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Mississippi State coaches visit Natchez on Road Dawg Tour

Mississippi State University Athletic Director Scott Stricklin speaks to a crowd of alumni and fans during the school’s Road Dawg Tour across Mississippi, which gave fans a chance to meet coaches and MSU athletic department officials. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

Mississippi State University Athletic Director Scott Stricklin speaks to a crowd of alumni and fans during the school’s Road Dawg Tour across Mississippi, which gave fans a chance to meet coaches and MSU athletic department officials. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — After completing one of the most historic year’s of athletics in Mississippi State University history, athletic director Scott Stricklin, head football coach Dan Mullen, newly hired men’s basketball coach Ben Howland and women’s basketball coach Vic Schaefer have hit the road for their annual Road Dawg Tour.

On the list of stops this year was Natchez, and the foursome made their way to the Miss-Lou Tuesday morning to talk with the Bulldog family.

“It is a lot of fun to be able to get out, shake hands and see the Mississippi State faithful,” Stricklin said. “One of the greatest things about Mississippi State is our fans stay engaged with us. When we come to a place like this, there is a little bit more excited and it gets us energized and fired up about it.”

Mullen said the tour is a great opportunity for the athletic department to show their appreciation to the fans.

“It is our opportunity to come out and thank everybody for what they’ve done for us,” Mullen said. “When we got here a while back, we talked about selling out the stadium and creating an unbelievable home field advantage, and they’ve done that. Everybody shows up every Saturday and creates one of the best atmospheres in the SEC and in the country.”

Mullen led the Bulldogs to their first 10-win regular season in school history and to a berth in the Orange Bowl last season. On top of that, Mississippi State sat at No. 1 in the rankings for multiple weeks in a row for the first time in school history.

However, the seventh year head coach is still looking to improve.

“Hopefully we’ll be even better than last year,” he said. “We want to always keep taking those steps forward. We were No. 1 for most of the season, but we want to finish at No. 1 at the end of the year.”

Mullen had an opportunity to get a look at local talent this past football season when Cathedral headed to Starkville to play in the MHSAA Class 1A State Championship game, and he said that no place should rule out the potential of being recruited.

“Our goal is to never let any player in the state go unnoticed,” Mullen said. “So we try to get into every high school and find everybody that we can. We look for players in every small town or big city in the state of Mississippi.”

Although the hype around Bulldog football has been at an all-time high, the men’s basketball program is beginning to pick up steam after the hiring of Howland, who served as the long time head coach at UCLA.

Howland has appeared in three Final Four’s and five Sweet 16’s as a head coach and said he plans to bring Mississippi State back to a national contender.

“We are going to be a competitive team,” Howland said. “We are hoping to add a few more players to a pretty good senior class and we are hoping to recruit a kid or two to get even more competitive.”

Recruiting hasn’t proven to be too difficult for Howland recently as he landed the top prospect in the state of Mississippi and one of the top prospects in the country in Callaway’s Malik Newman.

“It is a huge statement for Mississippi State basketball and the state of Mississippi,” Howland said. “We’re really proud to have a young man, not only with such high playing ability, but with really high character. He’s a great kid and going to have a really good year for us.”

But Howland said he expects that to be Newman’s only year in a Mississippi State uniform.

“Easily, he is a one-and-done,” Howland said.

Ultimately, the athletic department wants the Bulldog fan base to know that special things are happening in Starkville, and Stricklin said the goals for next school year are even higher.

“We have 350 student athletes in 16 sports and I know the public tends to focus on two or three higher profile sports, but we want each sport to be successful and have the opportunity to represent us well in the SEC,” Stricklin said. “Next year people are going to see a bunch of young people represent them the right way and go about their business and achieve at a high level. There are no limits in what we are striving for. We want to win SEC championships and national championships.”