February 7, 2013 11:40:10 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- In the midst of the new $25 million Leo Seal Jr. Football Complex, Mississippi State University happily announced another part of the foundation for its football program.
After a few months of debate, nervousness, and conjecture about the decision of high-profile recruits, MSU's administration, coaches, and fans were more than pleased with the team's 20-player haul.
"It's never easy to get there with different situations and scenarios in each recruiting class to get that depth, but we've been able to get pretty good balance in our classes," MSU coach Dan Mullen said. "We're a young team with 11 seniors next year, but I think with today we've created the kind of depth you need to compete in this league."
MSU finished with the 10th-best recruiting class in the Southeastern Conference among all the recruiting services, but maintained a top-25 ranking.
The day began at 9 a.m., when Houston (Miss.) High School five-star product Chris Jones picked a MSU hat at his school, ending the non-stop social media watch of the Under Armour All-American. Jones told reporters at his signing ceremony he was leaning toward signing with the University of Mississippi, but he stayed with his original verbal commitment to MSU. Mullen refuted Jones' claim he talked on the phone with the five-star prospect at 6 a.m. Wednesday. The MSU coach, who will enter his fifth season in Starkville, was satisfied to get assurances from Jones during a 12:30 a.m. phone call.
"On the drive back he said, 'Coach, I'm all fired up', and I think the media created a lot of drama with Chris," Mullen said. "All along he said he was going to be a Bulldog, and I trusted him from day one, so he never wavered on that with me."
With four seniors receivers graduating, MSU coaches relied on the recruiting talents of wide receiver coach Tim Brewster to find targets for quarterback Tyler Russell in 2013.
"Tim is a great recruiter. One thing Tim brings is being a (former) head coach is what makes my life easier sometimes because he knows what I'm going through," Mullen said.
The most impressive receiver may have been the latest surprise. Four-star talent Fred Ross flipped from a verbal commitment to Oklahoma State University on Tuesday and decided to come to Starkville. MSU will open the season against OSU on Aug. 31 in Reliant Stadium in Houston.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Ross should compete immediately for playing time as the Bulldogs try to fill the void left by the departure of four senior starters at receiver. Ross, a Parade All-American, had 85 receptions for 1,580 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2012. He also rushed for 166 yards and three
touchdowns. Two of Ross' cousins live in Starkville, including MSU women's basketball assistant coach Aqua Franklin.
"With the family relationships he had and we'd offered him early on, we'd just been in constant communication with him," Mullen said. "I happened to be in Oklahoma City (for Johnthan Banks' Jim Thorpe Award ceremony) when his commitment news broke, and I thought we needed to sneak out the back door here because there were some Cowboys fans in the audience."
Ross is one of six receiver commitments in MSU's class. Texas junior college transfer Jeremey Chappelle, Memphis area prospect Donald Gray, Birmingham (Ala.) athlete De'Runnya Wilson, Shelby Christy, of Louisiana, and Gadsden, Ala., native B.J. Hammond also are in the class.
"Fred is one of the top wide receivers in the country," Brewster told Hailstate.com "He really is gonna help us as far as the size of our wide receivers. We went into this class with the idea of getting longer, getting taller, getting stronger, and Fred fits the bill perfectly for what we were looking for in an SEC receiver."
Later in the morning, MSU received signed commitments from Starkville High standout Gabe Myles and Columbus High offensive tackle Jake Thomas, who signed National Letters of Intent within minutes of each other.
"Jake's a lineman we've been following at Columbus High since his freshman year," MSU Director of Player Personnel Rocky Felker said. "He can play either tackle or guard for us, could even be a center. We think the future is very bright with him, and the fact he's so versatile and smart, he's a guy we're excited about."
The afternoon may have been defined by the recruits who didn't end up at MSU. Long-time verbal commitment Deon Mix, of South Panola High, signed with Auburn University and new coach Gus Malzahn. The 6-foot-4, 315 pound offensive tackle committed to MSU on June 11, but he re-opened his recruitment less than a month ago.
Mix held offers from 21 programs, including the University of Mississippi, University of Alabama, University of Arkansas, University of Florida, University of Georgia, University of Southern Mississippi, University of Nebraska, University of Notre Dame, University of Oregon, and University of Texas.
MSU has signed a Parade All-American in each of Mullen's five recruiting classes, and has signed the Gatorade Player of the Year three of five years. The Bulldogs will begin spring practice March 21, and fans will be able to get their first look at the signees in August when fall practice begins.
"The hard part is waiting because today is like Christmas morning and then you got to wait until whenever when they show up on campus and then August practices to even see them on the field with us," Mullen said.