Pads with Personality
By Tracy Morin
Photography courtesy of Longleaf Piney Resort, Visit Knoxville and Properties at 4300. Taylor Inn photography courtesy of J Worthem Photography and Design
As fall football games transform Southern towns and cities alike, these one-of-a-kind accommodations welcome fans who prefer something unique.
“Some people think football is a matter of life and death,” Scottish athlete Bill Shankly once said. “I can assure them it is much more serious than that.”
Sure, he may have been referring to the European version of the sport — soccer — but anyone who’s attended a college football game in the American South would wholeheartedly agree.
With fans flocking to football destinations throughout the fall, tailgating gear in tow, the question remains: Where to set up shop for the festivities ahead? For those who seek a unique experience that run-of-the-mill hotels can’t provide, check out these standout options in key college football hot spots.
Southern Miss: Longleaf Piney Resort, Hattiesburg, Miss.
Billing itself as “Mississippi’s premier glamping experience,” the Longleaf Piney Resort (LPR) is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. But for those who don’t love “roughing it,” the property promises authenticity without sacrificing modern luxuries like plumbing and air-conditioning. While staying at one of multiple tiny houses — The Southern Shindig, Hattie’s Hoedown, The Fais Do-Do, Shangri-La, and The Julep — visitors can enjoy private fire pits and firewood, hammocks, and games such as corn hole, axe-throwing, and disc golf.
Just off the property, thanks to its location on the ninth mile of the Longleaf Trace (LLT), guests can explore 44 miles of paved trails, ideal for running, biking, walking, or skating. The nearby Lake Thoreau Environmental Center, located only 1.5 miles from the resort, offers fishing, mountain biking, and hiking.
“For football and other Southern Miss athletic events, our spot on the Longleaf Trace allows you to connect directly to USM,” says Sean McGee, owner of LPR. “The distance between LPR and the USM Gateway is seven miles and can be traveled on bike or golf carts (with an LLT permit). This fall, we will be offering e-bike rentals, which make a 14-mile round trip an easy ride.”
“Travelers are looking for one-of-a-kind opportunities that make their getaways special, and the Longleaf Piney Resort offers all of that and more,” says Marlo Dorsey, executive director of Visit Hattiesburg. “The mini resort is conveniently located moments from many of Hattiesburg’s local restaurants, shopping, and other family-friendly attractions.”
University of Tennessee: Graduate Knoxville, Knoxville, Tenn.
Situated only steps away from the University of Tennessee’s campus and its iconic Neyland Stadium, the Graduate Knoxville is steeped in the area’s traditions and oozes with Volunteer spirit.
“The minute you walk through the hotel’s doors, you’re greeted by the sights, colors, and memorabilia of UT — and the sweet, delicious smells of the lobby’s coffee shop, Poindexter Coffee,” says Mary Katelyn Price, communications specialist for the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, based in Nashville. “Guests enjoy many amenities on-site, from breakfast in the lobby to free WiFi and concierge services. Each guest room and suite is uniquely decorated with UT’s colors and offers the flair of Knoxville, with special touches woven into the decor, including the Vols’ mascot, Smokey, the state bird, and pictures from the university’s past.”
The fun doesn’t stop at football. Before turning in for the night, stop by the hotel’s Saloon 16.
“Inspired by UT’s football legend Peyton Manning, this fun yet relaxing bar is just the place to kick off any football weekend in the Marble City,” Price enthuses. “Dive into some of their delicious plates and drinks, including John Ward’s bacon popcorn, Peyton’s chicken parm sandwich, and Chesney’s rum punch.”
And don’t forget to venture out to enjoy some of the area’s plentiful attractions, shopping, and food.
“Whether in town for a football game or looking to explore the treasures of Knoxville, the Graduate’s prime location along the Tennessee River makes it an ideal place to stay,” Price says.
Mississippi State: Properties at 4300, Starkville, Miss.
Properties at 4300 encompasses lodging, an event venue, and a restaurant: The Magnolia Tree B&B, The Pool House at 4300, Events at 4300, and Tables at 4300.
“I cannot tell you how often our guests tell us that once you walk through the front door, you would never believe you were in Starkville,” says Robin Husbands, who owns the company with husband Vern Wunsch.
The Magnolia Tree B&B offers two large suites, The King and the Jack & Jill, and can lodge up to six people. Meanwhile, The Pool House rents as an entire house and can sleep up to seven. With two full baths, a full (and fully equipped) kitchen, and a laundry closet with washer and dryer, this option allows guests to truly make themselves at home.
For a bite before or after the games, the new restaurant, Tables at 4300, is open to the public.
“We serve a traditional-style Sunday Brunch Day every second Sunday of the month and will be opening every Tuesday through Thursday evening for tapas,” Husbands explains. “Our plans are to open evening service around the second week in September.”
Naturally, guests at the B&B will reap the benefits of the restaurant’s breakfast, included with their reservation.
“Starkville’s energy on game weekends cannot be beat,” asserts Paige Hunt, director of tourism for the Greater Starkville Development Partnership. “From enjoying our many restaurants on Friday night, to tailgating in The Junction on Saturday, to our ‘Brunch and Browse’ shopping specials on Sunday, game weekends in Mississippi’s College Town are packed with fun.”
Ole Miss: Taylor Inn, Taylor, Miss.
Taylor, Miss., is less than 10 miles from the frenzied football scene of Oxford, but it feels a world away. And Taylor Inn is one of its most charming residents.
“Taylor is a not-so-far getaway and can be enjoyed year-round,” notes Paige Evans, owner of Taylor Inn with husband Glen. “It remains a town of fine artists and musicians, and really just a good group of nice folks. Happy lives here.”
Luckily, Taylor Inn is situated on what Evans calls “the happiest corner in Taylor,” with a front porch made for relaxing and rocking away the day. Didn’t score game tickets? Out back, the screened porch is perfect for cozying up to the fireplace and watching the game on TV.
“Or spend the day enjoying the high energy of Ole Miss football and drive back to the Inn for Taylor-style comforts,” Evans says. “Location is everything, and we’re across the street from Taylor Grocery, with some of the best catfish in the area and best people-watching ever.”
Alternatively, fine Southern dining is a three-minute stroll away at Grit, while waking up after a late night is easier with Lost Dog Coffee, where locals grab pick-me-ups over neighborly conversation.
Back at the Inn, expect a mix of refurbished and reclaimed decor, all hand-selected. The Main House, with an independent five bedrooms and five baths, is also available for whole-house rental. The Chicken House, a small tin structure that sits in the chicken yard, offers “rustic sophistication,” while The Big Truck Theater is a perfect spot for everything from family reunions to football parties.
“Several guests have complimented us by saying, ‘I felt happy the minute I walked through the door,’” Evans says. “And that’s just what we are going for.”