February 5, 2009
Danny P Smith -
STARKVILLE -- One of the goals for new Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen with his first recruiting class was to get the best players possible to run his spread offense.
After announcing 19 signees Wednesday to join the eight newcomers who enrolled at mid-term, Mullen believes he and his coaches accomplished their mission.
"I think our staff did a tremendous job getting this class together," Mullen said. "We need to find the strengths of each one of these individuals and make sure we are putting them in a position to be successful."
In the spread offense, a team needs quality wide receivers, and the Bulldogs listed seven signees as receivers and up to five more who could play offense.
"We''re going to find out what a lot of these guys can do," Mullen said. "Cameron Lawrence (a mid-term signee) could be playing offense or defense, but we''ll find that out later this spring. There are a lot of guys on the list with flexibility and are real solid football players.
"What we want to do is get them on campus and put them through a little bit of conditioning this summer. Once we get on the field, we''ll find a position and a home for them."
East Webster High School''s Johnthan Banks is one of the signees who has the potential to play receiver. He was signed as a defensive back but has been told he will get a chance at receiver.
"(Mullen) talked about me playing wide receiver, and that really got me wanting to go to Mississippi State," Banks said. "Coach (Sylvester) Croom recruited me for safety, then (assistant) coach (Reed) Stringer told me I could play wide receiver. That really got me fired up."
East Webster coach Jimmy Carden said Banks has not played receiver since ninth grade, but he didn''t see any problem with Banks making the adjustment.
Banks completed 43 of 98 passes for 637 yards with 11 touchdowns and rushed for 603 more yards on 91 carries and eight touchdowns as the Wolverines'' quarterback this past season.
The conversion of Banks to receiver might be necessary because Mullen always can use more than seven receivers
"We were a little short at that position when I was hired," Mullen said. "Usually we like to keep 11 to 12 on scholarship. When I took over, we were at four, so we need to make some adjustments and get some guys in here. Getting Leon Berry (at mid-term) was a huge step. We''re going to need the other guys to come and make a pretty immediate impact."
The only quarterback of the class was Tyler Russell, of Meridian, but Mullen didn''t say he would come in and play right away.
"We''ll find that out in the fall when he gets here," Mullen said. "We''re going to fit the offense around his talents, just as I have any quarterback I''ve recruited. We''re excited to have him, and I expect a lot of leadership from him coming in and the entire freshman class."
Mullen likes the balance of the class, which was ranked 18th in the country by Scout.com. The class includes 12 signees on defense, 13 on offense, and two on special teams.
Another one of the goals Mullen had was to focus on in-state prospects. Nineteen signees are from Mississippi.
"We will not recruit outside of the state until we have been in every high school in Mississippi," Mullen said. "We want to land all the top talent here in the state before anything else."
The local area was represented well with Banks, Starkville Academy defensive end Johnathan McKenzie, Noxubee County linebacker Deontae Skinner, Pickens County (Ala.) wide receiver Madrecas Hood, and Louisville defensive back Dennis Thames.
The possibility of playing college football 30 minutes from home was appealing to Thames.
"A Bulldog is what I wanted to be, and being around the Bulldog family makes you feel like you are on top of the world," Thames said. "Being close to home is a lot to it because if anything happens, I can go home real quick. My uncle (Marcus Thames) can come home in the offseason (from pro baseball) and come watch me play. The whole town is happy I''m a Bulldog."
The Bulldogs were always on McKenzie''s radar, but getting to know Mullen helped confirm he was making the right choice.
"That makes it even better," McKenzie said. "I still have a lot of respect for coach Croom. The decision (to commit to Mississippi State) was going to be made regardless, but still I am looking forward to coach Mullen, a new start, and I''m very excited."
Skinner also gave a verbal commitment to Mississippi State when Croom was still in charge. He didn''t back off his commitment after Mullen came aboard.
"I''ve got a good relationship with coach Mullen and we''ve been in contact," Skinner said. "Everything is going good, and I''m just ready to be a Bulldog."
Banks expressed the same feeling.
"Coach Mullen is a great guy and has a real nice family," Banks said. "When he came and sat with me in the cafeteria, we talked and he told me how things were going to be.
"I always had it in my mind to come to Mississippi State. That''s pretty much what everyone wanted me to do, and what I wanted to do. I''m just glad to get it all over."
Mullen hopes to avoid any eligibility issues with newcomers, but said Darius Slay, a defensive back from Brunswick, Ga., might have to go to junior college.
"We''re going to work with counselors and get all of these guys eligible," Mullen said. "(Junior college) would be a last resort, but (Slay) might be the one we''re pretty set he''s going to have to go to junior college."
n In other MSU football news, Mullen announced Les Koenning will serve as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, and will be joined on the that side of the ball by Mark Hudspeth as passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach.
John Hevesy will be running game coordinator and offensive line coach. Greg Knox will mentor the running backs, and new assistant coach Scott Sallach will coach the tight ends.
Coordinating the defense will be Carl Torbush, who will also coach the linebackers. David Turner will coach the defensive line and Melvin Smith will tutor the cornerbacks and nickels. Tony Hughes will serve as the team''s recruiting coordinator as well as the safeties coach.
The team''s administrative staff will include Reed Stringer as director of recruiting operations, Rockey Felker as director of player personnel/high school relations and Jody Wright as coordinator of football operations.
The football office also includes administrative assistants Nancy Covington, Jane Ballard, Angi Jabri, and Susan Simmons as well as director of video services Brock Dulaney.