By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
There’s a lot on the line this weekend when Mississippi State hosts Alabama in an SEC Western Division showdown.
It just might not feel like it.
The tornado that leveled part of Tuscaloosa on Wednesday skirted the University of Alabama campus, but the Crimson Tide will travel to Starkville on Saturday with a lot on their minds and hearts. Instead of practicing, the players spent Thursday morning aiding relief efforts on McFarland Boulevard and 15th Street, where some of the worst destruction occurred.
“This is where you realize there are priorities in life,” said MSU coach John Cohen, who’s a Tuscaloosa native. “Competitive as we all are – there’s a lot at stake in the SEC race, especially in the West – for a moment you put all that aside, and you say, what can we do to help?”
MSU and Alabama are about 90 miles apart and are geographically closer than any other two SEC schools. MSU has already helped, sending generators to the Alabama campus on Thursday.
Cohen texted Crimson Tide coach Mitch Gaspard, saying, “Hey, whatever we can do to help, I’m right there with you.”
Athletics director Scott Stricklin spoke with Alabama executive AD Dave Hart.
“I just asked him, hey, let us know if you need people, if you need supplies, if you need equipment – let us know,” Stricklin said.
Alabama athletic officials met Thursday afternoon to make sure everything was a go for the Tide’s trip to Starkville. The series begins Saturday with a 2 p.m. doubleheader, and Bama will ride over that morning.
“It seems like everything seems to be in a pretty good spot right now for the department to be able to move forward and go with what’s a normal routine,” Alabama team spokesman Rich Davi said.
Davi added that no players were injured during the storm, although two team members suffered significant damage to their apartment complex.
Gaspard, who could not be reached for comment, has a team that, like MSU, is fighting for a spot in the SEC Tournament. The Tide (26-18, 8-10 SEC) is in fourth place in the West, one game ahead of State (24-16, 7-11). If the season were to end today, the Bulldogs would be the first team out of the SEC Tournament.
Right now, all of that takes a back seat.
“Any time something of this nature occurs, we have a conference that’s a pretty tight community,” Stricklin said. “Even though we compete with each other really hard, at the end of the day we’re all bound by a love not only of our school, but of this part of the country. We’re tied together that way.
“You kind of see it in practice during crises like this.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.