Portrait of a winner at Miss. State
By By Tony Krausz/assistant sports editor
August 2, 2003
Wins have been like diamonds at Mississippi State University over the past two seasons.
The Bulldogs have only celebrated six victories since their last postseason appearance in the 2000 Sanford Independence Bowl.
Being winners has become as uncommon as man bites dog or in this case Bulldog bites Rebel, Volunteer, Commodore, Gator or any other university mascot.
MSU head coach Jackie Sherrill told reporters at the recently concluded SEC Media Days that he believes the Bulldogs train has finally hit bottom.
Painting his comments with a metaphor of being unable to halt a run-away train until it bottoms out, Sherrill pointed to brighter days and more precious wins in his young but experienced team's future.
The 30-plus year coaching veteran told anyone who would listen that contrary to the marks in the team's win-loss column everyone who has and will suit up for MSU is a winner.
Sherrill, the dean of SEC coaches by virtue of his uninterrupted 13-year tenure at the helm of the MSU program, knows that is a tough sell. Especially considering the Bulldogs have a microscopic .260 winning percentage over the last two seasons and was picked to finish last in the SEC West in the conference's preseason poll.
It is a statement the veteran coach and youthful players are bringing into the 2003 campaign.
Senior linebacker Timothy James Mawhinney, better known as T.J., reflects the let other people call you a winner mentality like rays from the sun bounce off the ocean.
The transfer from Division I-AA Charleston Southern is a winner like the statue of David is art.
And like the Bulldogs are going to try to do this year, he went out at proved he was a winner, instead of just saying it.
Mawhinney's image of being a winner didn't just happen over night, the native of Madisonville, La., had to reshape himself to be sculpted into the defensive stopper that recorded 88 tackles last season.
The 23-year-old's chance was transferring from Charleston Southern after a freshman season in which he earned a spot on the collegiate all-state team to be a walk on at MSU.
Mawhinney's ability to walk away from a program where he was a big fish in a little pond to become a minnow in the SEC ocean was fueled by two things.
But to accomplish his dream of making it to Division I football that he used to watch every Saturday with his grandfather, Mawhinney had to become as apt at one thing that all of those players he felt he was as good or better than were he had to raise his grades.
Mawhinney said the turning point came when he was at Hagrave (Va.) Military Academy, after he left Mandeville (La.) High School following his junior year as a member of the district championship football team.
Between being far from home and the boot-camp atmosphere of the school, he was molded into the young man people see today.
It also gave him the perspective of what he would tell his younger self, if he could go back in time.
Mawhinney's goal now is simple he just wants to graduate. He said the NFL would be a dream, but he is focused on May when he should earn his degree in Fitness Management.
Reshaping a life in tough conditions far from home, walking into the unknown from success to possible failure and gaining insight of who you are and who you want to be, sure sounds like the portrait of winner.