By Taylor Hawkins
Through his first three years at Mississippi State, Kaleb Eulls has recorded 84 tackles, and by the first week of November, he had already added another 27.
Some of those tackles were bigger than others, including two sacks against Kentucky that helped earn the 6-foot-4, 295-pound senior the SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week award.
But Eulls’ greatest tackle occurred before he ever made it to Starkville.
Although many fans are hyperbolic when discussing football plays, players and games, Eulls’ greatest tackle was, quite literally, the difference between life and death.
Sept. 1, 2009, started off like most school days. The bus went around Yazoo County, picking up students to take them to Yazoo County High School.
On that particular day, however, a 14-year-old girl had been pushed to her limits, and she brandished a .380 semi-automatic handgun and held the bus hostage.
During the commotion, Eulls’ sister nudged the sleeping football player, who woke up and immediately took control of the situation.
As a poor kid with scholarship offers from around the country, Eulls had everything to lose when he attracted the attention of the 14-year-old girl with the gun.
But his sisters were on the bus, and Eulls had spent the better part of his life as their protector. Gun or not, that was not about to change.
For a split-second when the gun-toting student looked away, Eulls exploded and tackled her as if she were an opposing quarterback. He wrestled the gun from her grasp, allowing the children to exit the bus safely.
Matt Williams, who was the head football coach at Yazoo County High at the time, believes Eulls’ actions were caused by his “role” at home.
“Thinking back about it now that our relationship has grown, it isn’t surprising,” Williams said. “He loves his family. His sisters were on that bus, and he was going to protect his family. He grew up where he had to be the protector of his momma and sisters. That’s the role he took on. He saw something he needed to take care of, and he did.”
It is easy to look back at the incident now and know that a hero stepped forward when he was needed the most, but at the time, it was as close to a national tragedy as a situation could get.
“As a school, we were all really proud of what Kaleb did,” Williams said. “On the other side, it was a scary thought that one of our students had a gun with the intentions to hurt people. If she had gotten to the school, you never know what would have happened.”
After his act of bravery, Eulls was thrust in the national spotlight with his story appearing everywhere from CNN to USA Today.
According to Williams, the attention was not something that Eulls wanted. In fact, he did not seem to like it at all.
“He was very reserved,” Williams said. “He didn’t really open up to many people. He came to school, did his job and enjoyed hanging out with his friends. He had a lot of things going for him at the time. He was one of the biggest recruits in the state, and everyone was after him. He was just an average kid. He wasn’t looking for limelight like a lot of kids do when they pick which college they are going to play at. He wasn’t like that.”
Due to his valor, Eulls was credited with saving the lives of 22 students.
After some time had passed, however, the national spotlight moved on to other stories, and Eulls was able to go back to making plays under the radar, like he wanted all along.
Now that Mississippi State is in the mix for a spot in the first ever College Football Playoff, Eulls is back in the national spotlight. This time, however, it is for his play on the field.
Williams believes that some of Eulls’ domination can be attributed to his consistency and durability.
“For Kaleb to come through as our first Dandy Dozen at Yazoo County and then earn a starting job at Mississippi State was huge,” Williams said. “After redshirting, he has started every game of his career up there. He has to be closing in on 50 starts in a row. That’s pretty impressive when you consider that he is playing on the line in the SEC, the best conference in college football. What he has done there on the field and off the field is an incredible story.”
Although Eulls’ story is certainly impressive, Williams believes the best is yet to come.
“We’re just in the first chapter for Kaleb,” Williams said. “If he continues on with what he can do, he might have a chance to play on Sundays. It’s just great to see what he has done with his life. He could have gone down another path like a lot of kids do.”
Eulls’ time at Mississippi State is nearing its close. Although it is unlikely that he will make a tackle bigger than he did all those years ago, a few more big ones would cement his legacy as one of the most important players in the greatest turnaround in MSU history.