Wayne Madkin grew up in Huntsville, Ala., a town where folks are so unaccustomed to snow that all activity comes to a halt if radar indicates a flurry within 50 miles. After Madkin fumbled away the snap in snowy conditions on the first play of the Independence Bowl last December, he told coach Jackie Sherrill that his hands were frozen. " Wayne, you've got two choices," Sherrill told him. "Thaw 'em out, or I'm going to put [backup] Kevin [Fant] in." Madkin slipped his hands into a heating pad on the sideline and played the game of his life in the Bulldogs' 43-41 overtime win over Texas A&M.
As a redshirt freshman in '98, Madkin was thrust into the lineup after the offense sputtered three games into the season. He has become the school's career passing leader and has won 23 of 33 starts. He has a strong arm and is a proficient scrambler. "There's a sixth sense to being a quarterback," Sherrill says. " Dan Marino, Steve Young, Joe Montana, they had it. It's something you can't teach."
Despite controlling its destiny in the SEC West with two games left in each of the past three years, Mississippi State has won the division just once. That was in 1998, but in a 24-14 loss to Tennessee in the SEC title game, Madkin completed only 10 of 22 passes and threw two interceptions. Since then, he has become more accurate. A 48.2% passer as a freshman, he hit on 56.1% of his attempts last year.
Defensively, All-America safety Edward (Pig) Prather and rugged linebacker Mario Haggan must anchor things until the front four matures. Should the Bulldogs get back to the tide game, they'll have a weapon they lacked against the Vols. "[In terms of maturity] Wayne wasn't ready to play in that game," says Sherrill. "He was a great athlete playing quarterback. He's made himself into a great quarterback."