STARKVILLE, Miss. — The idea of a player opting out of a bowl game rankles Mike Leach. The Mississippi State football coach has seen the practice plenty over the years as some players prepare for the NFL, but he doesn’t agree with the tendency.
In fact, Leach decried it Saturday when he met with the media after the first practice of the Bulldogs’ preparation for the Liberty Bowl against Texas Tech (6-6) on Dec. 28 (6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN). Leach said players ought to finish what they started that season.
“You’ve got an obligation to the place that helped build and develop you and finish it out in the bowl,” Leach said. “That’s part of it. You owe it to your team, you owe it to your fans, you owe it to your coaches and it’s the most bizarre thing in the world to me.
“Somebody says, ‘Well, I can’t play one more game,’ ” Leach continued. “They think they’re going to have a storied 10-year NFL career, and then they can’t play one more college game. Well, that’s ridiculous. I mean, guys will go to the NFL, they’ll make the Pro Bowl and then they’ll play in the Pro Bowl. It’s one of the biggest absurdities that I’ve seen, and it’s selfish, too.”
Leach didn’t call out any player on Mississippi State (7-5) specifically. When asked whether the Bulldogs had any players opting out of the Liberty Bowl, the coach said he didn’t know.
But Leach said offensive tackle Charles Cross — a potential first-rounder in the 2022 NFL draft — didn’t practice Saturday. Leach couldn’t remember if cornerback Martin Emerson practiced Saturday, one day after he announced his intention to forgo his senior year to enter the draft. Cross hasn’t officially announced whether he’ll enter the draft.
Leach tends to be against players leaving college early to pursue the next level, too. He said his advice to players who think about departing before graduation is to remain in school.
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There are cases where those players have “too many voices in their head … and then there’s too many people that don’t know what they’re doing talking to them,” Leach added.
That can steer players toward entering the draft early, even if Leach doesn’t advise them to.
“The NFL generally gives them that same advice,” Leach said. “If you’re the NFL, you don’t care if anybody comes out early. Why would you care? Because if you’re good enough to play in that league, you’re gonna play there anyway. And then the more reps you have, the more games you’ve played, the more polished you are, the better shot you have at making the team and the better chance the NFL has of realizing their investment that they’ve put into these guys.
“A specific team might want some position and think if it’ll sequence for them, may want a player here or there to come out because they’re in a position to get them,” Leach continued. “But the league as a whole, well, if you’re good enough to play in that league, they’re gonna get you anyway. And the better you are, the more skills you’ll develop, the better your chances to make the team.”