By DANNY P. SMITH
It's not going to be easy for the Mississippi State Bulldogs to take the field to play a football game Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
When the Bulldogs meet defending national champion Alabama, it will be the first game to play since the death of their teammate Nick Bell who lost his battle to cancer last week.
Mississippi State has gone through the majority of the grieving process with a memorial service on campus and Bell's funeral in Birmingham on Friday.
Even though the Bulldogs have paid respects and say their goodbyes to Bell, the thoughts and memories of their teammate will be firmly planted in their minds.
It will certainly be tough to concentrate on football when it comes time to compete against one of the best teams in the country.
"It's always a hard thing to lose someone so close to you," MSU senior offensive lineman Derek Sherrod said. "Everyone is just trying to deal with it in their own way. I think the team is holding up pretty well."
The Bulldogs have taken steps to honor Bell for the rest of the season. They will wear a patch on their jersey and senior safety Charles Mitchell will wear Bell's No. 36 jersey for Saturday's game against the Crimson Tide.
MSU football coach Dan Mullen, who said the identity of the player to wear the jersey will be announced prior to Saturday's game, doesn't believe Bell's death will serve as a motivating factor for his squad. He does know the Bulldogs will play with "heavy hearts" and it's not something easily forgotten.
When someone within the football program dies, there's more to consider than playing a game.
However, Mullen did put his team through a practice not long after finding out the news on Bell's death and sometimes trying to focus on something else for a few moments can help ease some of the pain.
"They'll have to learn how they are going to move on a little bit," Mullen said. "They'll try to put it behind them, but it won't be out of their mind."
When MSU lost Rodney Stowers and Keffer McGee during the coaching tenure of Jackie Sherrill, the Bulldogs went on to have successful seasons and went to bowl games.
Senior linebacker K.J. Wright said thoughts of Bell will be with MSU the rest of the year, but nothing will stop it from trying to be successful when it comes to playing against Alabama.
"We want to be 8-2 and we've got to do what we can to go get the win," Wright said. "We'll go in there and play the game like we have in the past and try to get a win."
There will be a special event held today at the Starkville Sportsplex that will serve to honor Bell further.
The O'Nan Project of Change invites the public to join Step Up Starkville from 7 a.m. until 8 a.m. The $5 entry fee for the community breakfast will go to Bell's family. Speakers include Mayor Parker Wiseman, MSU's Ann Carr and author Meagan O'Nan.
There will also be a silent auction from 8 a.m. until 9 a.m. in memory of Bell and those proceeds will also go to benefit his family.
For more information, call 662-312-3854 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Danny P. Smith is sports editor and columnist for the Starkville Daily News. The opinions in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily News or its staff.