The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Dreams come true as freshmen see field for the first time

Noah Siano | The Reflector

Kylin Hill, freshman from Columbus, hits the hole for a moderate gain. He ran the ball nine times for a gain of 64 yards on Saturday.

To most Sept. 2 marked the start of Mississippi State University’s football season, however for four freshman it meant something more.

In the Bulldogs’ blowout of Charleston Southern University, four true freshmen made their SEC football debut: linebacker Willie Gay Jr., running back Kylin Hill, quarterback Keytaon Thompson and kicker/punter Tucker Day.

On game day, these students are no longer just another freshman sitting in your intro class, they are watched, analyzed and criticized by fellow students and fans alike. However, for the brief period in between whistles, all the pressure melts away and they are just playing the sport they love.

Willie Gay Jr., a Starkville native, is no stranger to the maroon and white. Reminiscing his experiences as a little boy, Gay, smiled as he unashamedly admits playing for MSU is a dream come true.

“I remember when I used to sit up there in the nose bleed seats as a little boy and think about this moment and now that it’s here, it is unreal,” Gay said.

Gay, a four-star recruit coming out of high school, is an explosive addition to the MSU defense but is still very green in terms of college football experience. Upon arrival at training camp, Gay was immediately apprehensive as he struggled to learn defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s high-pressure defense.

Gay admitted to feeling overwhelmed with information and worrying he would not play his first year due to the learning curve associated with football at the college level.

Ultimately, looking up to sophomore linebacker Leo Lewis and senior linebacker Dezmond Harris made the difference. Both veterans were highly sought-after high school recruits as well and understood the challenge Gay faced and took him under their wing.

“I watch them every day in practice and you know I was a four-star athlete and all that, but as I come up I love to watch them and learn from them, and get better,” Gay said.

Gay concluded his first game with two tackles, one of which was a tackle for a three-yard loss.

While Gay and his teammates dismantled the CSU offense, fellow true freshman Kylin Hill and the MSU offense ran away with the lead.

The explosive running back from Columbus,  was brought into the game much earlier than expected but left nothing in question as he ran for 64 yards on nine attempts. However, in the helmet, Hill’s mind raced during his first college carry.

“I am not going to lie, I was kind of nervous, I was thinking too much,” he said. “I should have scored, I know I should have scored.”

While many thought Hill displayed great vision and toughness as he evaded CSU tacklers and pushed for the extra yards, Hill was quick to say he still has plenty of work ahead of him if he wants to be a complete running back for MSU.

In his ninth year at MSU, running backs coach Greg Knox makes it a point to train his players to be proficient in all elements of the offense. Knox spoke highly of Hill’s eagerness to put in the time to learn his various assignments as a running back.

“He (Hill) is starting to learn to execute when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands and carry out his fake, do his blocking scheme,” Knox said. “He’s been good about it, he is learning.”

Hill also learned a valuable lesson in his first outing for MSU; he’s not in high school anymore. He noted how he immediately recognized players were bigger, stronger, faster, even remarking on the fact he can’t simply outrun everyone like he did in high school.

Hill was not the only freshman in the backfield in the second half, about midway through the third quarter, he was joined by backup QB Keytaon Thompson. Thompson is a prototypical Dan Mullen quarterback, at 6-4 222 pounds he showed speed, and completed four passes for 35 yards and one touchdown.

The freshman QB from New Orleans, quickly brought Bulldog fans to their feet after streaking for 13 yards on his first career run. While his inexperience was obvious when compared to starting quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, Thompson steadily grew more comfortable with the plays being called and speed of the game.

Mullen was pleased to let his second-string quarterback get his toes wet in their first game of the season. He recognized that injuries happen and the experience will be invaluable should anything happen to Fitzgerald.

“He (Thompson) is a snap away from being the guy, being the starter. It’s great for him to get those reps and get that experience because it’s a long season you never know what’s going to happen and I want to see him to continue to grow and develop,” Mullen said.

While the CSU coaches and players were kicking themselves over missed opportunities and being out played, kicker/punter Tucker Day, was kicking five point-after-attempts and a field goal from 40 yards. However, Day did miss the other two field goals he attempted at 32 and 47 yards.

The freshman from Brentwood, Tennessee, was originally recruited as a punter, but quickly distinguished himself to  Mullen and the rest of the coaching staff as the player to fill the void left by former kicker Westin Graves. Day’s performance over the summer and into fall camp has solidified his position as starting kicker in Mullen’s eyes despite his shaky debut.

“One of the things that allowed him to win the starting job was his competitive edge and competitive attitude,” said Mullen, “I’ve seen him kick much much better than he did today so I want to see how he responds to this challenge but knowing him he’s going to respond to this challenge and not shy away from anything and come out and perform at a high level”

Day has the perfect chance to respond this coming weekend as the Bulldogs travel take on Louisiana Tech, a team who consistently plays and competes at a high level. The game will be another opportunity for the coaches and players to fine tune their techniques against a more offensively versatile team and a stouter defense.

The game will be at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 9 at Joe Aillet Stadium, in Ruston, Louisiana. CBS sports will televise the game.

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Dreams come true as freshmen see field for the first time