Swagger. It’s a term used by rap artists, Justin Bieber, student-athletes and most children.
The jury is out on whether coaches should blend in with the times, but don’t mention that to Mississippi State’s head coach Dan Mullen or South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier.
Mullen stepped into the Wynfrey Hotel Tuesday, sporting a pair of Adidas Easy Boost 350 tennis shoes. He said the idea to break out a clutch shoe game didn’t come from his players.
“I try to be swagged up in footwear,” Mullen said. “I’ve got a little sock game going today too. You know what, I was talking to the guys at Adidas, like, hey, this is the hottest shoe. I’m like, well, I’d like to wear kind of cool shoes, I think, when I go somewhere.”
Mississippi State has a reason to be confident in 2015.
It ended last season with losses against Ole Miss and Notre Dame, but entered a prime time matchup with Alabama as the No.1 team in the nation at 9-0.
A 25-20 loss to the Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium derailed the Bulldogs chances at the College Football Playoff and senior quarterback Dak Prescott’s shot at a Heisman Trophy.
Mullen said Prescott has improved this offseason on getting rid of the ball in his hands.
“He’s [Prescott] understanding where he wants to go with the ball in any situation, getting to the third or fourth read in a progression, knowing where his checkdown is, knowing when to hold the ball for a second and take a shot down the field, or just get it out of my hands and let’s worry about playing the next play,” Mullen said.
Mullen said adding this dynamic with Prescott’s experience is certainly going to help Mississippi State. He said it will certainly help the Bulldogs move the chains and keep Prescott healthy.
Along with Prescott, Mississippi State returns a roster full of talented wide receivers, headlined by junior De’Runnya Wilson. He totaled 680 yards and nine touchdowns on 47 receptions.
“We have four different wide receivers that had 100-yard receiving games last year that are coming back, which that’s a pretty big number,” Mullen said. “We have seven wide receivers that have touchdown passes in games coming back, seven different ones coming back.”
Defensively, the Bulldogs lost Preston Smith, Benardrick McKinney and Jamerson Love to the National Football League. It returns Will Redmond, Chris Jones, Taveze Calhoun and Richie Brown.
Redmond, a senior, is a hard-hitting cornerback. He put in 51 tackles, three tackles for loss and three interceptions in 12 games last season. Mullen said he is constantly working.
“You show up Saturday morning to work, and there’s a guy out there in the field working back pedals and change of direction on his own is Will Redmond,” Mullen said.
“When you look at the key moments of the season, he was right in the middle of all of those. So he certainly has the experience to me of a guy who as a starter, I would view him as a starter coming back, and we expect him to have a huge season for us.”
Calhoun, a senior, tallied 53 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and an interception last season.
He said the team’s approach this year is to have a complete defense.
“We try to stay out of the media with things people say,” Calhoun said.
“We try to take care of ourselves, our defense as a whole, and make sure everyone is working toward the common goal of being the best defense in the nation.”
Coach Mullen and the Bulldogs have embraced the underdog role. Mississippi State was picked to finish last in the SEC West this fall. Dak Prescott said he uses it as motivation.
“I do not care if they have us at No.1 or No.7,” Prescott said.
“The people who decide that are outside of our facility. They do not see the people I work out with every day. We have guys coming back that have played and started in big time games. We have a chance, and our expectation for ourselves is not the same as everyone else’s.”
His shoes started the conversation, but Mullen ended with wanting to see Mississippi State be a complete team this fall. It lost some talent on defense, but has much experience returning.