February 6, 2018 12:44:31 AM
Brett Hudson - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Jeremy Pruitt has been doing a lot of picture taking and hugging in a new city that adores him.
This is not the new Jeremy Pruitt of Knoxville, Tennessee, the former Alabama defensive coordinator now taking the helm of the Tennessee Volunteers. This is Jeremy Pruitt, a cook for a country club in Ohio, who was briefly confused for the coach on Twitter when Mississippi State fans thought Pruitt the coach would succeed Dan Mullen at MSU.
Pruitt enjoyed his tongue-in-cheek fame in his first visit to Starkville this weekend, culminating with taking in Monday night's sold-out women's basketball game against South Carolina. Pruitt recapped his Starkville experience with The Dispatch.
"Minimal sleep. A lot of hugs, a lot of people saying hello. It's been extremely, extremely wonderful," Pruitt said.
"My expectation was to come down to meet people and see what the city was about. I didn't expect people to notice me and know who I was. I thought it was a tongue-in-cheek kind of situation, we tweet you but not acknowledge you in person; I was wrong."
Pruitt quickly found he would become the primary attraction in almost every building he walked in. He was the subject of Strange Brew Coffehouse's streetside billboard when it read, "Welcome to the Sip Coach Pruitt."
One of the stops on his tour was Bin 612, where Eli Rex works. He remembers seeing on social media that Pruitt was visiting town, but forgot it was happening until he was brought to Bin 612 and introduced. Rex got to have drinks and talk with Pruitt for 20 minutes.
"Through the conversations I had with him, he seems very chill, laid back and more than capable of being a cool guy," Rex said. "The way that he let this whole thing build up and kept a cool demeanor through the whole thing has a lot for his character."
Pruitt's identity didn't stay hidden for long: as word spread around the restaurant and bar, Rex saw several strangers come up to Pruitt buying him drinks.
"It's fun to be a part of it," Rex said. "For Jeremy to just be somebody that is willing to come down here and be a part of all this stuff and never have any ties to Mississippi State, I'm sure he's having fun but the way he kind of least us use him as a prop has been awesome."
This visit came to be, of course, on Twitter. At one point in Pruitt's rise to social media fame, a MSU fan tweeted at him and the women's basketball team proposing Pruitt see a game on a visit to Starkville; the program apparently had the South Carolina game in mind. Once Pruitt saw that, he knew he had to make it happen; he already had the blessing of his boss, who was surprised Pruitt hadn't visited already.
All of the attention has been a drastic departure from his day-to-day life in Ohio, where he says he still has a normal life even though all of his coworkers know of his social media fame.
Pruitt has left very few stones unturned in his first Starkville visit, checking off establishments such as The Guest Room, City Bagel, Bulldog Burger Co., StaggerIn and others, all on top of the aforementioned fervor at Strange Brew and Bin 612. Pruitt knows there's more to Starkville that he hasn't seen and he plans to see on his next visit: the weekend of Sept. 29. That's when he'll see his first MSU football game -- against a Florida team led by the man whose departure started all of this, Mullen.
If he has his way, he'll see more of the state on his next visit. Pruitt said he is a fisherman and he hopes to go further south in the state in the fall to catch redfish.
He's already stacking invites from MSU fans with boats and fishing interests. Anything for Starkville's favorite Pruitt.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson