STARKVILLE — Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen went through one of the toughest challenges in his life five years ago.
Bulldog defensive lineman Nick Bell was diagnosed with cancer in September of 2010 and had surgery to remove a mass from his brain. He battled and battled, but passed away on Nov. 2, 2010. Mullen was just in his second year as the coach. He said last week losing a player at such a young age was going to stick with him for a long time.
“I hope I never have to deal with anything that hard in my career again,” Mullen said.
Sadly, the MSU family has lost another member way too soon.
Four days after the five-year anniversary of Bell’s death, Bulldog freshman defensive lineman Keith Joseph Jr. and his father, Keith Sr., were killed in a one-car accident Friday night. They were en route to see Pascagoula High School — Keith Jr.’s alma mater — play Gautier High School in high school football action. The Mississippi Highway Patrol responded to the wreck at approximately 2:50 p.m. six miles north of Leakesville. Authorities believe Joseph Jr. was driving southbound on Highway 57 when his vehicle entered the median. The 2011 Chevy Silverado reentered the southbound lane before overturning several times and ejecting Joseph Jr.
Joseph Sr., 44, and Joseph Jr., 18, were pronounced dead at the scene.
Keith Jr. signed with the Bulldogs in February and was redshirting this year. He followed in his father’s footsteps, who played for MSU from 1989-92.
“We are deeply saddened and heartbroken by the tragic loss of Keith Jr. and his father,” Mullen said in a statement. “Keith had such a promising future as a Bulldog following in the legacy started by Keith Sr., who played for our program 25 years ago. Keith was a great student, a hard worker and a great teammate to all of us. With heavy hearts, our thoughts and prayers go out to the Joseph family, our entire Mississippi State community and all of the lives these Bulldogs touched.”
Keith Sr. ranks 10th all-time at MSU with 14 sacks.
“Words can’t express the sorrow we feel by having lost not one, but two members of the Bulldog family, father and son,” MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin said in a school release. “I was a classmate of Keith Sr., and took pride in having Keith Jr. follow in his dad’s footsteps at MSU. They will both be missed greatly. It’s such a tragic reminder that life is precious and every day is a gift from God.”
The news broke late Friday night and Keith Jr.’s Bulldog teammates took to social media sites with their thoughts on losing a teammate.
Redshirt freshman safety Brandon Bryant tweeted, “Unreal man… Had a great future ahead of him.” Several other players echoed what Bryant said.
Several Bulldog assistant coaches also took to Twitter. Wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales tweeted, “Prayers for our Bulldog Family. Our hearts are heavy — we love you!”
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Mullen said the passing of Bell made a lasting impression on him.
“When you lose a family member like that, it’s just a devastating thing,” Mullen said.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Ben Wait on Twitter @bcwait
Ben Wait reports on Mississippi State University sports for The Dispatch.
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