STARKVILLE — Mississippi State University football coach Dan Mullen always has judged the quarterback position by one category: Wins.
In that regard, senior Chris Relf will leave MSU as one of the program’s most successful quarterbacks, especially after he closed his career with another victory.
“I’m not leaving (MSU) a loser, and I can always say I’m a winner now,” Relf said. “I feel like I had to lead these guys and always be confident, so that’s what I did.”
Relf had 193 total yards and a touchdown pass Friday in a 23-17 victory against Wake Forest in the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn. He is the first MSU starting quarterback to guide the Bulldogs to back-to-back bowl victories.
“Chris came a long way in his five-year career at Mississippi State, and it means everything to step on the field and win every important game in his career,” Mullen said. “I wanted it to end this way for him.”
Relf finished his college career with 15 victories as a starter. He also was 5-0 against the University of Mississippi in the Egg Bowl rivalry game and in postseason games.
“You can’t expect anything less from a guy like Chris Relf because on the big stage he put up numbers,” MSU senior offensive lineman Quentin Saulsberry said. “It’s a great feeling for us as seniors to go out with a win.”
Relf was named MVP of MSU’s 52-14 victory against the University of Michigan in the 2011 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. He was 18 of 23 for 281 yards (311 total yards) and had four touchdowns.
“Give Chris a lot of credit. He’s faced a lot of adversity in not only his career, but his whole life,” Mullen said. “He never lost sight of what’s important, and that’s why his career was extremely successful.”
The senior from Montgomery, Ala., who was recruited and signed by former MSU coach Sylvester Croom, said his fondest memory dates back nearly two years when he orchestrated a comeback victory against Ole Miss as a sophomore starter.
“That was my first true game I played a lot and I took it over,” Relf said of the 41-27 victory in Starkville.
Relf threw for 1,083 yards and nine touchdowns (seven interceptions) in a roller coaster of a final season that saw him lose the starting job halfway through the season. At the end of the season at midfield of LP Field, offensive coordinator Les Koenning congratulated Relf with a hug.
“Thank you,” Koenning said. “Thank you for letting me coach you.”
Relf took every snap in the Music City Bowl because sophomore quarterback Tyler Russell was still recovering from a severely strained medial collateral ligament in his left knee. Mullen admitted after the game that Russell’s injury was more severe than he and the MSU staff had let on.
Russell will be expected to lead the MSU offense after he spent the past two years learning the system from Relf.
Although he had a rocky season, Relf still leaves MSU in the top 10 career wise in several categories, including completion percentage (second, .578), passing yardage (eighth, 3,297), passing efficiency, and touchdown passes (fifth, 28).
“I should’ve been thanking him,” Relf said of Koenning. “He and coach Mullen have believed in me and gave me this opportunity to play when a lot of people didn’t think I could play quarterback at this level. I just went out and executed.”
Now that Relf has exhausted his college eligibility and he has completed his degree in Kinesiology, Relf will begin his training for the NFL. He insists on playing quarterback in a professionally organization somewhere next season.
Regardless of whether Relf gets that chance, he leaves MSU with something more important: He is the first person from his family to earn a college degree.
“Most important thing is I’m proud he graduated from college a couple of weeks ago,” Mullen said. “That is important our guys get their degree and being a success the rest of your life.”