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Today is August 13, 2022

Rockey Felker:

Bleeding maroon and white

By Dale McKee

Rockey Felker:

Former Mississippi State quarterback Rockey Felker bleeds maroon and white. Felker grew up in Brownsville, Tennessee, but every Saturday he would listen with his dad to Bulldog football on the radio with Hall of Fame announcer Jack Cristil.

“Somewhere around the third grade or so, I remember sitting with my dad listening to the MSU game on the radio, and it clicked with me then that he was a big Bulldog fan and that was what I was supposed to like,” Felker said. His dad, Edwin ‘Babe’ Felker who was originally from Corinth, Mississippi, grew up a Bulldog fan. 

 Felker grew up in football crazy Brownsville where his dad was an assistant football coach. “It really could not have been a better place to grow up and especially, to play high school football. The community was very much involved in supporting the team. Friday nights were special in Brownsville,” said Felker. 

 Haywood, Felker’s local high school, had one of the best football teams in the state. The Tomcats were ranked in the Top 10 for 15 consecutive years — 1957 to 1971. Rockey started at quarterback as a sophomore and helped engineer a 29-game winning streak during his final three seasons as the Tomcat signal caller. Rockey, an all-state quarterback and five-sport letterman, was getting interest from Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Alabama, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt. “I visited around, but I think in my heart, I always saw myself playing for MSU.” 

 “Looking back, I think we helped turn the history of Mississippi State football in the right direction,” Felker said. The Bulldogs were 4-7 his sophomore year and then recorded a 4-5-2 mark in Coach Bob Tyler’s first season. In his 1974 senior season, Rockey led the Bulldogs to a 9-3 record and a Sun Bowl win over North Carolina. The Nashville Banner named him their SEC Player of the Year. 

 “I enjoyed college football. I knew in my heart that being a coach was what I wanted to do,” said Felker. The Cincinnati Bengals drafted him in the 10th round of the 1974 NFL draft, but his coaching aspirations won out. 

 Felker began his coaching career working on Bob Tyler’s staff at Mississippi State. He worked on the MSU staff as an offensive assistant until 1979 when Tyler resigned. Rockey then made assistant coaching stops at Texas Tech, Memphis State, and Alabama. “I really was fortunate to coach under Coach (Ray) Perkins at Alabama. It was a great opportunity for me,” said Felker. 

 After his third year on Perkins’ staff, Felker received the call to return home to MSU. So, in 1986 he returned to Starkville as head coach of the Bulldogs, replacing Emory Ballard. 

 At only 33, he was the youngest head football coach in the nation. 

“It was a dream come true and something I thought about a lot,” said Felker.

 Felker led the Bulldogs to a 6-5 season with big wins over Tennessee and Syracuse in his rookie season. Unfortunately, the program he inherited was in bad shape and the next four seasons were lackluster. He resigned after the 1990 season.

 Before returning to Starkville in 2002, Felker and his family made stops in Tulsa, Arkansas, and then back to Tulsa. Mississippi State coach Jackie Sherrill, who had replaced Felker in 1990, brought him back to Starkville as the coordinator of football operations. Felker worked for Sherrill, Sylvester Croom, Dan Mullen, and Joe Moorhead. Today, he is still associated with Bulldog athletics in various roles. 

 Felker’s football achievements led to his induction into three sports halls of fame — the Mississippi State University Sports Hall of Fame, the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, and the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame.

 Felker’s wife, Susan, died in 2019. His three sons are all involved in the ministry. 

 

Dale McKee is a Waynesboro native who has been writing sports in Mississippi since 1973. He is a member of Dixie Electric. Contact him at ddmckee18@yahoo.com.

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