April 20, 2017 10:16:54 AM
Brett Hudson - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- In the spring of 2013, one of the worst kept secrets in college baseball recruiting was Jake Mangum's love for Alabama.
Anyone who talked to Mangum could tell he was raised in an Alabama household. His father, John, played football for the Crimson Tide in the late 1980s. His commitment to Alabama seemed airtight, so much so that then-Mississippi State coach John Cohen stopped recruiting one of the state's best prospects once he learned of the commitment.
Luckily for Cohen and now for current coach Andy Cannizaro, Mangum decided to inject the first dose of maroon into the family tree.
Jake Mangum's undying dedication to MSU will come to a crossroad at 6 tonight when No. 11 MSU (25-14, 10-5 Southeastern Conference) plays host to Alabama (15-22, 2-13 SEC) in Game 1 of a three-game series at Dudy Noble Field.
"The M over S means a lot more to me than the script A," Mangum said.
John Mangum still holds the school record for passes broken up in a season (24) and a career (48). He went on to play nine years for the NFL's Chicago Bears. His brother and Jake's uncle, Kris, was on Alabama's 1992 national championship team. Kris Mangum finished his career at Ole Miss and then spent 10 years as a member of the NFL's Carolina Panthers.
Both of them followed in the footsteps of their father and Jake's grandfather, John Sr., who turned his Southern Mississippi football career into a pair of seasons with the Boston Patriots, who became the New England Patriots.
Now, John Mangum finds himself with a growing collection of maroon clothing as he and Jake share most of their rooting interests. John has become a fan of MSU, while Jake maintains his interest in Alabama. They differ when the two meet on the football field.
"When they play the Dogs, the Dogs better win," Jake Mangum said. "I hope (Alabama) goes undefeated and one, every year, 11-1 every year. I hope the Bulldogs win it and they win every single game.
"Growing up going to football games with my dad, it's hard not to root for (Alabama)."
John makes those early November meetings on the gridiron his one day of wishing less than the best for MSU.
MSU fans can thank the Dulin Dodgers for Mangum being a Bulldog. The Dodgers, a travel baseball organization based in the Memphis, Tennessee, area, at one point featured at least six current Bulldogs. In playing with players such as Hunter Stovall, Trysten Barlow, Luke Alexander, Keegan James, and Brant Blaylock, Mangum realized keeping the band together in college sounded like a pretty good idea. Mangum then visited Dudy Noble Field for the first time and was sold. In Cohen, Mangum found another convert from crimson to maroon.
"That's something we shared since my wife (Nelle) and I practically grew up on that campus," said Cohen, a Tuscaloosa, Alabama, native.
From their upbringings as followers of Alabama football, Cohen and Jake Mangum had extensive knowledge of the program's history. In talks through recruiting, Cohen would share facts and Mangum would, "try to keep up a pretty good bit."
Much as it did for Cohen, the moment Mangum became a Bulldog was the moment Alabama took a backseat for him.
Cohen remembers the football part of it being a slow process, "probably a little bit of (former MSU quarterback) Dak (Prescott) and a little bit of (MSU football coach) Dan Mullen."
As John Mangum put it, "Since he was just a baby, Alabama football was all he really knew. That was just a big part of our family, and still is."
Now, Jake Mangum treats the Alabama series like any other. He finds it odd to be staring across the field at the team in crimson. He admits last year's series in Tuscaloosa meant a lot to him, but he and his family have no regrets about the decision to come to Starkville.
"I've enjoyed every single bit of it," Jake Mangum said. "It means a lot to play here, it really does. This program means a lot to me."
Said John Mangum, "He loves Mississippi State. I wouldn't change a thing."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson