Camp start: Thursday
Opener: Oklahoma State in Houston (ABC at 3:30 p.m. EDT)
Fun fact: Tyler Russell was the SEC offensive player of the week twice last season, becoming the first MSU quarterback to win that honor since Sleepy Robinson in 1991.
Coming Tuesday: Missouri
When Kaleb Eulls arrived at Mississippi State, he had the size, strength and promise typical of so many Bulldogs defensive linemen through the years.
He also had a life experience that set him apart.
In September 2009, already weary from the start of the Yazoo City High School year after a demanding month of football camp, Eulls was trying to sneak a few more minutes of sleep on the morning bus ride. He was both a standout defensive end and his school's quarterback.
"My younger sister woke me up on the bus," Eulls recalled at SEC media days. "It's like an hour ride from our house to the school, and I was just staring down the barrel of a gun."
A 14-year-old girl who was tired of being bullied had taken the weapon from her house and started waving it around among 22 other passengers. With the bus stopped and the gun no longer pointed at Eulls, he started helping kids out the emergency door exit while also trying to plan his moment to pounce.
"I guess for a quick second she glanced to see where the kids were running to," he said. "I just knew that was the right time and moment, so I went at her and went at the gun. I got the gun, and I disarmed it."
The biggest tackle Eulls ever made quickly made him a Yazoo City hero. It also landed him on NBC's "Today" show, where he was interviewed by Matt Lauer and praised by the hometown police in the segment.
Four years later, the 6-foot-4, 290-pound redshirt junior is adored not only by Mississippi State fans but also by those who recognize him for his quick actions that morning.
"That helped me, because I think it showed me what kind of guy I was," he said. "I was a person who cared more for others than myself, and I feel that matured me a little earlier."
After his redshirt season, Eulls in 2011 became the Southeastern Conference's only true or redshirt freshman to start all 13 games. He started 13 again last season and enters this year with 58 career tackles and four tackles for loss.
Continued development this season could result in Eulls being in position to be selected in the NFL draft, whether in 2014 or '15. The Bulldogs have had 10 defensive linemen drafted since 2000.
"That factored into my decision to come here, and I've always felt that at Mississippi State those guys worked hard," he said. "Once I got here I realized that it was a family and that the coaches care about you and treat you as if you were their own son. You can call them up at any time.
"Pernell McPhee, Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd took me under their wing and showed me what it took to be a great leader and a great person for Mississippi State."
The question now is whether a great leader will be on a great team. Mississippi State raced out to a 7-0 start last season, which included rare double-digit victories over Auburn and Tennessee, but coach Dan Mullen's Bulldogs were thumped down the stretch by Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU and Ole Miss in winding up 8-5.
Mississippi State has produced three consecutive winning records and three straight bowl trips, with the Bulldogs hoping to make it four bowls in a row for the first time in program history. There are six starters back on each side of the ball, including quarterback Tyler Russell and tailback LaDarius Perkins on offense, but a fourth straight year of sweeping the nonconference opposition will be much more difficult with an opening game against Oklahoma State in Houston.
"Playing a team like Oklahoma State brings a lot more sense of urgency to training camp," Mullen said. "I think the focus that they have when you enter camp, knowing what a big game it's going to be week one of the season, really changes the demeanor of the team. I think it's great."
The Bulldogs have just 10 seniors on the roster, including Russell and Perkins, but they insist the next step can be taken.
"Going 8-5 and going to a bowl game isn't good enough anymore," Russell said. "A few years ago, winning five games was a pretty good year. Now we've changed everything, and we continually get better. Our goal is to go 7-0 and continue on the season undefeated and ultimately make it to the championship.
"If you don't have those goals, you shouldn't really be playing football."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...