By JOEL COLEMAN
When Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen and the Bulldogs arrive in Charlotte, North Carolina on Friday, MSU’s seventh-year leader can begin to focus on the challenges that await his team with the Belk Bowl looming.
Before Mullen zeros in on NC State though, his biggest challenge might be fitting 6-foot-5, 325-pound defensive tackle Nick James into a stock car.
“Yeah, I’m not sure about that now,” Mullen said. “(I’m not sure he can) get in that window there and climb into that seat.”
A Sunday stop at Charlotte Motor Speedway is just one of several bowl week events for MSU before the Bulldogs and Wolfpack kick off at 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 30. While it remains to be seen if James will get the chance for a loop or two around the track, Mullen said he plans to channel his own inner NASCAR driver.
“Absolutely,” Mullen said when asked if he planned to take a car for a spin. “As long as it’s the Carl Edwards (car). I’m a Carl Edwards guy. You’ve got to have your driver and I’m a Carl Edwards guy. I don’t know if I’ll be doing the backflip getting out of it though.”
Besides a stop at the race track, MSU will also take time on Monday morning to visit the Levin Cancer Hospital and Second Harvest Food Bank. That evening, the Bulldogs will go on a team shopping spree at the Belk store in the South Park Mall for their bowl gift.
Tuesday, both Mississippi State and NC State will participate in the Belk Bowl Media Day at BB&T Ballpark. MSU will then conduct its final practice of the season on the eve of the Belk Bowl.
Mullen and James are veterans of bowl week happenings like the Bulldogs will get to have in the coming days. James, a junior, has been to a bowl game every season of his MSU career.
Mullen is coaching in his sixth-straight bowl game, only missing a bowl at MSU in his debut season in 2009.
For some though, it’s an all-new feeling. Sophomore wide receiver Donald Gray, who spent last season at Copiah-Lincoln Community College, is excited for his first chance to experience all that comes with going to a bowl game.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Gray said. “I’m just glad to be able to participate in this. It’s been a long time coming so I’m ready to see what it feels like.”
Gray isn’t going into the week ahead blind however. With so many teammates that have made bowl games an annual tradition for Mississippi State, Gray said he’s already been given a heads up on what’s about to happen.
“We’re going to be focused, but we’re going to have a lot of fun too,” Gray said. “We’re going to enjoy ourselves and enjoy the bowl game and send the seniors out on a good note.”