By JOEL COLEMAN
Things couldn’t be going much better for Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs have won three straight games, most recently pounding Kentucky 42-16 on Saturday night at Davis Wade Stadium. Following the win over the Wildcats, MSU surged back into the national rankings, coming in at No. 25 in the latest AP poll released on Sunday.
Amongst the positives however, there is hurt. Senior cornerback Will Redmond, projected by many to be a high pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, tore his right anterior cruciate ligament in practice on Tuesday, most likely ending his Bulldog playing career.
That dark cloud hovered over MSU as they prepared for the game against Kentucky.
“It’s absolutely devastating,” Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said of Redmond’s injury. “He’s a team captain that’s done everything the right way throughout his whole career and is a leader of the team. I don’t think anybody has an idea how devastating that is to a young man that has meant so much to this program and invested so much into the program.”
Redmond developed a reputation as a big-time playmaker for MSU. He provided game-clinching interceptions for the Bulldogs last season against both LSU and Arkansas, helping MSU get to and maintain the top spot in the national rankings for five weeks.
For his career, he totaled 99 tackles and five interceptions. This season, Redmond tallied 25 tackles with two picks.
Though Redmond’s production will be hard to replicate, fellow senior cornerback Taveze Calhoun said the injury to his teammate is more difficult to deal with on a personal level.
“It’s just an unfortunate situation for him,” Calhoun said. “It just affects me more as a friend than anything. “
Calhoun did his best on Saturday to ease the pain of losing Redmond, though it didn’t come without a scare of his own.
Early in the contest, Calhoun leaped high to defend a pass and came down awkwardly on his leg. He had to be assisted off the field.
“I think I just kind of fell on a guy and bruised the back of my leg,” Calhoun said. “More than anything, it was just panic. I think I got kind of scared for a minute because of the initial pain, but once they calmed me down I realized it wasn’t that bad and I knew I could finish the game.”
Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles would have been just fine with Calhoun taking the rest of the night off. Instead, Calhoun came back with a pair of highlight-reel interceptions.
“I just kind of stuck my hand out on both of them and just made a good play,” Calhoun said of his picks.
While the interceptions obviously aided Mississippi State from an in-game perspective, the plays also provided reassurance to the Bulldog defense as a whole. With senior safety Kendrick Market also down with his own torn ACL along with Redmond, Mullen said it can’t be understated just how big Calhoun’s performance was for the secondary.
“That’s huge because we have been devastated there,” Mullen said. “You’re talking about one of our emotional leaders in Kendrick Market and a team captain in Will Redmond. That’s devastating to a team when that stuff happens. But I will say this, to have Taveze step up, and he knows he’s a leader back there for us, guys look to him. We have some talented young players, but they’re looking for that guidance and for him to make those big plays is huge.”
Calhoun welcomes his increased level of responsibility. Fueled by his friend’s unfortunate circumstances, Calhoun says Redmond going down has given him a newfound spark.
“I put a lot on myself,” Calhoun said. “When he went down, the first thing he told me was he couldn’t believe it was over. Just for him and our friendship, that motivates me to play every game like it’s the last because you just never know. When he went down, I think I just raised my level of intensity and every play, I’m giving 110 percent.”
As Calhoun continues to perform each week for MSU, Redmond’s attention turns to healing. Mullen said that process has already started and that Redmond’s NFL future is hopefully still ahead of him.
“Generally, how those injuries work, he’ll start the rehab process right now,” Mullen said. “He’ll get the swelling down and we’ll set the surgery time and have the surgery done. Then he’ll start the rehab process after that. Hopefully for him, we get him back healthy and he gets cleared by around mid-April so he gets cleared before the draft.”