Mullen shows off in Vicksburg

Published 11:42 am Thursday, May 12, 2011

The 2011 Road Dawg Tour rolled into Vicksburg Wednesday with Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen as the star attraction.

Mullen brought along both the 2010 Egg Bowl and the 2011 Gator Bowl trophies for happy Bulldog fans to see at the Vicksburg Convention Center.

Mullen, who directed Mississippi State to a 9-4 record and a 52-14 Gator Bowl win over Michigan, said the upcoming season represents the program’s next phase and it will be a hard one.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

“Our biggest challenge is this year,” Mullen said. “We’ve won two straight Egg Bowls, we went to a New Year’s Day bowl and we finished with a top 15 national ranking. With that comes expectations. The kids have been patted on the back because they proved everybody wrong. Now, we have to prove everybody right. We can’t be satisfied where we are.”

Mullen used an example of the recent tornadoes that hit Mississippi last month and the current Mississippi River flood that will crest near Vicksburg next week, as a way of how people deal with adversity. He hopes his football team can learn that lesson.

“I have come to admire the great resolve the people of Mississippi have when it comes to handling adversity, whether it be hurricanes, tornadoes or floods,” Mullen said. “Our football team faces an adversity as well this fall. I call it the adversity of success. I know from experience that you have a great view from the top. When I was in Salt Lake City, I went out one day and climbed Mount Olympus. There was nothing like that summit, but with each step, it got steeper and harder. Right now, our football program is at base camp No. 1, I know our fans are happy that we made it to base camp No.1. But we can’t stop. It’s going to get steeper and we’re going to have to continue to work harder.”

With success comes more challenges and Mullen wonders whether a younger team will be able to handle it when the season opens Sept. 1 at Memphis. Four of the Bulldogs’ first six games are on the road, including a Sept. 10 trip to defending national champion Auburn and early October road dates at Georgia and UAB.

“Maturity is my biggest concern with our football team,” Mullen said after finishing up his autograph

session. “We’ve experienced a good deal of success, but I have a really young team coming back.”

Gone are two senior leaders for the Bulldogs. Left tackle Derek Sherrod went in the first round of the NFL Draft to the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. State also lost linebacker Chris White, the 2010 Conerly Trophy winner, to the Buffalo Bills in the sixth round.

“You don’t replace a Derek Sherrod,” Mullen said. “We will have someone at left tackle. Right now, that’s Wayne Causell. Much like last year when we were faced with replacing Anthony Dixon, we built on the talent we had. I learned early on you can’t just make things fit a certain way. Alex Smith was the best player I’ve coached, but when I went to Florida, Chris Leak was a different kind of quarterback, and we were able to win a national championship with him.”

Mullen said that Yazoo County defensive end Caleb Eulls, a redshirt freshman, made good strides during spring practice. He also liked the progress of wide receivers Robert and Malcolm Johnson.

The biggest disappointment was the loss of running back Nick Griffin to a knee injury. He will be out until early October.

Mullen said two Vicksburg products, junior defensive back Marvin Bure and freshman long snapper Reed Gordon, will have increased roles.

Bure was a special teams force last season and his punt block against Michigan proved to be a pivotal play in the Gator Bowl win.

“Marvin had a great season on our special teams,” Mullen said. “He forced a fumble on a kickoff against Ole Miss and had the big play in the Gator Bowl. As of now, he’s also in the mix to join the rotation at corner. He’s got two experienced corners in front of him, but he’s in the mix.”

Mullen said Gordon came out of the spring as the Bulldogs’ starter at long snapper.