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The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

‘The energy around here is different’: Spring football brings excitement to Starkville

Mike Mattina | Mississippi State Athletics
The Maroon team beat the White team 67-53 at the spring game.

Jeff Lebby’s introduction to Mississippi State University was nothing short of a spectacular success, bringing excitement from fans and team members alike. Lebby was hired as the Bulldogs’ 36th head football coach in November 2023 and was able to showcase his coaching abilities this weekend during the annual spring football game. The scrimmage wrapped up flawlessly—with no rain to dampen spirits or injuries to mar the day—and left a trail of renewed excitement among supporters.

This scenario might ring a bell for State fans, reminiscent of last year when Zach Arnett and former offensive coordinator Kevin Barbay took the reins after the tragic loss of Mike Leach. However, it is important to note that the previous spring game performance did not translate into success during actual play, particularly in the challenging context of the SEC where MSU struggled with a 1-7 record.

However, this year appears different as the atmosphere had tenacious on-field energy, fueled by stellar performances on both offense and defense. The thrill reached its high point with the implementation of a new high-scoring system, keeping everyone on the edge of their seats. Senior defensive lineman De’monte Russell encapsulated the sentiment perfectly.

“It was one of the best springs I have had since I have been here,” Russell said. “The energy around here is different.”

if you’ve got time and room, this would be a really good jump out quote or something to use in headline

The offensive unit seemed to have found its groove, seamlessly blending new transfers and freshmen talents. Baylor transfer senior quarterback Blake Shapen dazzled during first-team reps, culminating in an impressive 18-22 passing record for 312 yards and three touchdowns. Meanwhile, transfer senior wide receiver Kelly Akharaiyi impressed with his catching prowess and ability to create separation on the field.

Even the redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Parson showcased promise, delivering a memorable sixty-yard touchdown pass to a freshman wide receiver, extending the maroon team’s lead and igniting cheers from the crowd.

Now, the lingering question begs: Does the offensive success hint at defensive shortcomings?

The answer, although complex, leans towards a more positive response. The defense, albeit comprising new faces, displayed commendable performance, evident in the three recorded sacks and four tackles by various players.

However, there were notable lapses in the secondary coverage, leading to occasional breakdowns. Similarly, while the defensive line secured a few sacks, there is room for improvement in overall performance. Sophomore linebacker Donterry Russell showcased glimpses of brilliance, hinting at the team’s underlying potential, with expectations of enhanced defensive line productivity under the guidance of esteemed coach David Turner in the upcoming season.

As the spring transfer period nears its conclusion, anticipation mounts for Lebby and his staff’s aggressive recruitment strategy akin to their winter portal maneuvers. Notably, the potential arrival of star running back Damien Martinez, a standout from Oregon State and 2023 All Pac-12 and Doak Walker Award semifinalist, would elevate the team’s talent pool and on-field productivity significantly.

Excitement reverberates throughout the fan base for the forthcoming season, with only time revealing whether this marks a remarkable turnaround or a repetition of past struggles.

About the Contributor
Noah McCord
Noah McCord, Sports Editor
Noah McCord is a sophomore aerospace engineering major. He currently serves as the Sports Editor. [email protected]
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