece of Johnny Cash.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, Memphis Mayor AC Wharton and CEO ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital all spoke at the event. After seeing the highlight videos of Rice and Mississippi State, AutoZone vice president Ray Pohlman addressed the crowd. Rice’s president, director of athletics, head coach and student athlete spoke to the gathering before Dr. Mark Keenum, Scott Stricklin, Dan Mullen and Gabe Jackson had their turn.

Wrapping up the event, former Mississippi State athletic director Larry Templeton introduced the All-SEC Bulldogs to the group. Templeton, a 1969 MSU graduate, served as AD from 1987-2008. He also handed out the MSU scholar-athlete of the year award to sophomore quarterback Dak Prescott.

Finally, the Spirit of 1776 Award was handed to George Bryan. The yearly recognition is presented to somebody who exhibits character, patriotism and service to the community. Bryan, a 1967 Mississippi State graduate, was the president of Bryan foods until 1983 and the Sara Lee senior vice president from 1983-2001. He was the 2000 Mississippi State alumnus of the year after bringing the U.S. Women’s Open to the Old Waverly Golf Club. Bryan was also named the Clarion-Ledger 1999 Sports Person of the Year.

Looking Ahead ...
In the final day of preparation prior to Tuesday’s kickoff (3 p.m. CT on ESPN), the Bulldogs will take a trip to the National Civil Rights Museum in the morning and conduct their final pregame meetings before heading to Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium for a walkthrough in the late afternoon. Head coach Dan Mullen will also have his final press conference prior to the game in the early afternoon.


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