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MSU's final home practice dedicated to seniors

MSU will hold its first TaxSlayer Bowl practice on site at the University of North Florida on Dec. 26.

Posted: Dec. 19, 2017 2:41 PM

STARKVILLE, Miss. (WTVA/MSU Athletics) – Years of dedication on the familiar practice fields at the Leo Seal Jr. Football Complex came to a close on Wednesday for the 2017 Mississippi State football senior class, who went through its final home practice in preparation for the TaxSlayer Bowl on Dec. 30 in Jacksonville.


The 23rd-ranked Bulldogs spent the past week gearing up for their school-record eighth straight bowl appearance. They will regroup next week when the squad heads to Jacksonville on Christmas Day. MSU will hold its first TaxSlayer Bowl practice on site at the University of North Florida on Dec. 26. The Bulldogs take on Louisville at Noon ET/11 a.m. CT on Dec. 30 in EverBank Field live on ESPN.

“Today was a senior day,” interim head coach Greg Knox said. “I love those guys. They gave so much to this program ever since they stepped foot on this campus – some of them two years, some of them four, some five, some six. They took control and led everybody through practice, and we had a great send-off for them.”

At the end of the practice, each senior makes a speech in front of the team about what their careers meant and what ensues is laughter and tears for many. The 2017 senior class has been responsible for 33 victories, one shy of the MSU record of 34 set by the 2015 and 1942 squads. They have been to a bowl game every year of their careers.

“It’s an emotional deal,” Knox said. “Some of them shed some tears. But they love this program, and they’ve given a lot to it. I love them for what they’ve done for this program. This program today is where it’s at because of those guys.”

Knox has taken the reins of the head coaching duties in bowl preparation. State will practice three times in Jacksonville and hold a walk through leading up to the contest in what will be the Bulldogs’ third TaxSlayer Bowl appearance since 2011.

True freshman quarterback Keytaon Thompson will make his first career start, spelling an injured Nick Fitzgerald, who had surgery on his ankle last month. The New Orleans native has accounted for five touchdowns this season.

“It’s a different role for him, but he’s done well,” Knox said. “The one thing about it is, he’s getting a lot of reps, so he’s getting a lot of practice at it. He’s handled it well. I thought today he really stepped up.”

Below are quotes from Knox’ media session:

INTERIM HEAD COACH GREG KNOX

On the last day of bowl practice in Starkville…

“Today was a senior day. The seniors kind of took over and led everything and did a tremendous job. I love those guys; they gave so much to this program ever since they stepped foot on this campus – some of them two years, some of them four, some five, some six. They’ve given so much to this program, so we let it be their day. They took control and led everybody through practice, and we had a great send-off for them.”

On seeing the upperclassmen take charge in a period of coaching turnover…

“It is a good thing. Our seniors have done so much for this program, and they took over today and just led practice. Again, they brought everybody along with them, the young guys included.”

On if the team would be ready to play if the bowl game was tomorrow…

“The plan is in. I feel like we’re ready to execute it. It’s just a matter of getting down to the bowl site. We’re going to take a couple days off here, get down to the bowl site and refresh ourselves on it. Then we’ll go play a big-time ball game.”

On the challenges of navigating the coaching changes…

“It’s been a challenging deal, because you’re managing the mentality of the team because they know they’re going to be under new staff. So you’re managing their personalities. It’s been challenging. It’s been a tough deal. But again, we’re family. Once you have a foundation, they understand what we expect – whether it’s Coach (Dan) Mullen standing in front of them, me, Coach (Joe) Moorhead – it doesn’t matter. They understand what we expect, and we expect them to work hard. They’ve done a great job of it.”

On the challenges of filling in the players with what’s going on with coaching changes…

“They know what’s going on. Social media. Things have changed. With social media, they keep up with everything. They know stuff before I know it. They know what’s going on. The tough part is understanding, especially for the young kids, guys like Kylin Hill or Willie Gay, that just entered the program. Guys like that, it’s difficult for them to understand everything, but I thought they came out and have done well in practice. It’s just managing attitudes and everything with the personalities of everyone.”

On how freshman running back Kylin Hill has separated himself…

“He’s worked. He’s gotten smarter. He’s going to be a good player down the road, because he’s got so much to learn. I tell my guys all the time, ‘You want to become a great player? Become a smart player. The smarter player you are, the better player you’ll be.’ When you get to this level, it’s not so much about talent and skill. It’s about the mentality of it. If you understand the game mentally, you’re going to beat your opponent. But you’ve got to become a smart player. And he’s done that. He’s gotten smarter every week. It’s knowledge of the playbook, and the in-game situations come when he’s actually in there. That’s on-the-job training. But the knowledge of the playbook, the knowledge of defenses and understanding what to expect before the ball is ever snapped – when you do that part, then you’re playing ahead of the game. That’s what he’s getting better at.”

On the development of freshman receiver Osirus Mitchell…

“He’s grown. I watched him this year grow up. As we got past midseason, he began to play a little bit more. He began to make plays. He became confident. In anything you’re doing, confidence matters. He became a confident player, and in being a confident player, he became a productive player.”

On what injured Bulldogs Dez Harris and Keith Mixon have been able to do in practice as of late…

“They’ve done a little bit. We kept them out. Again, we want to wait until we get to the bowl site to see where they are. They’ve done just enough that we can say, okay, that’s enough, let’s put them on the burner. We’ll get down to Jacksonville and see how they work down there. They’ve done more drills with the trainers than with their position coaches.”

On today’s celebratory “Senior Tackle” …

“It’s a special moment when we allow the seniors to stand up. They basically address their teammates and tell everybody how thankful they are and how much they appreciate each other and being a part of the group. It’s an emotional deal. Some of them shed some tears. But they love this program, and they’ve given a lot to it. I love them for what they’ve done for this program. This program today is where it’s at because of those guys.”

On his encounters with head coach Joe Moorhead…

“I ran into him in the copy room one day. He was in there straightening out the drawer with the pencils and pens in it. We’ve had a chance to talk just a little bit, but not much. He’s been recruiting and gone, and I’ve been trying to manage this team. We’ll talk a little bit before I leave, I’m sure. We’ll sit down and talk a little bit about things.”

On Moorhead at practice …

“He’s come out, he’s watched practice and he had a chance to see the guys after. He’s visited with some guys, because some of the guys are hosting recruits. They come in on weekends. So he’s had a chance to visit with some guys, talk to some players. Like I said, he’s enjoyed just coming in and watching practice, getting away from everything and just being out there on the field. It’s been good to have him out there and having him around, him and his staff, watching us practice. He’s probably seen four. [His assistants] have been out there watching.”

On how freshman quarterback Keytaon Thompson has embraced the starting role…

“It’s a different role for him, isn’t it? But he’s done well. The one thing about it is, he’s getting a lot of reps, so he’s getting a lot of practice at it. That’s good. He’s handled it well. I thought today he really stepped up. We had some music playing that made it loud, so he had to really have great communication with everyone and speak up. I thought he did a great job of that today. I think he’s getting himself there. Is he ready yet? No, not yet, but that’s why we’ve got the practice at the bowl site, to polish some things up and have him ready to go.”

On which of the redshirts has stood out during bowl preparation…

“Chauncey [Rivers]. Chauncey has done a good job. He’s been consistent all year with Aaron Odom and those guys. I’m thinking of just the guys who have been on the scout defense; Tyler Williams and those guys have done a great job. They’re going to be special players. It’s a special group that’s coming back next year, a very talented group.”

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