JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Mississippi State has announced quarterback Chris Relf will wear No. 36 in the 2011 Gator Bowl in honor of fallen teammate Nick Bell.
Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen made the announcement after practice Tuesday that his junior starting quarterback will wear the jersey in honor of MSU’s sophomore defensive end who passed away after a short bout with cancer this season.
“I got a lot of e-mails from people saying it’d be cool if Chris wore the jersey and I showed them to him and he said ‘I think it’d be great,” Mullen said.
Relf will be the fourth different State player to wear the jersey number after defensive back Charles Mitchell, tight end Kendrick Cook and defensive end Pernell McPhee were given the honor.
Bell, 20, was a sophomore defensive end on the Mississippi State football team who died at University of Alabama-Birmingham Hospital on Nov. 2 after his form of skin cancer had metastasized through his body. A memorial service was held that week at Bettersworth Auditorium in Lee Hall on the Mississippi State campus.
Relf has accumulated 2,193 total yards this year in directing the MSU offense to an 8-4 record and its first New Year’s Day bowl game since the 1999 Cotton Bowl against Texas.
The NCAA has a rule that quarterbacks must be dressed in a number between 1 and 19 before the start of a game but SEC officials along with spokespeople at Mississippi State University have assured the Starkville Daily News that the team has been given permission for Relf to wear the number.
Some historical college football figures in recent history to wear a number in the 20s at a bowl game have been Miami’s Bernie Kosar (wore No. 20), Tennessee signal caller Heath Shuler (wore No. 21) and Boston College’s Heisman Trophy quarterback Doug Flutie (wore No. 22) in the year he beat Kosar’s Hurricanes squad and went on to win the Cotton Bowl.
Seeing as how he claims he wore No. 36 in high school and college, Mullen doesn’t have an issue with his signal caller wearing the number.
“I wore 36 and led the team,” Mullen said. “In college, I moved to (number) 10 but then when I went back to tight end I think they’d gave it to a punter and I told him you’re No. 10 now.”
Michigan QB committed
to Mullen while he was
Mullen not only recruited Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson but even got him to commit to Florida.
Coming out of Deerfield Beach (Fla.) High School, which is about five hours away down Interstate 95, Robinson was highly recruited but not necessarily as a quarterback.
As a high school senior, ESPN ranked Robinson seventh in the country as a general athlete and 101st regardless of position. Mullen has already referenced a story where he timed Robinson in the 40-yard-dash at 4.3 seconds at a University of Florida camp while he was the Gators offensive coordinator. It was Mullen that got Robinson to commit to Florida before leaving to the take the head-coaching job at Mississippi State and that’s when Robinson re-opened his recruiting options.
“Our fans will see and I know the Michigan people already know that smile and how much he loves to play the game,” Mullen said. “It doesn’t surprise me that he’s doing that well because you could see in high school he had that winner in him. And he’s really fast.”
When asked after practice Tuesday, Mullen explained that he had Robinson pegged like most recruiting analysts across the country where he would’ve brought him to Gainesville to try quarterback but with the backup plan being other skilled positions.
“One of the reasons he probably picked Michigan is he knew for a fact he would fit everything at quarterback and that would be his future,” Mullen said. “A lot of other schools, he thought he’d get the opportunity but it wouldn’t be guaranteed.”
Robinson told reporters Tuesday that he is very fond of Mullen and even verbally committed to him while he was at Florida. Ironically it was Michigan, then under head coach Lloyd Carr, which initially recruited Robinson as a defensive back. When Rich Rodriguez became the head coach three years ago, he immediately recruited the 6-foot, 188-pound athlete to quarterback his spread offense.
with team focus
going into bowl week
One of the major things coaches worry about in terms of bowl preparations is getting the team to focus on the game in a vacation-like climate that has events, time commitments and distractions everywhere you turn.
However, Mullen has been very consistent with this MSU squad, who is favored by five points in the 2011 Gator Bowl, that they are here as a reward for the 2010 season but also understand a win helps jump start the momentum for 2011.
“Part of that is understanding the difference between football time and fun time,” Mullen said. “We’ll enjoy being here and the activities and events they have planned. From the start, our guys have done a good job separating the two.”