September 8, 2013 2:57:17 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- The maroon and white world were introduced to the talents of Ashton Shumpert 22 times Saturday afternoon.
A week after not playing against No. 13 Oklahoma State University in a nationally televised game, the four-star tailback was told earlier in the week he'd see action against Alcorn State University in the Mississippi State University football team's home opener.
In a 51-7 victory, Shumpert took the football on each of his first four college plays and was a workhorse. The freshman from Tupelo had 98 yards and two touchdown runs in front of a crowd of 55,085 at Davis Wade Stadium that was eagerly anticipating his debut.
"I didn't know if I would get any snaps at all this season, so I've apparently come a long way from being a guy that would redshirt to a guy that gets four straight carries," Shumpert said.
The debate as to whether to play Shumpert or save his redshirt season was a topic throughout fall camp. Once senior starter LaDarius Perkins went down last week with a undisclosed left foot injury, MSU (1-1) needed to bolster its depth at tailback depth.
"In a game where I think we had seven starters out for one reason or another and I think only dressed five seniors, (Ashton) stepped up and proved he can take the workload if we need him to," MSU coach Dan Mullen said. "He'll continue to get better, but he proved a lot today."
Shumpert, whose body type and running style reminds many of Anthony Dixon, MSU's all-time leading rusher, was widely considered one of the state's top players who could play offense or defense in college. He was named the 2012 Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year after his senior season at Itawamba Agricultural High School. He also spent two years at Tupelo High.
Shumpert became the first freshman since Dixon in 2006 to lead the team in rushing yards.
Shumpert admitted to some nerves at the chance to play he had been thinking about ever since February, when he signed his National Letter of Intent.
"I was real jittery and didn't want anybody to know I was nervous, but once I got that first carry and first hit on somebody, it was just like any other game," Shumpert said.
Shumpert became the first freshman running back to rush for two touchdowns in a game since 1991, when Michael Davis accomplished the feat. The 210-pound tailback was the first MSU player to score two touchdowns in his first college game since Chad Bumphis in Mullen's head coaching debut in 2009.
"Everything lived up to what my expectations were for the entire experience," Shumpert said. "I won't be able to know if I played well or not until I talk to coaches, but I know the fans and the crowd of this stadium was so good today. That's why I decided to come here to have days like this."
The only issue about Shumpert's afternoon was the punishment he took and inflicted. In another reminder of Dixon, who was a bruising tailback, Shumpert showcased a running style that is a high-pad view that invites contact.
"I've gotten bad about even running over my own blockers," Shumpert said. "I joked with them afterwards that I guess I really have to stop doing that. The reason I like contact so much is I think that is the definition of what football is all about."
That response scares Mullen, who could use Shumpert as a second-team back this season to help prepare him for what could be a promising career.
"He likes contact and we tell him, 'It's OK to make people miss every now and again,' " Mullen said.
But Shumpert's 98 yards made an impression with the Bulldogs, who are looking forward to him making similar contributions the rest of the season, possibly starting next week against Auburn University.
"I always compare him to NFL player Marshawn Lynch because if you don't get up out of the way then he's going to make you move," MSU junior wide receiver Jameon Lewis said. "That's a good thing he runs so physical and he'll get those tough yards for us."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.