September 7, 2018 10:34:55 AM
Brett Hudson - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Like a lot of things in Joe Moorhead's program, this story goes back to his quotes binder.
Moorhead keeps a binder, an evergrowing one, of quotes sorted by topic. There's one on preparation from Abraham Lincoln: "Give me six hours to chop down the tree, I'll spend the first five sharpening the ax."
Moorhead likes its message on the importance of preparation, and he finds it particularly useful in the grind of preseason camp, with four weeks of practice and no games to break the monotony. To embody the message, he brings to practices a literal ax.
When the Mississippi State football team practiced in the preseason, it did so with an ax lodged into a tree section placed to the side -- out of the field of play, but easy to see from it. It is still used as a motivational tactic to this day, and Moorhead described to The Dispatch its origins.
"After stretch in practice, we bring it out to the 50(-yard line) and have someone throw the axe on there," Moorhead said. "Whoever wants to grab it."
Even before Moorhead made his way to MSU, the ax had a brief moment as the toast of college football.
It came in 2013, when Moorhead led the FCS Rams to toppling a FBS opponent the first time, a 2013 win over Temple. In the midst of the postgame celebration was senior running back Carlton Koonce, carrying an ax on his shoulder after the blade was run through a piece of paper that since stuck on the blade. That piece of paper had the Temple logo printed on it.
Moorhead doesn't anticipate the ax making the trip to the sidelines on gamedays.
"I don't think that'll fly in the SEC," he said.
Despite simply using it on the practice field, Moorhead's hope is it reinforces a message he delivered when he was introduced as MSU's coach, one that he wanted to set the tone for his time as the Bulldogs' coach.
"It happens every Friday, every Saturday and every Sunday, it happens: a team with less talent beats a team with more talent because they do the little things right," Moorhead said. "I promise you we're going to be a football team that doesn't cut corners, that does the little things right.
"We are going to play every snap of every practice and every game harder than our opponent, and that's non-negotiable."
Finding unique ways like this one to communicate common messages has become a trademark of his. One of Moorhead's Fordham quarterbacks, Michael Nebrich, told The Dispatch it was a strength of Moorhead's; some may come off as cheesier than others, but to Nebrich it made him, "one of those guys you can't help but love."
The gestures are winning over more than his players.
"In all my years of coaching, I do think there are a few elites in the coaching world," special teams coordinator Joey Jones said. "There's no doubt in my mind Coach Moorhead is one of those guys. He understands football, he understands motivation of young men, understands how to organize practices. He checks all the boxes, and I want to thank him for that."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson