By DANNY P. SMITH
Mary Beth Woodward is ready to put her best foot forward at Mississippi State.
The Starkville High School cross country and track runner has come a long way in a short amount of time, but it was enough time to attract the attention of the Bulldogs and others.
On Thursday morning, Woodard made her decision to stay at home and signed with MSU. The occasion was celebrated with family, friends and administration at the school library.
It was something Woodward didn't think was possible two years ago.
"I just started running a couple of years ago so it's crazy for me signing with a D-1 school," Woodward said. "If you had asked me two years ago (about signing with the Bulldogs), no, but right now yeah."
SHS cross country coach Meggan Franks points to hard work and determination that has been a key to Woodward's fast improvement and overcoming a foot injury.
The Yellow Jackets talk about "grit" and Franks said Woodward has it.
"She's a perfect example of it," Franks said. "It's like grinding your way no matter what. She had a little injury so we were really conservative with it. We shut the season down and she started running a couple of weeks before state. She shined early but was never in full form at the state meet which was unfortunate. Mississippi State knew. Southern Miss recruited her and a couple of other schools knew what she was capable of doing.
"I'm very pleased and extremely proud and looking forward to seeing her succeed in the class room and field the next four years."
Several members of the SHS track program have made decisions to sign with Mississippi State over the past few years.
Franks works on the MSU campus, so she enjoys seeing the former Starkville students around whether they participate in track or not.
"They can come, have a cup of coffee and tell me how things are going," Franks said. "I'm available to them."
Woodward felt running in college was a status she could reach after running a race for the first time and not long connected with the coaches at Mississippi State.
Before Woodward joins the Bulldogs, there will be an indoor and outdoor season for her with the Jackets.
Franks has no doubt Woodard will finish her athletic and academic year strong at SHS.
"She's a hard working student in the class room and on the playing field," Franks said. "If they choose to run in college, you are excited for that. It helps they are going to get a lot of skills by being a student-athlete. Some of them do and when they do, I'm going to support them."