February 5, 2010 10:17:00 AM
David Miller -
STARKVILLE -- Some folks might differ about the talent in the state of Mississippi, but that suits Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen just fine.
Even though rival Ole Miss and MSU virtually split the state''s top 10 recruits, Mullen stepped to the podium Wednesday at the Bryan Athletic Building and repeated what he said at this time last year.
"For the second year in a row we''ve recruited 16 high school players from the state of Mississippi, which is more than Southern Miss and the school up north (Ole Miss) combined this year," Mullen said. "That''s the foundation of our program, recruiting high school players from the state of Mississippi."
In doing so, Mullen came away with big guns in offensive lineman Damien Robinson (Olive Branch High School) and defensive end Kaleb Eulls (Yazoo County). There also were several under-the-radar signees who didn''t surface in recruiting circles until late in the process.
Hinds Agricultural athlete Jeremy Lee and Puckett linebacker Christian Holmes weren''t on most recruiting Web sites until MSU showed interest and eventually offered scholarships.
Mullen used Holmes'' recruitment as an example of finding talent in areas other programs aren''t looking.
"We got in on him late and (assistant coach) Greg Knox did a tremendous job not just recruiting but evaluating a young man from Puckett High School," Mullen said. "You''ve got to be going to Puckett to watch kids at Puckett play. If you''re not going to recruit the state of Mississippi hard you could easily just jump over Puckett High School and hit the big schools and move on."
Satisfied with combing the state for talent and supplementing with out-of-state players, Mullen showed no signs of lamenting lost verbal commitments Rajion Neal (RB/ Tennessee), Cordell Giles (LB/Ole Miss), and Antwon Chisholm (ATH/Marshall). Then there was former Florida quarterback and Auburn jewel Cameron Newton, who shocked Bulldog fans by opting for the Tigers.
Mullen''s mantra is it''s OK because there are plenty of top recruits at home.
"I''ve told our staff we need to be in every high school in the state in spring recruiting before we cross the state lines," Mullen said. "We need to evaluate every player in this state to make sure we don''t miss on the next Jerry Rice, that we skip over him just because he''s at a small school."
West Point High''s Curtis Virges, a defensive tackle who signed with MSU on Wednesday, said Mullen strikes a chord when hitting recruits with his plan to make MSU the top choice for all of the state''s talent.
"That was the first thing he told me when I went to his office last summer," Virges said. "When I first went in and sat down, that was his main focus. It makes sense, being from Mississippi, that you would want to stay home and showcase what you can do."
When Memphis linebacker Ferlando Bohanna began to waver on his verbal commitment to MSU in favor of the University of Memphis, Mullen and his staff reeled in the former Senatobia High School player with the same approach.
"I feel at home there, and even though I''m from Memphis I have family in Mississippi," Bohanna said. "I had really been confused until I talked to (defensive coordinator) coach (Manny) Diaz and coach Mullen again. What he''s building at State with getting the top players from Mississippi is special and something I want to be a part of."