Bulldogs begin football practice on Tuesday

MSU's Dan Mullen
Staff Writer

The wait is over. Football is back.
About a week earlier than years of the past, Mississippi State returns to the practice fields Tuesday to begin preparations for the 2017 football season. It will be the first of 29 practices for the Bulldogs this preseason.
MSU head coach Dan Mullen knows a long journey is about to start and he hopes his ninth year at the helm culminates with similar success to what he has experienced in his eight previous seasons in Starkville.
“We’re looking this year hopefully to make it to our eighth consecutive bowl game, which would be a great feat,” Mullen said earlier this month at Southeastern Conference Media Days.
The Bulldogs are coming off of a 6-7 season that saw the team advance to the postseason despite getting only five regular season wins. Even with the losing record though, State began laying a foundation for this season and ones to come.
Eight offensive starters return for MSU this year. Seven defensive starters are back.
Among them are a plethora of players that had breakout seasons a year ago.
Nick Fitzgerald started last season battling to become MSU’s starting quarterback. Now, after leading the SEC in total yardage in 2016, he’s a bonafide star for the Bulldogs and a big reason State has heightened its expectations this season.
“I’m glad to have him on my team,” MSU offensive lineman Martinas Rankin said of Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald is far from MSU’s only offensive weapon returning. Running back Aeris Williams established himself as State’s premier back at the end of last season. He’ll now enter the season as the starter for the first time.
Donald Gray is back to lead the receiving corps. Rankin is the anchor of an offensive front that returns three starters.
The other side of the football boasts promise as well, despite youthfulness and a new defensive coordinator in the form of the highly-respected Todd Grantham.
“It’s a whole new start for us on defense this year,” Mullen said. “We don’t have one senior on the defensive line, and it’s going to be a young group at the linebacker position.”
State is slightly more experienced in the secondary. Mark McLaurin and Brandon Bryant will be back as safeties. Jamal Peters, Lashard Durr and Tolando Cleveland return as corners.
Put it all together and Mullen is once again optimistic.
“We expect to have a really good year,” Mullen said. “I like the attitude that our team has had this offseason that they’ve brought to the table this summer. They’ve had a great work ethic. I’m excited about their demeanor.”
MSU won’t open the 2017 season until Sept. 2 when the Bulldogs host Charleston Southern at Davis Wade Stadium. In the meantime, the Bulldogs will grind through the heat as they look to live up to or surpass their own expectations.
“We only have 12 seniors on the roster this year and a very young football team, but I’m excited about what the season is going to hold and excited about year number nine,” Mullen said. “(I’m excited) to continue to build this program to be a program that competes or has the opportunity to compete for championships on a regular basis in the Southeastern Conference.”
Also Tuesday, MSUs will also hold its annual media day live on SEC Network+ via the Watch ESPN app or WatchESPN.com. The live schedule for media day will be Mullen at 10 a.m., defensive coordinator Todd Grantham at 10:30 a.m. and co-offensive coordinator John Hevesy at 11 a.m.
The Bulldogs will practice Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of this week. The first two workouts will be in helmets and shorts. The first full pads practice is slated for Sunday.