BULL­DOGS

Starkville Daily News - - SOUTH­EAST­ERN CON­FER­ENCE FOOT­BALL -

Wil­lie Gay, Jr., and red­shirt fresh­man Er­roll Thomp­son keep im­press­ing for MSU. They're grab­bing the at­ten­tion of ev­ery­one, from fans, to coaches, to team­mates.

“Both of those guys have be­come more com­fort­able,” State ju­nior line­backer Gerri Green said of Gay and Thomp­son. “They both go out there and play with in­stinct. As they start to un­der­stand the scheme more and more and un­der­stand what they're do­ing, they're mak­ing more and more plays.”

No mat­ter how big the stage has been, both

Thomp­son and Gay are prov­ing at a young age that they are up for it. Against Alabama, Thomp­son had five tack­les, in­clud­ing his first ca­reer sack when he brought down Tide quar­ter­back Jalen Hurts late in the fourth quar­ter. Gay also recorded a tackle against Alabama. He has recorded at least one tackle in seven of 10 games for the Bull­dogs this sea­son, has mul­ti­ple tack­les in four con­tests and even has a pair of pass break ups on his short re­sume.

Such play­mak­ing abil­ity has MSU de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Todd Gran­tham ex­cited to see what's next in the ca­reers of Thomp­son and Gay.

“You look at that Alabama game and both of those guys are in there in the sec­ond half bat­tling,” Gran­tham said. “You're see­ing both of those guys get bet­ter every week. That part of it is fun (to see and coach). I think both of them have a bright fu­ture here with what we're do­ing and we'll con­tinue to de­velop those guys.”

It's a good thing for the Bull­dogs that Thomp­son and Gay are look­ing like blos­som­ing stars early in their ca­reers. Gran­tham re­lies on play­ing sev­eral guys on de­fense to keep play­ers as fresh as pos­si­ble. Thomp­son and Gay al­low Gran­tham to turn to them with very lit­tle,

if any, drop-off from the starters. Gran­tham in­sists it all has re­volved around Gay and Thomp­son main­tain­ing their fo­cus, whether they are on the field or on the side­lines.

“Both (Thomp­son and Gay) have been very good at stay­ing in the game when they're not in the game,” Gran­tham said. “They know what's go­ing to hap­pen when they get in the game and their num­ber is called.”

This Satur­day at Ar­kan­sas, there's a chance MSU might de­pend on its youth at line­backer more than ever. Se­nior line­backer Dez Har­ris could pos­si­bly miss this week­end's game af­ter suf­fer­ing a leg in­jury against Alabama.

If that hap­pens, Thomp­son's role will likely in­crease and he'll be­come one of the quar­ter­backs of the de­fense as he makes the de­fen­sive calls.

It's noth­ing Thomp­son hasn't done be­fore. Ear­lier this sea­son, at Texas A&M, Har­ris was banged up and Thomp­son stepped in and played more than 50 snaps. He's ready to go should that be needed again.

“I feel like I've been grow­ing week to week and at this point, I'm as con­fi­dent as I've been in the scheme, mak­ing the calls and ev­ery­thing else,” Thomp­son said.

Gay is pre­pared to pull his share of the load at Ar­kan­sas too.

“We're ready,” Gay said. “I be­lieve the coaches trust us and we work every sin­gle day to show them that if we get put in, we won't mess things up.”

There are still sure to be grow­ing pains for Gay and Thomp­son, but it's al­most in­dis­putable that the fu­ture of the line­backer po­si­tion at MSU is in good hands. As Green gets into the lat­ter stages of his own col­le­giate ca­reer, he's con­fi­dent in say­ing the sky is the limit for his two pro­teges.

“Their ceil­ings are high,” Green said. “It's as high as they want it to be. They're still young and get­ting their feet wet, but if they keep work­ing hard, it's su­per high.”

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