BYHALIA, Miss. (AP) — Call Makylan Pounders the new king of recycling.

To the surprise of no one, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down all of the gyms and weight rooms in Byhalia. But Pounders, the Byhalia offensive lineman and third member of the Clarion Ledger’s 2020 Dandy Dozen team, didn’t want that to stop him from staying in shape. That’s how Pounders became Byhalia’s one-man salvage crew.

One afternoon, Pounders went out for a run. Inspiration struck when he saw some unclaimed cinderblocks on the side of the road.

“I just picked them up and took them to the house,” Pounders explained. “Started using them. I had this big metal pole and I had found four or five cinderblocks so I just put them on the side and wrapped some tape around it until it got thick. I just started bench pressing them. Then I tied a rope around them and started running with them. Just trying to think of stuff to do.”

Pounders made it clear he has no aspirations to become an engineer. It’s just an emergency skill he discovered in the boredom of the social distancing era. But Pounders’ willingness to work through adversity and find new ways to improve go a long way toward defining the 6-foot-3, 295-pound offensive tackle and Mississippi State commit.

Pounders, a three-star recruit, is focused on focus. He wants to grow. He wants to mature. He wants to show he can be accountable. The moments that shaped the last two years of his life illustrate why.

Pounders thinks about the events of August 24, 2018, every day.

Byhalia defeated Coahoma County 28-7 that night, giving the Indians a second-straight win to start the season. But Byhalia lost a lot more than it won that night.

Sophomore defensive tackle Dennis Mitchell died that night. According to reports from the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Mitchell took a hard hit early in the game. He exited and was seen vomiting on the sidelines. Reports say Mitchell requested to go back into the game. He did, but soon after he collapsed on the field.

Mitchell was rushed to a hospital. While there, Mitchell had a seizure and was later pronounced dead.

Pounders and Mitchell were close. They’d known each other since sixth grade. The summer before Mitchell died, the two of them left football practice together every afternoon and ran one-on-one drills against one another until Pounders’ mom got home from work. Mitchell pushed Pounders as much as Pounders pushed himself.

“You don’t really expect it from somebody who worked so hard,” Pounders said. “I just use it because I feel like he worked so hard until he couldn’t work no more for us, so I try to get that from him and put it on the rest of the team to let them know I’ve got their back.”

Pounders talks to Mitchell’s younger brothers as often as he can. He says he’ll do anything for them and feels it’s partly his duty. He’s used Mitchell’s death to mature and grow into adulthood.

“I started seeing that there’s no point in cheating the day because tomorrow ain’t promised,” Pounders said. “I tried to use that. I give it my all every play.”

Life changed for Pounders in another way last year when his youngest brother was born.

Pounders has always had siblings, but he’s never lived in the same house as them. Now there’s a 1-year-old running around that he feels the need to take care of.

“It forced me to grow up a lot,” Pounders said. “Off the field everybody goes through stuff. I had to realize that I ain’t gonna be no little kid any more after this year. I’m gonna be going to college.

“I won’t be able to go into the kitchen and ask my mama to do this or do that. I’m going to have to do it on my own. I kind of used my little brother as a way to get me prepared for that as a way to take care of myself.”

2020 is all about working on mental strength and awareness for Pounders. He’s still a high schooler. Pounders is barely three years removed from his coach John Danley telling now-East Mississippi standout Nick Jones to whoop him off the line over and over again until he broke and started fighting back.

Now he’s a Mississippi State football commit who has other scholarship offers from LSU, Arkansas and Ole Miss. Any time Pounders’ teammates ask how he pulled off that transition, he tells them the transition isn’t over yet.

“I try to get them to think of me as still one of them,” Pounders said. “Even though I’ve got the accolades and stuff, I’m still one of them. I still ain’t made it. I try to use it to motivate them and make them play better.”

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