By JOEL COLEMAN
Contrary to what you might have heard, 2014 wasn’t the first time Mississippi State ascended to No. 1 in the country. Yes, the record books say that, but years prior, just down the road from Davis Wade Stadium in another corner of Starkville, Gabe Myles had already taken the Bulldogs to the top of the polls – on his video game system.
So when Myles, a former Starkville High Yellowjacket-turned-MSU –wide-receiver, actually got to experience being the nation’s premier team in his own hometown for a five-week stretch last year, it was completely surreal.
“It’s been real fun being the local kid,” Myles said. “You always want your university or college team to be No. 1. I used to play it on the game, and we were No. 1 on the game. So it’s fun to actually be a part of the team that went to No. 1 here.”
Mississippi State has always been in the blood of Myles. Besides his Starkville roots, Myles father, Eddie, was a four-time letterwinner with the Bulldogs from 1987-1990. So when it came time for the younger Myles to officially sign with a collegiate program in February 2013, there was really only one place that had a chance.
“This is where I wanted to be,” Myles said. “My dad played here and I grew up coming to all the games so I just knew I wanted to play in maroon and white.”
Myles has done far more than just get on the field in his short time as a Bulldog. He’s quickly become a key part of the MSU offense. Following a redshirt season in his initial year on campus, Myles had an impressive 2014, playing in all 13 games with three starts. In his appearances, Myles displayed the versatility that he’d developed while playing multiple positions over the course of his prep days, catching 22 passes for 178 yards, rushing four times for 35 yards and completing an 11-yard pass.
Becoming a jack-of-all-trades for the Bulldogs is something Myles is quite proud of.
“It makes you feel kind of special to be a utility player,” Myles said. “I get to kind of do it all. I just think it shows how much the coaches trust in you and that’s a big thing in this program. It feels good being that guy.”
There’s one thing Myles didn’t do a year ago – get in the end zone. Over the course of the season, Myles was on the cusp of scoring multiple times but always seemed to end up just shy of the goal line.
“I joke with the players and tell them if this was a basketball team, I’d be the point guard because I’m just assisting everybody,” Myles said. “I’m getting there and then they are the ones punching it in and scoring. It was frustrating, but at the same time I just know if it’s your time, it’s your time, so you’ve just got to go make the play then.”
MSU head coach Dan Mullen anticipates Myles getting plenty of chances to score in the years to come, starting with this season. Surrounded by a talented group of receivers led by standout juniors De’Runnya Wilson and Fred Ross, Mullen says it’s time for Myles to progress to the next level as well.
“He’s dynamic with the ball in his hand, which we knew that,” Mullen said. “As a former high school quarterback, if you put the ball in his hand he can make things happen. It’s going to be him improving as an all-around wide receiver, which we really hope this is the year he takes a step forward in that role.”
Myles said he’s already soaking in lessons from Wilson, Ross and the other Mississippi State wideouts.
“There’s a lot of talent and we just push each other and make each other better and we learn from each other because we watch everybody,” Myles said. “We watch film together so what works for one person, we may try it and put our own little spin to it.”
If Myles can continue to absorb knowledge from his teammates, he’s almost certain to play an even bigger role with the Bulldogs than what he already has. And maybe, just maybe, Myles and the Bulldogs can send shockwaves throughout the college football world as he lives out his video game success on the gridiron one more time.
“People can sleep on us,” Myles said. “But we’re going to do what we need to do. All we have to do is prove ourselves to us. We know what we have and if we can play to our full potential, it doesn’t matter what anyone says in the preseason.”
By JOEL COLEMAN