By Robert Wilson
Norvin E. Green was the first, Fletcher J. East was the second, and Breck Tyler was the third.
Callaway High alumnus Malik Heath is the fourth in the unique fraternity of players who have started for both Ole Miss and Mississippi State football uniforms in their college careers.
Heath, a senior wide receiver, took advantage of the NCAA transfer portal this spring and transferred from MSU to Ole Miss. He didn’t have to sit out a year like Green, East, and Tyler.
Heath will be wearing No. 8 for Ole Miss and starting at wide receiver when the two teams play in the Egg Bowl today at 6 p.m. on ESPN. No. 20 Ole Miss, 8-3, is the favorite over unranked MSU, 7-4, in the 119th game in this storied rivalry.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Heath has had an outstanding season for Ole Miss. He leads the Rebels with 47 catches and is in second with 754 yards and four touchdowns. Heath had a great game against Alabama, catching six passes for a career-high 123 yards. Then, Heath broke his own career mark with nine catches for 140 yards and one TD last week against Arkansas.
Heath caught 71 passes for 749 yards and eight TDs in the last two seasons at MSU. He was hospitalized on Dec. 3 last year after a car accident and missed MSU’s game in the Liberty Bowl.
Then in February, he announced he was transferring to Ole Miss, a rare occurrence in this rivalry, which began in 1901.
Heath pointed to several factors in his decision, Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin has more of a down the field type passing attack than MSU coach Mike Leach, his longtime friend Jonathan Mingo from Brandon plays for Ole Miss as well as his cousin, freshman Brandon Buckhalter from Hartfield Academy.
“I just like the offense.” Heath said in an interview in August in the preseason. “I think Lane Kiffin is a great play-caller, (assistant head coach and wide receivers coach) Coach (Derrick) Nix is a great coach. He pushes you every day. At first, I was skeptical about it because of the rival school and all the media and all that. But I’ve seen a lot of other folks (transferring) and I thought. ‘Why not?”
Green was the first. He played at Ole Miss in 1900 then transferred to MSU and played there from 1901-04. He was the subject of a 40-minute delay before the start of the 1901 game over his eligibility to play for MSU. East played for Ole Miss in 1915 and for MSU in 1917 and 1919.
And then there was Tyler, a talented wide receiver like Heath, and whose father, Bob Tyler, was head coach at MSU from 1973-78. Breck played for his father at MSU in 1977 and 1978, but when his father didn’t have his contract renewed in 1978, he decided to transfer to Ole Miss.
“I grew up living and breathing football through my father’s programs,” said Tyler in an interview with the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in 2000. “I grew up watching Archie Manning play for Ole Miss (Tyler’s father was an assistant coach for legendary Ole Miss coach Johnny Vaught from 1967-70) and going to every game. Then, I was in high school (Starkville High) when Dad was coaching at Mississippi State. I went to all their games. I had thought about going to Tennessee, but I wanted to play for my father.”
Tyler played in two Egg Bowls for MSU (1977 and ’78) and one for Ole Miss (1980), all in Jackson at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium. He missed the Egg Bowl his senior year due to an injury.
Tyler could have stayed and played for new MSU coach Emory Ballard and his run-oriented wishbone offense in 1979 but chose to go play for a more passing offense with coach Steve Sloan and quarterback John Fourcade. After sitting out a year due to the transfer rule, Tyler starred for the Rebels.
“When you are a wide receiver, you want to see a few passes,” Tyler said. “Our roots were in Water Valley, Oxford area, so I transferred to Ole Miss.”
And 40 years later, Heath was the first one to do so since Tyler.
Heath was selected to the Under Armour All-American Game as a senior at Callaway. He had 78 catches for 1,837 yards and 13 TDs in his high school career. Heath was ranked as the No. 1 player in Mississippi by ESPN, Rivals and 247 Sports.
“Malik has a unique skill set,” said Patrick Austin, who coached Heath at Callaway and is now the director of team operations for the Orlando Guardians of the XFL. “He has a lot of God-given talent. Malik wants to win. He has great hand-eye coordination and developed into a great receiver. He’s worked hard to get to where he is.”
Heath played his first two collegiate seasons at Copiah-Lincoln Community College where he caught 61 passes for 835 yards and seven TDs and was rated the No. 2 junior college wide receiver in Mississippi by 247 Sports before transferring to MSU.
Breck Tyler is still involved in football. His son, Reed, is a senior tight end for Arkansas State. His son-in-law, Will Windham, is a linebacker coach for South Alabama. His parents live in Water Valley. Tyler works for Trustmark Bank and lives in Brandon.
“I wish I could suit up and play today,” said Tyler in a phone interview on Thanksgiving Day with Mississippi Scoreboard. “The Egg Bowl is so much fun. For me, it was bigger than life, growing up around it my whole life, at Ole Miss and at State. I can’t put myself in Malik’s shoes, but I can tell you what I was feeling and what he needs to do. This game is going to be physical. Each play is going to be a war. You have to put all your friendships aside during the game. You have to control your emotions and get your mind right. You can’t get caught up in it and try to be super aggressive. You have to focus on your routes and your blocking assignments and not be concerned about who you are playing.”