2011 · STORIES
by Susan Lassetter on December 04, 2011
When the Rolling Stones sang, “You can’t always get what you want,” they obviously didn’t know about Emmanuel Gatling’s determination.
Gatling lives by the rule, “Do what you need to get what you want”, and as a growing, 13-year-old boy, he wanted a sandwich.
“I decided I wanted to be an engineer because I loved peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,” Gatling confessed. “My driving force was that I wanted to build a device to make them for me. I decided the best way to do that was to learn how to use the tools and equipment as an engineer so I could make my own machine.”
Gatling’s plans matured as he worked his way through high school, but he never let go of his desire to study engineering. He discovered that he enjoyed chemistry, so rather than being led by his stomach, he focused on finding a university where he could play football and earn a degree in chemical engineering.
A native of McAllen, Texas, he was recruited by several universities as an athlete and considered others for academics, but after visiting Mississippi State on the recommendation of Jamison Holmes, his high school trainer, Gatling knew he was meant to be a Bulldog.
“I came to Starkville and was blown away. I loved the campus, and Dr. Bill Elmore completely sold me on the university,” Gatling explained. “I knew I wanted to be here and I saw an opportunity to make a contribution on the football team. It was a win-win. I could walk onto the team and get a great education.”
He didn’t waste any time getting started. Just one month after his graduation from Rowe High School, he moved to Starkville to participate in Summer Bridge, a program meant to give African-American students a head start on their undergraduate careers.
A late admission to the program, Gatling had to work extra hard to show that he could handle the course work. Despite the extra effort, he was thankful for that head start once football season started. He admitted that being a college athlete was more time consuming than he expected, and balancing practice with classwork was a delicate task. But he stayed true to his rule for life—he knew what he wanted, he just had a lot of work to do in order to earn it.
“Choosing between football and engineering wasn’t an option,” Gatling explained. “I knew I wanted to be a chemical engineer and to play college football. It was just a matter of knowing my priorities and balancing my time between the two.”
Although he was redshirted as a true freshman and didn’t see playing time his first year on the active roster, Gatling’s commitment to his goals never wavered. Each fall, he carefully planned to have only morning classes. This left him enough time for lunch before he would report to Shira Field House for team meetings, practice and training. When things would wrap up around 7 p.m., he would shift his focus to homework and group meetings.
“Every day went back and forth, school then football,” Gatling said. “I had to make time for my responsibilities and just try to unwind whenever I could.”
By 2009, his hard work was paying off. In the classroom, he had enough credit hours to be classified as a senior, and his on-field determination had earned him an athletic scholarship. It was a start, but Gatling had bigger plans—including hearing his name called as part of the Bulldog’s starting line-up.
“I needed to be a starter my senior year. There wasn’t another option for me,” Gatling explained. “I wasn’t the starter going into spring practices, but I fought for it tooth and nail, and by fall 2010 I was a starting linebacker.”
He added, “Getting the starting nod was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders, but at the same time it gave me more responsibility to the team. It was like OK, now it’s really time to work.”
By the time he graduated, Gatling had played in 37 games, including the Bulldogs’ 2011 Gator Bowl victory. He was credited with 26 solo tackles during his playing career, and following his senior season, was nominated for the Rudy Award, which recognizes Division I football players who bring “something extra” to the team.
Head coach Dan Mullen said that Gatling’s success comes from his dedication, a trait that should serve him well in life.
“Anyone that can walk on to a Southeastern Conference team and earn a scholarship is someone who is not just talented, but extremely hardworking,” Mullen said. “Those are the traits you find in someone who is a winner on the field and a winner in life. Emmanuel’s work ethic will take him far.”
Gatling earned his bachelor’s degree in December and spent the next few months planning his future. He continued his athletic training as he explored the possibility of a career in the National Football League, but when Alabama Power Co. called with a job offer, he knew his path.
“It was decision time. Did I want to risk being a free agent in the NFL with all of the lockout uncertainty, or go ahead and start my life as a chemical engineer,” Gatling said. “In the end, I knew what to do. I’m an engineer at heart.”
Based out of the company’s Birmingham office, he is part of a team that will help run a new power plant being built in Kemper County, Miss. The facility uses state-of-the-art chemical processes to convert lignite coal into power for people’s homes. Lignite is an abundant resource that was previously considered inefficient for power production.
And, even though he still hasn’t created a sandwich-o-matic, Gatling said he got everything he wanted out of college.
“I was a starting linebacker, received a quality education, landed a great job, made lifelong friends, and recently got engaged to Quin Pippin, a great woman I met while at MSU,” he said. “I loved my time at State and I’ve gotten everything I could ever ask for.”