November 14, 2012 10:43:52 PM
STARKVILLE -- A little over four years ago, Chad Bumphis said publicly he was "97 percent committed" to the University of Florida before a coaching change in Starkville.
Turns out wide receiver from Tupelo should've made that statement about a coach named Dan Mullen. Once the former Gators assistant coach decided to take the Mississippi State University football coach position in late Dec. 2009, Bumphis suddenly realized he would be a in-state college student signing up for Mullen's first recruiting class with the Bulldogs.
"My freshman year (Anthony) Dixon called me Chad Mullen," Bumphis said Tuesday. "We were real close. I was probably one of the first people in Mississippi he met because when he was down at Florida he came to see me at Tupelo High School. We have just been close since then."
Bumphis has become a fan favorite after leading MSU in his freshman season with a team-high 32 receptions and 375 receiving yards. The 5-foot-10 receiver made his mark by earning three catches for 52 yards and a score in the 41-27 upset over the University of Mississippi in 2009 during the annual Egg Bowl rivalry game.
"It means a lot to me," Bumphis said. "In Tupelo it's halfway between Oxford and Starkville. I have a bunch of friends in both schools. You hear about it all year no matter who you are playing. If we win or if they win, there is always something brought up about the Egg Bowl."
One of the biggest crowd reaction before kickoff at Davis Wade Stadium is during pre-game introductions when Bumphis is shown on the jumbotron as a starter.
"It's just fun and you are thankful for all of it because I know it could easily be the other way around and not being liked on campus," Bumphis said.
Bumphis is currently leading the the Southeastern Conference with eight touchdown catches in his final season of college football. Four of those scores have occurred in conference play after Bumphis struggled to attain more than two touchdowns in the last two seasons of league games.
"I think just his confidence on the field," Mullen said. "He has confidence that he's been with Tyler for a while, all our receivers do. They've been with Tyler for a while. They have a good feel of where that ball's going to be put, and Tyler knows when and where to get it to them."
Bumphis' career has been defined by big games against inferior competition where MSU is already considered a big favorite but less than stellar performances against the top caliber schools of the Western Division of Southeastern Conference. However, Bumphis has been able to find the end zone and get big plays against highly ranked defenses like last week's 37-17 loss at Louisiana State University.
"I have spent a lot of time talking to Chad about consistently playing at a high level and playing at a standard that you as an individual set," MSU receivers coach Tim Brewster said. "He has become a more physical receiver. That is something I really felt like he could improve. Going and making the hard touch catches, blocking the perimeter better and being a more complete receiver."
Part of the roller coaster ride during Bumphis' career includes a New Year's Eve night in Tupelo he'd certainly like to forget. Bumphis, 22, was arrested in downtown Tupelo on Jan. 1 following an incident at the Atlanta Bar & Grill, where he said he was struck with a champagne bottle and suffered a neck laceration and broken tooth. He was initially booked on charges of disorderly conduct and public drunkenness following the early morning incident. The Bulldogs receiver entered a guilty plea to a charge of failure to comply months later.
"I wouldn't say I was disappointed because I learned a lot of stuff here," Bumphis said. "I look at every thing that didn't go my way as a life lesson. Just learn from it and get better from it."
Currently Bumphis leads MSU in catches (43), yards (676) and touchdowns with eight in a season he called his most important leading into summer workouts.
"You dream about it and you dream about it all the time," Bumphis said. "You want stuff like that to happen. When it does happen it's kind of a shock. I wouldn't say a shock. you're surprised. It's all the hard work you put in the offseason and it is showing off."
In Saturday's home finale against the University of Arkansas (11:21 a.m., SEC Network), Bumphis says he'll have at least 15 friends and family from Tupelo, some of which are Ole Miss fans, to watch his final game in Starkville. During the pre-game celebration, he'll also get to embrace the man that make sure he'd be in a MSU uniform -- Dan Mullen.
"I think it is real big because you get a lot of talented players who want to play together and help their home state," Bumphis said about that 2009 recruiting class. "That is mostly what we wanted. We wanted to come to Mississippi State and do something that people said we couldn't do."