The clanging of cowbells was deafening.
Wind swirled around the bowled-in Davis Wade Stadium on a perfect sun-drenched Saturday in Starkville.
Brad Wall paced back, turned around and squared up to kick off the SEC showdown between Auburn and Mississippi State.
Twelve months earlier, Wall was midway through his senior season at Ocean Springs High School, blasting kicks in front of thousands at Greyhound Stadium.
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Saturday was a bit different.
With only a few more pairs of eyes on him, the strong-legged Wall made his collegiate debut in front of more than 60,000 fans and on an ESPN broadcast.
“I couldn’t really comprehend it until after the game,” Wall told the Sun Herald before Tuesday’s practice. “It really just happened so fast. I couldn’t tell you. It just goes by. You blink, and it’s over.
“As I was running onto the field, it definitely hit me. It was pretty awesome, pretty amazing.”
Saturday’s debut was the culmination of a lot of hard work and extra hours spent on football fields across the Coast, kick after kick after kick. Around his junior year, Wall said he realized he might have a shot at playing college ball. His selection to the annual Mississippi/Alabama All-Star Football Game only reinforced his hopes.
Wall was a field position weapon for the Greyhounds. In his senior season alone, Wall averaged 67.8 yards per kickoff and registered 50 touchbacks on 57 attempts. He also averaged 38.2 yards per punt, converted 39 of 41 extra-point attempts and made 8 of 13 field goal attempts with a long of 51 yards.
Still, Wall was lightly recruited with offers from junior colleges and several Division II schools.
After weighing his options, Wall opted to give it a go in Starkville as a walk-on.
“As a kid you always grow up wanting to go to a big-time SEC school and play football. I had a few smaller offers but it just wasn’t for me to do that,” Wall said. “I wanted to pursue my dream and go after the big time.
“I knew I’d always regret it if I went to a smaller school and didn’t at least give it a try.”
Wall met with MSU special teams coach Chris Boniol during a visit to Starkville and was convinced the former Dallas Cowboys kicker could help him achieve his dreams.
“I could tell he’d make me a better kicker,” Wall said. “I just figured that was best for me.”
When Wall reported to camp, and eventually made the Bulldogs’ roster, he expected it’d be 2-3 years before he got to look at the field at all.
But football has a funny way of sorting things out.
Wall had been placed on high alert earlier in the week because Logan Cooke, the regular kickoff specialist, was battling a knee issue.
During pregame warmups, Wall noticed MSU’s coaches watching him and Cooke.
About 10 minutes before the Bulldogs ran onto the field, MSU coach Dan Mullen asked if Wall could handle the responsibilities.
Wall knew it was a possibility. Still, receiving word from the Bulldogs’ head coach sent a slight tingle of excitement down Wall’s spine.
“I don’t know how to explain it. It was really cool,” Wall said. “It was definitely an honor to have the head coach of a SEC football team come tell me.”
Wall did well in his debut, a 38-14 Auburn win. He kicked off three times, averaging 62 yards with a touchback on his final kick.
“I’d grade it a 7 out of 10 because on my second kick I just kind of hit it off my toe into the wind so it was a little shorter,” Wall critiqued. “My third kick I was definitely a little more comfortable and did what I was supposed to do — touchback.”
Whether he starts Friday at BYU is unknown. Wall would love to reprise his role as kickoff specialist — he was included on Monday’s depth chart for the first time this season — but he understands the pecking order at MSU.
Even if Cooke reclaims his role, however, Wall will always have that perfect, sun-drenched Saturday in Starkville.
“Everybody dreams of having that opportunity,” Wall said. “I’ve worked hard my entire life. My parents always taught me that if you work hard good things will come your way.”