Joe Pongetti, left, and JoJo Dodd both went from portraying Bully to becoming first-year medical students.
Joe Pongetti, left, and JoJo Dodd both went from portraying Bully to becoming first-year medical students.
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People of the U: JoJo Dodd and Joe Pongetti

Published on Thursday, September 20, 2018

By: Annie Oeth

If dogged determination is a requirement for medical school, then JoJo Dodd and Joe Pongetti are ready.

The two first-year School of Medicine students shared an alter ego during their undergraduate days at Mississippi State University: Bully.

Dodd, of Picayune, and Pongetti, who grew up in Tyler, Texas, but calls Jackson home, were members of the team that brings the Bulldogs mascot to life.

“Bully is magical,” said Pongetti, a 2015 MSU graduate in kinesiology. “He can be at Batson Children’s Hospital in Jackson, and 15 minutes later, he’s at Super Bulldog Weekend.”

“Being Bully is like being famous, but with none of the baggage,” said Dodd, who graduated from MSU in 2016 with a degree in economics. “You get mobbed by fans, but then you get to be yourself and have privacy, too. It’s the best of both worlds.”

Malorie Franovich of Pascagoula shares a laugh with Bully during the Mississippi State football team's visit to Children's Hospital in July. Dodd came out of "retirement" to become Bully for the patients that day.

The larger-than-life canine cheers on Mississippi State athletes, boosts school spirit and generates good will in the community. MSU’s top Dawg visits Batson Children’s Hospital each year when the football team and coaches are in town for the MSU Central Mississippi Alumni Association’s Summer Extravaganza.

Dodd came out of retirement for that visit this past July and stopped in at Batson two other times during his Bully years.

“Visiting Batson was always my favorite event of the year,” he said. “The kids at Batson love Bully, and seeing them smile when Bully walks in was the best!”

Pongetti also loved seeing the younger fans. “The best part of being Bully is that the kids love him. They go crazy when they see Bully!”

The two, part of a mascot team of about five students, got to take turns as Bully during MSU’s 2014 season, when Mississippi State was, for a time, the no. 1-ranked football team in the country.

 “It’s always great to be Bully,” said Pongetti, “but during those years, it was amazing! We made so many friends and got to travel the country.

Bully gets his share of photo ops with fans, including babies. “Fans would hand me their newborns over the fence when I was on the sidelines,” said Pongetti. “That made me a little nervous.”

There are hardships that come with the job, said Dodd, but the fun outweighs the heat and humidity.

“You put on the suit, which gets stinky and sweaty, and it’s 110 degrees,” said Dodd, “but then you mess with a kid’s hair and you’ve made his day. That’s a great place to be!”

Pongetti, as Bully, is flanked by his parents, Phil and Audrey, during a visit to Starkville.

The two took routes to the medical school that were somewhat nontraditional.

Pongetti had an interest in occupational therapy and physical therapy, but he found his calling after shadowing an orthopaedist.

“I saw how medicine could change someone’s life immediately,” he said.

He put his interest in medicine to the test with organic chemistry.

“Chemistry is not my forte,” Pongetti said. “I decided to register for organic chemistry, and I said to myself, ‘If I can pass this, I will become a doctor.’ I passed, and here I am.”

Dodd’s journey took him to Los Angeles, where he was a comedy writer, a stand-up comedian, and miserable. “I hated it,” he said. “I wanted to go back home.”

Dodd had attended Pearl River Community College for his freshman year prior to leaving for Los Angeles, so upon returning home he attended MSU and tried out to be among those who bring Bully to life.

During those years, Dodd became interested in emergency medicine and worked as an EMT. During rotations, he was called to a car accident. “That totally changed my perspective. I knew then that I wanted to be a doctor.”

Dodd also wanted to become a Marine, but U.S. Navy physicians provide health care services to the Marine Corps. In April, Dodd was sworn in and holds the Navy rank of ensign while in medical school.

Pongetti, left, and Dodd look over slides in the School of Medicine's histology lab.

While not everyone who dons the Bully suit becomes an M.D., there are traits of collegiate mascots that could lend themselves to the medical field, said Sid Salter, chief communications officer for Mississippi State University.

“Students who are on the Bully team have to learn early on to manage their time well and balance studies with traveling the country with our athletic teams,” Salter said. “They also have to relate to other people well, and that also would be an excellent skill for a doctor to have.”

Pongetti and Dodd share a house with fellow first-year medical student Chris Price, a University of Alabama graduate from Meridian who gets a double dose of Mississippi State school spirit at home.


A Crimson Tide fan claiming to be unfazed by their maroon and white, Price makes sure to give his housemates some good-natured ribbing, especially with football season close at hand.

“Our house is littered with Mississippi State memorabilia, which is cute but non-threatening,” Price said.

Team allegiances aside, Price, who met Pongetti first, and then Dodd, counts the two former Bullys as close friends.

“Getting to know JoJo was an added bonus after I chose to live with Joe during medical school,” Price said. “Both are high-energy guys with an enthusiasm for medicine and people.”