July 9, 2013 12:11:17 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- The Maxwell Award wasn't about to make the same mistake two years in a row with Tyler Russell.
The Mississippi State University senior quarterback was put on the list in late October last season after the Bulldogs started 7-0 and Russell, at the time, was 122-of-203 (60.1 percent) for 1,573 yards, 15 touchdowns and one interception.
The Maxwell Award has been given annually to the country's best college football player since 1937. Having been the first player in school history to appear on the list last year, Russell is now the first player at State to make the watch list in consecutive seasons.
The senior signal caller broke 11 single-season school records as a junior, completing 231 passes for 2,897 yards and 24 touchdowns. Russell currently stands as the school's all-time leader in passing efficiency (136.38) and is only one passing touchdown away from the tying the school record for passing touchdowns (38), held by Derrick Taite from 1993-96.
Russell and MSU coach Dan Mullen spent their final spring session together trying to exploit more of a pro-style offense with the fifth-year senior under center much more.
"As I get older in my career it's about taking what the defense gives you - boy that sounds boring doesn't it?," Russell said after the Maroon-White spring game on April 23. "It's true though because you don't have to force anything downfield. I get that now."
Russell, who had four interceptions in the 34-20 loss on New Year's Day in the 2013 Gator Bowl against Northwestern University, focused most of the spring season on one single on-the-field item and a critical off-the-field element to help him prepare for his final season at MSU. To counter those mistakes on the playing field, which included nine interceptions in his final six games, Russell has gone to the meeting room. With Mullen's supervision, Russell knows he needs to be not only be more prepared so the player-coach relationship has shortened a very thick playbook and constructed an offensive scheme that suits his skill sets. Throughout the NCAA-mandated 15 practices this past spring, Russell spent more time taking the snap under center instead of in the preferred shotgun position with his tailback to his side. Now MSU fans and opponent's defenses will likely see Russell going from under center to the gun formation in a audible call that he'll have more freedom with this season.
"The great thing when you have a fifth-year senior quarterback, he isgoing to feel very comfortable in making his input," Mullen said. "He knows our offense, he knows what we want to accomplish, he knows what he is comfortable with. So he is going to have a lot of input because I can trust his input."
Joining Russell on the Maxwell Award watch list is MSU senior tailback LaDarius Perkins. A preseason All-SEC pick by Athlon Sports, the Birmingham News and Phil
Steele, Perkins finished second in the SEC last season in all-purpose yards per game (125.8) and became the ninth player in MSU history to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season (1,024). Last week, the 5-10, 195-pound running back was also named to the Hornung Award watch list, given annually to the nation's most versatile college football player. Perkins is expected to be seen behind Russell in the Bulldogs backfield along with being utilitized in the return game and possibly motioned out as a slot receiver in the pass game.
With the loss of their top four receivers from last season, Russell knows he has to develop chemistry with a new group of athletes quickly.
Senior-to-be tailback LaDarius Perkins is the leading returner in catches from 2012. with just 19.
Perkins was held out of most of spring drills due to precautionary reasons involving concussion symptoms but the senior is expected to be ready when players report to campus next month.
Semifinalists for the Maxwell and Bednarik Awards will be announced Oct. 29, while the three finalists for each award will be unveiled Nov. 25th. The winners of the 2013 Maxwell and Bednarik Awards will be announced Dec. 12th.
n McKinney named to Bednarik Award watch list: Following a freshman All-America campaign last season, MSU sophomore linebacker Benardrick McKinney was just one of just three underclassmen to make the Bednarik Award watch list Monday.
McKinney made the list after the Tunica native tied for second in the Football Bowl Subdivision in tackles by a first-year player. Named a 2013 preseason All-Southeastern Conference linebacker by Phil Steele and Athlon Sports, McKinney finished sixth in the league last year in tackles per game.
"It's a blessing to be an All-American and something that when you're a kid you grow up dreaming about but not really thinking it's possible," McKinney said last December. "All i wanted as a kid was to play for a big college and then my goals changed the minute I got here."
McKinney spent the spring as the defensive signal caller for new coordinator Geoff Collins at middle linebacker as MSU deals with the graduation loss of Cameron Lawrence.
"We've got a lot of great linebackers right now with Deontae Skinner and Benardrick McKinney who is a young guy, he came back and attacked it again," MSU strength coach Matt Balis said. "So the linebackers I thought did a really good job this offseason."
McKinney, a three-star recruit from a unknown high school in
Mississippi, tallied 4.5 tackles for loss, a sack, four pass breakups and a fumble recovery in 2012.
"It can be hard to not stay humble sometimes and think about the future instead of worrying about what is the present in terms of football and school and what I'm supposed to be doing," McKinney said.
"I was making a difference but I have had the support here to make sure I'm in the film room and going to study hall to make sure I continue to have this success."