Five new Bulldogs among players to watch

By: 
JOEL COLEMAN
Staff Writer

There will be a familiar cast of characters on the field when Mississippi State opens up its 2017 football season on September 2 against Charleston Southern.
Whether it’s quarterback Nick Fitzgerald running the Bulldog offense, or linebacker Leo Lewis racking up tackles defensively, there are a good many settled spots for MSU already.
Then, there are the newcomers. Here are five of the players primed to possibly make their MSU debuts in 2017. All five are either true freshmen, redshirt freshmen or junior college transfers who could see their first-ever action in maroon and white this season.

Redshirt freshman
offensive lineman
Stewart Reese

Reese is likely to be Mississippi State’s starting right tackle.
The big Fort Pierce, Florida, native has spent a lot of time running with the ones in preseason camp and seems to have the inside track to win the starting job over fellow redshirt freshman Greg Eiland.
Reese should by no means be expected to be perfect in his first season as a starter. There will likely be growing pains, but Reese is poised to get plenty of on-the-job training.
“He’s going to get the opportunity to play an awful lot as a redshirt freshman,” MSU head coach Dan Mullen said of Reese. “He’s going to get thrown into the fire quickly and we’ve got to see how he responds.”

True freshman kicker
Tucker Day

Day came to Mississippi State as an All-American at punter. He might one day assume that role too, but for now, Day is quite possibly going to make his Bulldog debut as a placekicker.
There are no guarantees of that. He has been in a three-way battle for the kicking job this preseason with Dan Mills and Jordan Lawless. However Mullen, as of late last week, said Day had the edge. The situation seems fluid though.
“I think the competition is going pretty well,” Mullen said late last week. “We’ll have to see. If I have to give an edge, probably Tucker Day has the edge. But it’s pretty close and kind of changes daily.”

Junior safety
Johnathan Abram

Abram joined MSU last December out of Jones County Junior College and has impressed all preseason.
Mississippi State coaches have repeatedly talked of developing a rotation of defensive players to keep everyone fresh throughout games and at this point, it seems like a certainty that Abram is going to be solidly in that mix.
“The guy plays hard every play, every day,” MSU defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “He is a guy who loves to play the game and is very conscious of being right. He has tremendous pride and he is one of the most completive guys I have ever been around.”
To this point in his career, Abram might best be known to Bulldog fans as the man who delivered a big hit to walk-on Bennie Braswell in the spring game. Braswell ended up being fine, but the blow ended the spring game early. It probably won’t be long before Abram’s hard-hitting style is on display against other teams.

True freshman linebacker
Willie Gay

It’s another football season and another chance for Gay to play in front of his hometown fans.
Gay, the former Starkville High player, has a solid opportunity to get immediate playing time for the Bulldogs. State is solid at linebacker with guys like senior Dez Harris, junior Gerri Green and Lewis in the fold, but Gay has the talent to provide solid depth for the unit.
“Sometimes he may not know the right verbiage, but he knows the right spot which at the end of the day is the most important thing,” Grantham said of Gay. “I’m really impressed with him and what he’s done. We’ll continue to improve him and compete.”
Gay isn’t just getting admiration from his coaches. His fellow linebackers see big things ahead for Gay as well.
“Willie is very impressive,” Green said. “Every day he comes out and gives 100 percent. He’s a freshman, but he’s big. I sure didn’t come in looking like Willie Gay. He’s been very impressive since day one.”

True freshman running back
Kylin Hill

Yes, Mississippi State has depth at the running back spot. Behind starter Aeris Williams, there are a trio of veterans including Nick Gibson, Dontavian Lee and Alec Murphy. That would seem to mean there is a good chance that Hill could be redshirted. However, Hill has impressed all preseason.
Lee called Hill “a beast.” Mullen talked of Hill making “special plays” in MSU’s scrimmages. It seems like Hill might indeed have worked his way right up the depth chart in his first camp. To ensure that though, Hill has to perfect the little things Mullen says.
“I don’t pay much attention to the spectacular plays with him,” Mullen said of Hill. “It doesn’t do us much good if he’s going to get somebody killed out there on the field. Just because he can make one spectacular play in the course of a game, but he gets four people hurt the rest of the game, that’s not going to help us win much.”
If Hill can master the aspects of his game when the football isn’t in his hands, the Columbus native just might be eating up yardage in the Golden Triangle again sooner rather than later.

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