MSU Classics

Unless otherwise noted, all articles on this page were either written by Jeremiah Short or were taken from press releases submitted to us. Jeremiah Short covers Mississippi State University football and basketball.  Follow him on Twitter, @JeremiahShort26; join his Facebook blog, Real Story Sports: J.Short’s Blog, or e-mail him, JShort@realstorypublishing.com.
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Keith Fitzhugh: A Man of Integrity

In last week’s edition, I did a feature on former Bulldog safety, Derek Pegues, who had a special career. His defensive backfield mate, Keith Fitzhugh, had a terrific four-year career in Maroon and White, just like Pegues. He made 180 tackles and collected five interceptions, playing cornerback and safety. ‘Fitz’ (as he was called by teammates) had a brief professional career, after turning down an offer to take another route toward success.

Fitzhugh got an early start to his Bulldog career; he enrolled for the spring session in 2005, a move that helped him adapt to the SEC more quickly.

“It helped me get the pace of the game; it’s much different than high school – especially playing in the SEC,” says Fitzhugh, about enrolling early.

The decision to enroll at Mississippi State ahead of schedule paid off for him; he got into the mix, as a true freshman, at cornerback – making 13 tackles and picking off one pass. After that season, Mississippi State Coach Sylvester Croom asked the Lovejoy, Georgia native to move to strong safety, a position that he had only played sparingly in high school.

“In high school, I helped out a little bit at safety; I’ve always been the type of guy that could tackle, almost like an extra linebacker. Once I put on the size and the ability to play that position, I kind of got the feel for it and I liked it a lot,” said Fitzhugh.

He made an easy transition to safety in 2006, totaling 59 tackles and one interception on the season. The next year, in 2007, the hard-hitting safety was flanked by Derek Pegues, who was moving from cornerback, as Fitzhugh had before the 2006 season. They became a good starting duo – helping lead the Bulldogs to the Liberty Bowl against Central Florida.

The infamous shooting incident derailed the next season, as the Bulldogs finished 4-8, and Croom resigned after the season. Fitzhugh was considered a legitimate NFL prospect, but he went un-drafted. The New York Jets gave him a shot as a free agent; he didn’t make the 53-man roster, though. The Jets retained him on the practice squad, until the Baltimore Ravens signed him to their active roster (which is allowed under NFL rules). He talked about his time with both teams.

“Rex Ryan was a great coach to be around; a good guy and a coach that let you do what you want to do. He wants you to be successful and wants you step up and be the leader he wants the whole team to be. We had great guys like Doug Blank; he taught me a lot of things, “Fitzhugh said.

“It was neat to go to an active roster and see what it was like; the ability to play with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Those were guys I looked at in high school, as a kid. I also got a chance to play with Willis McGahee.”

He was eventually let go by the Ravens and resigned to the Jets practice squad for the pre-season, in 2010. The second-year pro was cut for the final time by the Jets. Fitzhugh already had a back-up plan – having been hired as a train conductor for Norfolk Southern Railway, a job he got offered during training camp.

“I always thought about it, but I didn’t know the process. When I got released, I applied for the railroad, where I live. And I applied, again. It took me a while to get on. They called me, after I played a game against the Eagles in the pre-season and told me I got the job. I had both things in my hands at one time. I got released by the Jets and I went on ahead and took the job, “Fitzhugh said.

The Jets asked Fitzhugh to sign on to their active roster, after injuries to two safeties. Fitzhugh turned them down, a decision that would garner surprising national media attention.

“I really didn’t expect the media attention like that. I just had a great job working for Norfolk Southern. I didn’t expect them to give me a call back, and times got rough. I was ‘well, I could make an adult decision or get around the weights.’ I just decided to make the adult decision. My dad was hurt, at the time, and wasn’t getting around so well. I wanted to spend some time with him. I didn’t expect it to be a big issue, at all,” said Fitzhugh, who sat through several interviews about his decision – including an appearance on the Jay Leno Show.

Fitzhugh became almost more well-known for his decision, than for his football career. He was now, “the dude that turned down the Jets”.

“People recognize me throughout the system and talk to me about it. It was nice; I enjoyed it,” says Fitzhugh, on his new celebrity status.

He has settled back into his regular life as a train conductor. The father who he gave up on his dream to be able to spend time with, passed away last year. Some may remember him as a Bulldog safety and the rest may remember him as “the dude that turned down the Jets”, but he really should be regarded as a man of integrity. In an age where people chase glitz and glamour, Keith Fitzhugh chose the option that was best for his family.

 Originally Published in the May 23, 2012 Print Edition

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Pegues Fighting For Another Shot

Derek Pegues is considered one of the greatest football players in Mississippi State Bulldog history. He made 146 tackles and had 12 interceptions in his career. The playmaker also totaled 3,290 kick and punt return yards, during his time as a Bulldog. He also had five touchdowns (interceptions and punt returns).

Before Pegues was a Bulldog great, though, he was the quarterback for the South Panola Tigers, the most dominant football program in Mississippi. He rushed for 4,104 yards and scored 86 touchdowns (passing, rushing, receiving, interceptions, kick and punt returning) for the Tigers.

“In Batesville, that’s the only thing to do is play ball. Everyone wants to play, and it starts from a young age. People always want to be the next DeShea Townsend or the next Jamarcus Sanford,” said Pegues.

Most South Panola products attend Ole Miss, but Pegues made a bold choice to attend Mississippi State. It wasn’t a popular choice, and the community expressed their displeasure with his decision.

“It was real big. There was a lot of pressure on me to go to Ole Miss. After I committed to Mississippi State, a lot of people turned their back on me. I got death threats and people threatening to burn my family’s house down, if I went to Mississippi State,” Pegues said.

He eventually made his way to Starkville, and there was much expected from the five-star prospect, who was named an All-American, after his senior season in high school. The versatile athlete didn’t disappoint; he got into the two-deep at cornerback and became the Bulldogs’ kick returner.

“Coming in, I was an All-American and people were expecting so much. I just wanted to come in and make a big splash. It was hard, and I had a steep learning curve. I had only played cornerback, for one year, before coming to Mississippi State. It was tough, going through camp with Coach Croom. Croom had a real tough camp. I started off third-string, behind walk-ons and everything. I had to change my attitude, because I thought I would walk into a starting spot. I was just trying to live up to expectations,” stated Pegues, speaking on lofty expectations that come with being a highly-touted prospect.

Pegues was poised to become the starting cornerback, the next season; that was in doubt, after Pegues and five teammates (Quinton Wesley, Tre Rutland, Charles Burns, Michael Gates, and Keith Fitzhugh) were involved in an altercation with an off-duty policeman.

“I learned a lot after my freshman year. I was a little hot-head. The incident humbled me, but, at the same time, it was a learning experience. Because we were teammates, I was with fellow freshmen. I treated those guys like brothers, and I saw them fighting and I just joined in; I didn’t ask any questions, instead of doing the better thing and trying to break the fight up,” said Pegues.

He added, “It humbled the heck out of me. I felt like I had embarrassed my family and I had really embarrassed myself. I really didn’t want to get into that position, again. So, I had to straighten up.”

The players were disciplined for the incident, and returned to the football field. Pegues settled in as the starting cornerback. He put together an impressive season – making 32 tackles and four interceptions. His exploits were good enough that he was be named to the All-SEC team.

“Being it was my first year starting, I knew quarterbacks were going to try me. I had growing pains, that year. All-in-all, I had a good year; I made All-SEC. I learned as the year went on, and progressed and progressed, “Pegues said.

“I had my bumps and bruises. I remember playing Tulane -probably one of the worst games I ever played at defensive back. I don’t remember going home. I didn’t go out; I just stayed in my room. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I remember, that night, I told myself that I had to get better. I really refocused myself; I reeled off a couple of good games in a row. It was all about getting used to the SEC and the life of a college athlete”.

One of the biggest debates, during his career, by the fans, was “why D.P. (as most call him) didn’t play offense”. It’s something that he always pushed for, as well.

“I went into his office, my sophomore year. I was like ‘Coach, can I get in and play anywhere over there?’ My freshman year, we had a package of twenty or thirty plays. I was at receiver, running back, and quarterback. We practiced it; but in the game, we never brought it out. Why, I have no idea. I felt I could have given us a spark. I still, to this day, don’t know why we didn’t run those plays,” said Pegues, about the prospect of playing offense.

Mississippi State head coach Sylvester Croom changed Pegues’ position, but it wasn’t to the offensive side of the ball; he moved the All-SEC cornerback to free safety.

“It was a shock, but we discussed it right after the season. Coach Croom called me into his office. He asked me about moving to safety. At first I didn’t want to do it, but then I told him ‘whatever I can do to help the team—I will do it.’ I knew it would hurt my chances of playing at the next level -considering I was only like 5’9, “Pegues said.

“They figured to get the ball in my hands more, at the safety position. I knew the defense better than anyone, and the safety made all the checks and the calls. He figured, with me having the experience of playing quarterback in high school, my leadership ability would help me be more vocal on the team. It really took off that year; I had a good year, my junior year”.

The move proved to be the right one for the team. The Bulldogs sported a deeper secondary with Anthony Johnson, Jasper O’Quinn, Demon Glanton, and Keith Fitzhugh added to Pegues. The 2007 season turned out to be, potentially, the best of the Batesville, Mississippi native’s career.  He had several memorable plays, during that season, with the first being a game-winning interception touchdown against Auburn. Pegues finished the year with 50 tackles and five interceptions – earning another All-SEC selection.

“At the time, I knew that was our first SEC game of the year. I hadn’t got an interception during the season; I think it was our third game. It was my birthday and I was like I got to go out and have a good game. We played the ball-control offense and I knew our defense had to make a big play if we wanted to win that game. I was already breaking on the ball; it just happened to get tipped, and all I had to do was keep it from hitting the ground. It was one of the biggest plays of my career,” said Pegues.

The Bulldogs had become bowl eligible for the first time in seven years, but they looked to improve their bowl position versus in-state rival Ole Miss Rebels. The Rebels had the game in hand until a coaching blunder by Ed Orgeron. The Bulldogs took advantage and got back in striking distance. It led to one of the greatest moments in Bulldogs history – Derek Pegues’ 75-yard punt return. It had special meaning for Pegues – considering a few former high school teammates played for Ole Miss.

“I felt like I could get one. I knew they were trying to take me out the game with the squib kicks. I was just like ‘I got to make a play,’ because we were struggling going into the second half,” said Pegues.

“I think it was a couple of series before I dropped the interception that I would have returned for 70-something yards. It hit me right in the hands and I dropped it. I was thinking ‘I got to make a play; I got to make that up’.”

“I got a chance to get my hands on one of the punt returns. I knew I needed to hit it downhill; I did, and got into the end zone”.

The Bulldogs accepted an invitation to the Liberty Bowl, against Central Florida. Pegues helped lead the team to victory, and earned game MVP and Defensive Player of the Game honors.

“That’s what I came to Mississippi State for – to help turn it around. They hadn’t been to a bowl game in seven or eight years. It was a great experience, being down there, the whole week,” Pegues said.

“I won the MVP trophy and the Defensive Player of the Game. It was a big game and was a boost going into the next year. I felt that we were going to be pretty good, going into the next year”.

He had a favorable draft grade after the 2007 season, but decided to stay for his senior year.

“I contemplated about it. People were nagging me about it. I thought about it long and hard, but we had some momentum, going into the next year. I think we had like 16 or 17 starters coming back; I thought we had a real chance to compete for the SEC Championship. I wanted to come back and do that for the Mississippi State fans and give them a taste of what it feels like to be in the SEC Championship,” said Pegues.

The Bulldogs had high expectations, going into the 2008 season, but an on-campus shooting incident cost the Bulldogs several players. Five players: Quinton Wesley, Rodney Prince, Anthony Johnson, Michael Brown, and Jamon Hughes were either suspended or dismissed from the program, altogether.

“I really can’t blame those guys because it was really about being in the wrong place, at the wrong time. You had folks around Starkville looking for trouble. The situation could have been played a little different. I just wish we had thought about things a little more. I wish Coach “Cheese” (Charlie Harbison) had arrived a lot earlier. I had called him. He showed up right at the last minute, after the incident had happened. I just wish he could have showed up five or ten minutes earlier. I don’t believe any of that would have happened,” said Pegues, on the shooting incident.

“It was bad. It was the day right before the spring game. Even the day of the spring game, it was raining, it was gloomy. People were down, because they were like our brothers. We didn’t want to lose them, because they had just gone through the battle with us. We lost Ant (Anthony) Johnson; he had just had a good year at the cornerback position. Mike Brown would have been a first or second-round left tackle, and to lose him was tough. We were scrambling, because we already didn’t have a lot of depth at certain positions. It really hurt us more, because we thought we had something special for that next year”.

“It was hard to pull ourselves out of the hole, when so many talented guys were gone and we already lacked depth”.

Pegues also explained how it affected him, personally, on the field. “The fact that you lose one of the best corners in the SEC. You got to bring in Marcus Washington; he played great, but it kind of took me out of the game, my senior year, because other teams threw to the outside, a lot. So, I wasn’t able to make as many plays on the ball, like my junior year.”

“I really could sneak to one side, with Ant out there, because I didn’t have to worry about his side; he was going to do what he did. The communication in the secondary was different, as well”.

The loss of the athletes, due to the incident and the injury to Jamar Chaney caused the Bulldogs to take a step back in 2008. They finished 4-8, and Coach Croom got fired. Although Pegues’ numbers dipped a bit (50 tackles and two interceptions), he still was named All-SEC, for three straight seasons. It was a feat that only Mario Haggan (2000-2002) had achieved, previously.

Even though the Bulldogs had a terrible year, Pegues was still considered a top NFL prospect, due to his credentials. Surprisingly, he wasn’t drafted – which came as a shock to everyone – including Pegues himself. It was one of the hardest moments of Pegues’ life.

“It was one of the worst days of my life, to be honest. The career I put together at Mississippi State; I thought if I didn’t go first or second-round, that I knew someone would call my name. I was thinking ‘if I came out my junior year I was guaranteed to be at least a second-round pick.’ Even to this day, I don’t know why my name didn’t get called. I felt like I did enough to at least get my name called. I didn’t get invited to a training camp,” stated Pegues, sharing his feelings about not getting drafted.

“After the draft, I rolled around for, like, three or four hours. I was thinking to myself, “Why my name didn’t get called”. My agent was calling around trying to get me into a camp. No one would even touch me. I knew I wasn’t that bad of a player; I didn’t know if someone had put a bad word out on me or what. I really hate that I never got a chance at the NFL experience, because I felt I could be a good player on the next level.”

“Maybe God didn’t want me to get drafted, at that time. That’s how I look at it.”

 “It was tough, because I felt that I had let people down. When I didn’t get drafted I had so many different feelings over it all. I was mad; I was embarrassed. It was hard to go home and look people in the eye. For the simple fact that there are a lot people in my town that are Ole Miss fans, that expected that. They threw it in my face; like ‘you should have gone to Ole Miss.’ I don’t look at it like that. It just wasn’t my time.”

“My friends were supportive and everybody was trying to cheer me up. I probably went into a slump, for a couple of months. I still think, to this day, why I didn’t get drafted. It’s nothing I can do about it. I just hope I get that shot”.

It took a few years, but he was able to get back on the gridiron – signing with the AFL’s Iowa Barnstormers. He was reunited with former backfield mate, De’Mon Glanton.

“It feels great to be back on the field, doing what I like to do. I still have been working out to get in the NFL. Hopefully, someone will see that I really want to be there, and give me a shot,” said Pegues.

Derek Pegues is showing how a person can rise from the ashes. He has picked himself up from a blow that would have crippled most people. The NFL is still his goal, and he is pushing to make it a reality.

If his playing career doesn’t work out, Pegues is planning on re-enrolling at Mississippi State and finishing up his coaching degree.

Originally Published in the May 16, 2012 Print Edition

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 Mississippi State Is a Labor Of Love for Flick

When we attend sporting events, our focus typically goes toward the athletes competing on the field or court—with the behind-the-scenes staff receiving minimal attention. Those unseen individuals oftentimes have more to do with the success of the program than meets the eye.

Hank Flick, the former Mississippi State public address announcer (1977-2009), played a vital role in the MSU program prospering, during that time. Anyone that purchased a ticket to a basketball game, when he was on the microphone, can remember his iconic opening line: “Welcome to the Hump for hoops, Mississippi State-style! Many remember him for that signature voice, but Flick is also known by his students as a beloved teacher, over the past 41 years.

Flick didn’t originally plan to come to Mississippi State, after receiving his Master’s from the Memphis State University (Now, the University of Memphis). But, he found his way down to Starkville, Mississippi, after someone else turned the job done.

“I was finishing up my Master’s at the University of Memphis, and the job came open here. My bosses recommended someone else to come down and take the job. They didn’t like it, and they wanted to know if I wanted it. I was going to go teach at Christian Brothers College. The person that didn’t take the job, down here, ended up taking the job at Christian Brothers,” said Flick, about how he ended up at Mississippi State.

He was a professor for six years, before being asked to take the microphone for Mississippi State games.

“Someone just asked me, one day, if I was interested. I said ‘yea I’m a student of communication; I’ve never been on radio. I don’t have that good a voice.’ They said ‘you need to be somewhere tonight, if you’re interested’,” Flick said.

“I went over, that night, to an exhibition basketball game at Humphrey Coliseum. They sat me down, and I didn’t even know how to turn the microphone on. The game was going on, and I wasn’t saying anything. So, I just kind of stumbled into it.”

Flick had a unique style, at a time, when it wasn’t the norm. He took a position that he hadn’t sought out, and made it all his own.

“Long before you would go into arenas, what the announcers are doing. I was doing that before them. I was in the right place; I had athletic directors, who were very good to me. They understood something good was happening,” said Flick.

Dr. Flick, as he is known by students, exhibits the same original style in the classroom. He has given several people nicknames – including affectionately nicknaming me “Shane Power”. His distinct delivery came out of a necessity to keep up with the changing student.

“Students, nowadays, have to be entertained. They have so many things going on in their world. For them to put down that cell, stop texting, and listen to you – you have to give them something to look at,” said Flick.

“Everything is about providing an experience where kids can’t help but learn. That style: “sarcasm”, “hyperbole”, “exaggeration”, “conflict”; it gives you style. It has developed over the five decades.”

“The students have changed; they’re much more reality-based. They want an education that works and is in their face; that teaches them how to survive in the world, personally and professionally”.

Flick’s entertaining, but effective, style has made him a favorite amongst students.

“The very best teachers in this school are in this department. I have my good days and I have my bad days. I never look at myself as being good. I look at myself as being effective, in most cases, to accomplish results,” Flick said.

Outside of his Mississippi State duties, Flick is an accomplished writer. At one time, he was one of the foremost authorities on Malcolm X.

“It was a great learning experience on this here life. How to endure? How to discipline yourself? How to develop a style, here, that you can leave people with? There were a lot of people in the 60’s and 70’s doing what Malcolm X and Stokley Carmichael were doing. It was just interesting to be a white person and study that.  It wasn’t a case of agreeing or disagreeing. You just studied their style. You’ve got to speak and live with a conscious. And that early black rhetoric had a conscious to it, which means that it meant something to people. It elevated people to be more than the world gave you credit for being. It was fun to look at and fun to write about,” Flick stated, in discussing his studies of Malcolm X and other civil rights leaders.

The Oakland, California native has been a valuable asset to Mississippi State athletics; numerous players and coaches have benefited from his counsel. He has silently helped them learn to handle the media in a professional manner.

“You develop a relationship with the coaches, because they know you teach their players. You help their players; you counsel and mentor those players. You help the coaches with their style of communicating—with their interviewing. What to say and what to do. You get very close to the coaches. I have very strong feelings for Bob Boyd, for Richard Williams, for Coach (Rick) Stansbury,” says Flick, on the relationships he has built over the years.

“Most of them used me as a source to help them with their own communication. Head coaches only have so much time with their players. It’s the assistants and support group around them, that helps the program grow. So, most times, when a program goes under, oftentimes it isn’t because the head coach is doing anything different; it just means he doesn’t have the support people.”

“Athletics is a beautiful diamond ring, and if you start to take a couple of stones out of that setting, the ring isn’t as pretty as it used to be. So, you help the coaches any way possible. Because they’re good people and because you love Mississippi State.”

Flick has been there for the young athletes, who have struggled with the sometimes-brutal criticism of the Bulldog fan base.

“You’re in the world and the world is very, very different. Anytime you say anything to a person about their speech, they are like ‘this is the United States and I have freedom of speech.’ People have the right to say whatever they want and that’s their right. You can’t scold them; it’s just part of the times,” Flick said.

“I had a player in here, earlier this morning, talking about the hurtful things that were said about him, on message boards. It hurts, and you listen to them. There isn’t much you can say. But it’s the nature of the times. You’ve got to be in the world, but not of the world. I’m on Facebook! I’ve got a Twitter account. The nature of the world you’re in and can you handle it, and in many cases an athlete can not. I’ve had football players read stuff on message boards, and they are like ‘I’m not playing for Mississippi State, anymore; I’m playing for myself. If I knew these types of things were said about me; I would have never come to this school’.”

Flick, obviously, is a treasured figure, who bleeds Maroon and White. Even though his firing in 2009 was unpopular and hurt him deeply, he still loves Mississippi State and the man who fired him, former Mississippi State Athletic Director Greg Byrne. “I have the greatest respect for Greg Byrne. I admire Greg; I love Greg. He, Regina, and the boys are one of the best things that happened to Mississippi State. I will never think or say anything derogatory about Greg Byrne. And he fired me! But, it had to be hard for him to do. Sure it hurt. The athletic directors here have to do what they have to at the different times,” stated Flick, sharing his personal feelings on Greg Byrne.

In 41 years of service, Flick has shown unwavering commitment, through sickness and family tragedy.

“I love Mississippi State; I know I do. I can remember, back in the 80’s, I had kidney stones. I can remember doing a football game – it was against Kentucky, in the 80’s, and I was passing kidney stones – while doing a football game. It hurt like heck, and I never said a word. That was my proof that I loved Mississippi State. Afterwards, when you didn’t say anything, you lived through it,” says Flick.

“I’ve never taken a sick day in 41 years. Last March 29th, I got a call. It was a Thursday morning, and the person started talking to me. I told them ‘I don’t want to hear what you go to tell me, don’t tell me.’ They told me that my mom died. Two hours later, I was in a classroom. I taught for three hours that day. And no one knew that the most important person in my life – my mom – had died, two hours earlier. The next day I was in a classroom, teaching.”

Dr. Hank Flick has displayed what it means to be “true maroon”. He has been there for it all—the College World Series, Final Four, several bowl games, and the evolution of the “People’s University”. For this humble man, it was all a “labor of love”.

Originally Published in the May 9, 2012 Print Edition

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Former Bulldog Track Star Wants to Be America’s Next Top Model

FormerMississippiStatetrack star Talisha Lee had an interesting journey toMississippiState. She began her college career at Bevill State, as a basketball player and track athlete. Lee eventually quit basketball, to concentrate on track. The Las Vegas, Nevada native was an All-American as a freshman at Bevill State. She struggled with injuries, her sophomore year, but several colleges still coveted her services. Lee chose to be a Bulldog.

“I didn’t really know anything about MSU, until I went on my recruiting visit. I just enjoyed my visit; I liked the people and felt comfortable. They were the first ones to put the paper in my hand,” said Lee, on signing with Mississippi State.

The Bulldog coaching staff expected a lot of Lee, in 2009, which was her first year at MSU, but she struggled in making the transition to the SEC.

“The training was different and I wasn’t use to working so hard or running as much. I didn’t adapt well to the running conditions. I couldn’t finish some of the races. I got the flu twice. It was horrible; I couldn’t even do a push up,” stated Lee, on her first year at Mississippi State.

“They were expecting a lot out of me. Coach pulled me out of the SEC indoor  championships.”

In 2010, Lee was able to put everything together and became an All-SEC hurdler. She also was able to set the school record in the 400 meter hurdles, with a time of 59.50.

Lee was a senior, but track rules are different and she had an opportunity to run one final indoor season, in 2012. The explosive athlete was dealing with an injury, and decided to concentrate on graduating from college.

“When I started training last semester I had a bulging disk in my back. I had one of the worst spasms, ever. I couldn’t even walk. I couldn’t get myself up. I felt like my back was broken,” said Lee.

“I stopped running; I stopped training, and got discouraged. I started thinking that maybe I should be done with track”.

Although Lee was no longer running collegiately, she still planned on training for the Olympics one day – considering that most track and field athletes don’t hit their stride until they are in the mid-20s.

In the meantime, Lee began to focus on other professional opportunities, such as earning her personal training certificate – hoping to do that as a profession, one day.

“I know that I want to coach, someday, and I always wanted to do physical training or something around that area. I was already training my friend Ashley Newsome. She had torn her Achilles and was scared to start running again. I started her back to running. I was like, ‘I can do this’,” Lee said.

Recently, she has decided to try to be a member of the next season of the modeling competition show, “America’s Next Top Model”. It’s a long process that cuts 200 girls down to a final 12.

“I’ve done pageants every since I was in high school. I didn’t run track this year, so I did the Miss MSU pageant and the Maroon and White pageant. It was something that was fun, and helped me build my communication skills,” said Lee.

“To begin with, I went to two auditions—one in Montgomery, Alabama and one in Auburn, Alabama. I did that, the first week of spring break. Then, I came back home and turned in a video. So, I did three auditions.”

If Lee doesn’t become “America’s Next Top Model”, then she should have more time to train for the 2016 Olympics. Talisha Lee seems to have a bright future, no matter what route she chooses.

Originally Published in April 4, 2012 Print Edition

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Eric Butler: Still Has Love for the Game

The Mississippi State offense was known for being unproductive during the Sylvester Croom Era, but one offensive position that produced was Tight End. The Bulldogs had a three-headed monster of Eric Butler, Dezmond Sherrod, and Jason Husband. Butler was the player listed as the starter out of the three. He put together a solid career, with 50 catches and 635 yards, to go along with eight touchdowns. The Moss Point, Mississippi native went on to play with two teams in his pro career – the New York Giants and St. Louis Rams.

I had a chance to speak with Butler, to discuss his almost choosing baseball over football, rotating Sherrod and Husband, and giving up football.

Butler, as I mentioned above, almost chose baseball over football, after getting drafted in the 54th round of the MLB draft.

“I came in with that as part of the deal. I was trying to go to a school where I could play both. I was thinking about playing baseball, straight out, since I got drafted out of high school. My parents wanted me to get a college education,” said Butler, on choosing football.

He, naturally, chose football, and it paid off for him.Butlerbecame a starter in the SEC as a redshirt freshman.

“It was a little nerve-wracking. Me and Dezmond [Sherrod] were out there together. We were two people in the same shoes. It was a big challenge for us, not having anyone to teach us,” stated Butler, on starting as a freshman.

Butleroriginally rotated with Dezmond Sherrod at tight end, but Jason Husband was added to the mix after the 2004 season. He talked about rotating with Sherrod and Husband.

“We were good friends. We really didn’t care who was in the game. It kind of just worked out that way. Coach had certain situations were one of us went in. Jason was a pass-catcher; he wasn’t going in on a power play. Dezmond was the blocker, so, he wasn’t going to run a vertical route up the middle. I could do a little bit of both,” said Butler.

The Bulldogs struggled throughout most ofButler’s career, but they finally put it together in 2007.

“It was like the turning point in our lives. We got so accustomed to losing. Even though we went out there and tried, some of players were, like, ‘why can’t we win?’ Talent-wise, we were better my sophomore and junior years, than we were our senior year. We did what we had to do, but the year before, we had Deljuan Robinson, Andrew Powell, Antonio Johnson, and Jeramie Johnson. One day we got to talking—basically Tony was like, ‘we got to put it together.’ We started to believe,” Butler said.

Butler had finished his career on a high note. He got ready for the NFL, like every other graduating senior. The former Bulldog was able to secure a practice squad spot with the New York Giants in 2008. He was cut by the Giants in 2008, but landed with the St. Louis Rams the next season. He spent a full season with the Rams and went through training camp, the following season.

Butler was reunited with Coach Croom, while with the Rams. Croom, in Butler’s opinion, was more relaxed in the NFL, than in college.

“When I got to St. Louis, he was the coolest guy you would ever want to meet. Everybody loved him – all the players. I had never seen that side of Croom. He was in the NFL and was out of that head coaching job, “said Butler.

Butler decided to give up the game after going almost a year without a team.

“I sat out of work for a whole year, basically doing nothing – waiting for a phone call. You can’t live your whole life, trying to live out a dream. It’s the real world; you got to get out there and do something with yourself. I end up just giving it up, with no regrets. If someone gave me a call; I would stop what I’m doing and give it another shot, that’s how much I love it,” Butler said.

Eric Butler made the tough decision to give up the game of football, although he still loves the game.

“I still love football, even to this day. I would love to go out there and play—do it all. I look at it as a blessing, because not everyone gets the opportunity. I got a chance to do it for three years. It’s something I never planned on doing with my life – it just ended up working that way for me,” said Butler.

Jeremiah Short covers Mississippi State University football and basketball.  Follow him on Twitter, @JeremiahShort26; join his Facebook blog, Real Story Sports: J.Short’s Blog, or e-mail him, JShort@realstorypublishing.com.

Originally Published in March 7, 2012 Print Edition

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Jamar Chaney: “I’m Still the Seventh Round Pick”

The NFL is littered with bright young talented players that are becoming household names. One of brightest is former Mississippi State Bulldog, Jamar Chaney. Chaney starred at linebacker for the Bulldogs from 2005-2009. He compiled 198 tackles and 11 tackles-for-loss during his tenure in Starkville, Mississippi. The Tampa, Florida native went on to be drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the Seventh Round of the 2010 draft. He became a starter late in the 2010 season and has made 134 tackles in his first two NFL seasons—both with the Eagles.

Chaney may go down as an all-time great Bulldog Linebacker, but he was originally supposed to be a Bulldog—just not a Mississippi State Bulldog.

The talented linebacker signed with Georgia back on signing day of 2005, but his 1260 S.A.T. score was flagged by Georgia’s admission office. Every school that recruited him followed suit, and rescinded their offers. Chaney had to find a college that would allow him to enroll. He discussed the tough process that landed him at Mississippi State.

 “I took a couple visits over the summer. Which was Rutgers, Maryland, North Carolina State, and Mississippi State. Rutgers let me in, but the year they got good, is the year I went to college. Before that they weren’t known. I liked their program, but it wasn’t big enough for me yet. If it was a year later then it might have been a different situation. I was going to choose between Maryland and N.C. State. They wouldn’t let me in after I talked to their president,” said Chaney.

“When I went to Mississippi State; I’m not going to even lie, it was the most boring visit I ever been on in my life. I was with Nextel; my phone didn’t even work. I like the players, but the environment. It’s way different now, than it was back then”.

“Before I got on the plane to go to Mississippi State. I said a prayer. I told God, ‘Alright I got three schools offering me to decide from. It’s N.C. State, Maryland, and Mississippi State.’ Because I didn’t know before I left Mississippi State—that Maryland and N.C. State weren’t going to let me in their school. By the time I had got off the plane. Maryland and N.C. State and had let me know I couldn’t come. So, I went to Mississippi State”.

Although Chaney arrived at Mississippi State late, He still was able to gain significant playing as a true freshman—totaling 31 tackles in 2005.

“I got in late and didn’t have the off-season training like the other guys. I think I got in, like, a day before training camp. So, I didn’t even know the campus. I didn’t start, but I played like a starter; I played like 40 or 50 snaps. It was good to get my feet wet, my Freshman year, and have the success that I had. It was hard that Georgia won the SEC Championship, my first year in college—that was hard for me,” Chaney said.

Chaney took over as the starter at Will Linebacker, his sophomore year. He had a terrific season, making 66 tackles, including 7.5 tackles for loss. The Bulldogs had their sixth straight losing season, that year.

The next year Chaney was moved to Middle Linebacker and things were about to turn around. The Bulldogs finished the season 8-5, including a bowl victory against Central Florida. The heady linebacker made 89 tackles and was voted second-team All-SEC.

“We always thought we were good enough. Even my Freshman and Sophomore year we thought we were good enough. It just didn’t show up on the field. We lost a lot of games by four or five points my Sophomore year; my Junior year we won those games,” said Chaney.

The former Bulldog made one of the biggest plays in his career, that season. He hammered Ole Miss Wide Receiver Shay Hodge in the Egg Bowl. The play is still talked about by fans, years later.

Chaney referring to the hit, “It felt good especially after he dropped that ball. If he had caught that ball, it would have been a first down. I didn’t know he had got up. All I know is he dropped the ball and I started celebrating”.

The Bulldog program was finally about to turn the corner, but there was a shooting incident on campus that involved several key football players. They were all either dismissed or dropped out of school. Chaney discussed the incident and how much it hurt the program.

“It was a bad situation to happen. The University did what they had to do. They should have investigated a little more, [Instead of] deciding on kicking those guys out so quick,” said Chaney.

“Nobody questioned the people who came on campus and didn’t belong on campus. Not to make excuses, but that’s the reason coach [Sylvester} Croom got fired. And that’s why we were down that year. We had everybody coming back”.

“When you lose your best offensive lineman, He [Michael Brown] was the leader of the offense. You lose your leader on the offensive side of the ball; you lose your best defensive player. Quinton Wesley was the best defensive player that spring; I felt like that a week before the spring game. He was the best player on defense throughout the spring—including myself. You got Anthony Johnson; I’ve been around a lot of defensive backs, even in the NFL. He’s one the best I’ve ever seen. Then you lose your back-up Mike [Middle Linebacker], not knowing I would get hurt the first game of the season”.

“It just all started coming down from there. I think that’s the reason we had that bad season. Coach Croom ended up getting fired. It was hard. Our linemen were good, but Mike Brown made all that go”.

The Bulldogs were down several key players, but the team had to press forward. The 2008 season started off with a loss to the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs—Chaney also was lost for the season with a broken ankle. He talked about dealing with his first serious injury and watching the team struggle.

“I thought it was a high ankle sprain, but I ended up breaking it. That was the first serious injury I had in my career. It really hurt to see those boys go out there and struggle the rest of the season.  Everything happens for a reason and God don’t make any mistakes,” Chaney said.

Coach Sylvester Croom was fired shortly after an embarrassing 45-0 loss to in-state rival Ole Miss. Florida Offensive Coordinator Dan Mullen was hired to replace him. Mullen brought a new energy to the Bulldogs. Chaney relayed his initial impression of Mullen.

“You ain’t got no choice but to respect someone who won two national championships as an offensive coordinator. He knows what he’s talking about; he been around winning,” Chaney said, speaking on Mullen.

Chaney was still considering entering the 2009 NFL Draft, although he could have taken a medical redshirt and return in 2009. He ultimately decided to return and play one more season. He discussed what factored into his decision to return.

“I ended up graduating. My momma wanted me to get that paper and I wanted it too. [It was] just everyone around Mississippi State. [People like] Josh Gilreath the FCA Director. I wanted to stay and grow a little bit more,” said Chaney.

The Bulldogs had a losing season Mullen’s first year. Chaney had a strong season, amassing 90 tackles, including 4.5 tackles for loss.

The NFL scouts took notice of Chaney’s talents. He was invited to the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine. The athletic Linebacker wowed at both events. He even ran the fastest 40-yard dash time of any linebacker at the combine, with a blazing 4.58.

Chaney was still overlooked by most teams. The Philadelphia Eagles finally drafted him in the seventh round. He still had to earn a spot on the team as there are no guaranteed contracts in the NFL. The Eagles found a spot for him as a special-teams player and the back-up to starter Stewart Bradley—at Middle Linebacker.

Chaney didn’t get many defensive reps throughout most of the 2010 season, but he was pressed into action, after Bradley was injured late in the season. He performed well, finishing the season with 42 tackles.

“That was like the third to the last game of the season. I had been preparing myself mentally the whole season. I was the back-up Middle Linebacker. Any time you’re in the NFL—you don’t get no reps in practice. Second-team players don’t get reps. So, you have to prepare yourself mentally. You always one play away from playing,” said Chaney.

Chaney was penciled in as the starter, heading into his second year. He already was gaining a reputation as one of the top young linebackers in the league. The Eagles moved him to Will Linebacker, heading into the 2011 season. The move didn’t last long, after Casey Matthews struggled to handle the Middle Linebacker position. Chaney was moved back to the middle and finished the season with 92 tackles.

Chaney made some comments relating the Eagles, who had been coined the “Dream Team” struggles to those of the Miami Heat the previous NBA season. The comments garnered wide spread media criticism—considering the Heat were vilified the previous NBA season.

Chaney referring to the comments, “It was hard – especially since I was the Mike Linebacker. The way we were giving up fourth quarter leads; I put it on my shoulders. We were turning over the ball on offense and weren’t consistent on defense at all. When you don’t have an off-season and you bring in seven guys. You bring in all those guys who never played together. It’s hard to get them on the same page,” Chaney said.

The Eagles failed to live up to the “Dream Team” label, finishing the season 8-8. Defensive Coordinator Juan Castilla took the lion’s share of the blame. Chaney discussed if he felt the criticism was fair.

“Nothing that happens on a field is ever the coach fault, especially when you have so much talent. He’s a new Defensive Coordinator and is going to make mistakes. He got better as the season went along. He improved during the season—the same way we improved as a defense throughout the season,” said Chaney.

Chaney is a burgeoning young star in the NFL, but it’s interesting to see how he dealt with being around superstars: Michael Vick, Lesean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, and Nmandi Asomugha.

“When you’re in that situation, you learn from these guys. What they look for on film. I just kind of pick their brain. When I step on the field, I feel like I’m the best player on the field. I’m out there to get my job done and help my team win. I’m not like, ‘We got pro bowlers.’ So, I need to step back. I’m going out there to ball,” said Chaney.

Chaney has definitely balled-out his first two seasons. He has already begun working out for the 2012 season, preparing to become one of the NFL’s elite linebackers.

“[I want to keep] building on my experience, improve on my strengths, and work on my weaknesses. I’m still the seventh round pick”.

Jamar Chaney may be early in his career, but he is a star in the making.

Originally Published in February 22, 2012 Print Edition

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