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Mississippi State QB reflects team’s growth in character

STARKVILLE, Miss. (BP)–Matt Wyatt is a living lesson on comebacks and character. Mississippi State’s 6-foot-5, 231-pound senior quarterback started the first three games of last season before being benched. He could have sulked. He could have complained. He could have felt sorry for himself.
“But he stood there on the sidelines, cheering on the guy who took his place, not showing an ounce of resentment,” said Lloyd Humphrey, the Bulldogs’ team chaplain and Wyatt’s pastor at First Baptist Church in Starkville, Miss. “His attitude was just to be ready when they needed him.”
The Bulldogs needed him Oct. 9 against Auburn. Wyatt came off the bench to lead the team to a score in the final minutes and an 18-16 victory.
They needed Wyatt again Thursday night, Nov. 4, against Kentucky on national television. This time, it looked as if he would fail. In three series before the final one, Wyatt’s offense had lost ground. But with time running out, Wyatt led his team into field goal position and the Bulldogs preserved their perfect record with a 23-22 victory over Kentucky.
Mississippi State (8-0, ranked eighth on Nov. 9) is one of only five teams that remain unbeaten in Division I-A (Florida State, Virginia Tech, Kansas State and Marshall are the others). The knock on the Bulldogs is that they haven’t beaten anybody, but that is unfair — they’ve beaten everybody they have played, and that is all they can do. They haven’t always looked pretty. They succeed on mix of talent and guts, on efforts like that of Matt Wyatt.
Wyatt’s performance embodies the Mississippi State program, which will always have to overachieve to succeed. In a state with fewer people than metropolitan Atlanta, Mississippi State, Mississippi and Southern Mississippi are fighting for recruits, yet each is succeeding. All three are ranked in the Top 25. They have five losses among them, all but one (Ole Miss’ loss to Vanderbilt) to ranked teams.
Wyatt’s five years at Mississippi State coincide with the resurgence of the program. It is an athletic and spiritual resurgence. The word “character” often flows from the mouth of coach Jackie Sherrill.
“Five years ago, we didn’t have much character on our football team,” Humphrey said. “But over the last four years we’ve been able to get a lot of kids who have character, and we’ve got a lot of kids involved in Bible studies who have then developed character.”
Humphrey and Wyatt say that translates to success.
“I think it has everything to do with success on the field,” Wyatt said. Neither Wyatt nor Humphrey are arguing that God favors the Bulldogs over another team because they have a lot of Christians, but they contend that the players perform better because their priorities are right.
“When you enter that relationship with him [Jesus Christ], he teaches you things that are going to make you successful wherever you go,” Wyatt said. “Like how to be spiritually and mentally tough, how to get the big picture and see further down road. Over the past several years, we’ve just had a spiritual revival. There are so many guys on the team that are just starting to realize that living the life God wants us to live should come before football.”
Part of that spiritual revival was sparked by tragedy. At the beginning of two-a-day team practices two years ago, star running back Keefer McGee drowned. The shaken team was forced to consider life in terms of eternity.
“A lot of things were already going on spiritually, but that became the catalyst,” Humphrey said. “That’s the thing that helped us turn the corner. It made everybody stop and think.”
It was a perspective-building experience, a sobering reminder of priorities. Priorities truly aren’t hard to keep, Wyatt said, if you focus on Christ.
“One thing that’s really cool about concentrating on having a personal relationship with God and putting him first is that everything else falls into proper perspective,” Wyatt said. “Football, school, it takes its proper place. When I have tough times and I’m not doing well, what helps me is that I’ve never doubted whether God has control of my life and whether I’m letting him lead, because I’ve made that decision. It’s settled. So when bad things happen, I just remember that God is in control.”
And he stays ready, ready for a comeback.
Said Wyatt, “I just really feel the last two or three weeks I’ve had has been a reward from God for hanging in there and keeping a good attitude.”
Reprinted by permission from Crosswalk.com, an Internet Christian website featuring news, sports and numerous other resources at www.crosswalk.com.

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  • Victor Lee