Bulldog Bio: Willie Gay Jr.

Willie Gay Jr.
Staff Writer

Willie Gay, Jr. didn’t have much interest in just sitting around last season in his first year with Mississippi State.

The former Starkville High player wanted to jump on the field and contribute immediately for his hometown Bulldogs. Gay got his wish. In 2017, he played in all 13 games, recorded 23 tackles, had two tackles for loss and a sack. He also forced a fumble.

That was all well and good, but as Gay prepares for his sophomore season at MSU, he wants more.

“That’s one reason I didn’t want to redshirt last year,” Gay said in the spring. “That way I could come into this year prepared and know what I was getting myself into. I know what I have to get ready for. It’s exciting.”

Gay should see his role increase for the Bulldogs in 2018. He’s a part of a linebacker group that is extremely young. In fact, there is no senior in the entire unit. There is plenty of talent though and Gay is ready to show that, in the end, that’s all that matters.

“(The coaching staff) knows I have it physically, it’s just about growing mentally and being able to execute,” Gay said. “I’ll have a bigger role this year. I’m still playing behind (fellow linebacker) Leo (Lewis), but they’re going to use me a little more.”

New voice

Gay and the rest of MSU’s linebackers are being guided by a new man this season.

Last year, former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham guided State’s linebackers, but now, it’s Tem Lukabu calling the shots.

Gay says that Lukabu has a bit of a no-nonsense style and so far, Gay has appreciated Lukabu’s ways.

“He kind of comes with a harder coaching technique,” Gay said. “I’m cool with that though. Whatever it takes to make me better and get me to the next level. I don’t want a soft coach. I like it.”

Gay said his favorite part of Lukabu’s method is how he encourages all the linebackers to go about their business in a professional manner. Since Gay has high hopes to one day be in the NFL, he’s loving already getting into that mindset.

“Whether we have a decent practice or not good enough practice, he’ll let us know to be a pro about it,” Gay said. “Practice as a pro and do everything as a pro. Even when it’s outside of football, act like a pro.”

Rolling with it

Lukabu of course isn’t the only new MSU coach this season. At the top, Joe Moorhead is the new head coach of the Bulldogs. There are new teachers all over the staff. Only defensive line coach Brian Baker and cornerbacks coach Terrell Buckley are holdovers from the previous coaching staff.

All the newness isn’t bothering Gay at all though.

“It’s part of the game to have coaching changes,” Gay said. “As college athletes, you have to be able to adapt.”

Did you know?

Gay had an outstanding prep career as a linebacker at Starkville High School, but a few of his most memorable games as a Yellowjacket came as a quarterback.

Gay was the SHS signal caller down the stretch of his senior season in 2016. He scored nine touchdowns as a quarterback in the final two weeks of the season.

Gay’s biggest performance came against Warren Central in October. On that day, Gay rushed for a whopping 325 yards and five scores. Gay’s showing was the first time a Starkville player had rushed for over 300 yards in a game since 1994.

Looking ahead

Gay will almost certainly be on the field more for Mississippi State in his second year with the program. Just how much more could depend upon the production of Lewis.

Lewis took a bit of a step back last season for MSU after he was picked as a Football Writers Association Freshman All-American in 2016. In 2017, Lewis had 33 fewer tackles and 3.5 fewer tackles for loss than he had in his debut season.

If Lewis can get back to his 2016 form, that would likely cut into Gay’s playing time. However if Gay has taken strides forward and Lewis again struggles to produce, it’s certainly possible Gay could threaten to push his way to the top of the depth chart.

(Editor's note: Leading up to the start of Mississippi State football training camp, the Starkville Daily News will take a look at several of the key pieces for the 2018 Bulldogs. Today, the SDN profiles MSU linebacker Willie Gay, Jr.)