STARKVILLE — There’s no doubt Bill Martin always will have a place for purple and gold in his heart.
The Mississippi State assistant athletic director for media relations and the main contact for the Bulldog football team attended LSU for six and a half years while finishing his undergraduate degree. After completing an internship at Florida in the spring of 2008, he returned to his alma mater in the summer of that year as the No. 2 football contact and the women’s basketball sports information director.
He left Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in December of 2013 for his current job, but he will be on hand to welcome friends back to Starkville this weekend when No. 25 MSU (1-0) plays host No. 14 LSU at 8:15 p.m. Saturday (ESPN).
“It was tough,” Martin said of leaving LSU. “One, because loyalty’s a big thing to me. That place was loyal to me, and I was loyal to them for 15 years.
“It was home, but this has been just such a rewarding experience and a great opportunity to be here.”
Martin was in charge of setting up player interviews for local media as a media relations office intern when he was a student at LSU. As a student and a full-time employee, Martin developed friendships with members of the media, including NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune’s Jim Kleinpeter.
“He was always a good guy to deal with,” Kleinpeter said. “He was always real friendly and easy to work with. He was just a good guy all around.”
Martin, a Lake Charles Louisiana, native, caught many off guard in the LSU community when he left for MSU.
“He’s a Louisiana guy, and he loves LSU,” Kleinpeter said. “When you get into a business, you want to move up and you’ve got to take your opportunities.”
Martin always knew he would have to leave LSU if he wanted to continue to climb higher in the college sports ranks. He found some encouragement from his mentor, Michael Bonnette, when the job at MSU opened. Bonnette’s father, Louis, served as the McNeese State SID for 46 years before retiring in the summer of 2012. Louis got Martin a job as a student at LSU, and Michael took him under his wing for the next several years.
“I wouldn’t be here without their help and their guidance,” Martin said. “Those people are family to me, and that will always be the case. I saw him more than I saw family.
“It’s a good learning experience to get away. I always figured I wouldn’t be there forever.”
Martin’s fiancee, Ali Laughlin, still works at LSU as an assistant director of Tiger Den Suites for the LSU Tiger Athletic Foundation and he still gets back to Baton Rouge and his home town of Lake Charles whenever he can.
Martin had been to Starkville numerous times with LSU, but he experienced his first real taste of the city and the MSU campus in October of 2013 when he came to town for an interview. MSU’s game against Kentucky on a Thursday night was all it took for Martin.
“I was convinced after five, six hours here and meeting with all the people,” Martin said. “I knew this was an up-and-coming place and the kind of administration that’s really going to be supportive to media relations and the stuff we’re doing. It’s an opportunity to build on what we want to accomplish here.”
Martin returned to Baton Rouge last fall with MSU’s football team. Dak Prescott threw for 268 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 105 yards and another score in a 34-29 victory, MSU’s first against LSU since 1999, and the first in Baton Rouge since 1991.
“It was fun,” Martin said. “It was special just to see their reaction. I was happy. It was fun to be 1-0 against the team I used to work for.”
Martin re-connected with some of his old acquaintances from LSU during the trip and left with a big smile on his face.
“It was kind of strange to see him at Mississippi State,” Kleinpeter said. “But I thought it was a great move for him. It was a good place to go and build something.”
Although Martin still roots for LSU, he never wants to see them beat MSU. He calls this year’s game “special” and can’t wait to see his friends again.
“I get to see a lot of family, friends, people who were mentors to me, people who I have worked with for several years and people who got me into this business 15 years ago,” Martin said.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Ben Wait on Twitter @bcwait
Ben Wait reports on Mississippi State University sports for The Dispatch.