October 30, 2013 10:10:35 AM
STARKVILLE -- Kendrick Market's favorite thing about playing strong safety at Mississippi State is he gets a chance to do what he does best: Lead.
The redshirt sophomore defensive back, who stepped in three plays into the season after Jay Hughes suffered a season-ending Achilles' injury, is responsible for getting the other 10 players on the defense lined up and making sure they know their assignments. Seven weeks into the season, Market's leadership qualities have helped MSU (4-3, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) secure a spot in the top half of the league in every defensive statistical category.
"I've always been that type of player and person, but you're right that when Jay left I knew I had to step up and fill that role immediately," Market said. "It wasn't a decision, but (it was) something that just had to happen if we were going to be a good defense. I didn't have time to think about it."
Market admits he never thought about getting a lot of playing time this season. Hughes was supposed to occupy one of the most critical defensive positions on the field as coordinator Geoff Collins attempted to establish his aggressive form of play-calling and style. On Oklahoma State's first drive in the Texas Kickoff Classic on Aug. 30, Hughes was helped off the Reliant Stadium turf and Market became coach Dan Mullen's "next man up."
"It's the easiest part because I like taking on that role on a team," Market said. "I like being the guy people can count on that I know my job and I can get everybody lined up properly before the play starts. That's my responsibility, and I take pride in it."
Hughes left Tuesday night's practice in a walking boot and hopes to return next season, which means Market is responsible for helping an injury-plagued and inexperienced secondary navigate through the nation's most difficult remaining schedule.
"One of the biggest things Kendrick does is bring his energy and enthusiasm to the field every single day," Collins said. "They call him 'poke dawg', and poke dawg makes a lot of plays for us when we turn on the film the morning after games."
Market, a player Collins referred to Tuesday night as "the best player pound for pound in the Southeastern Conference" is one of eight MSU defensive backs with a tackle for loss. He leads all MSU secondary members with 30 tackles. He had six last week in a 28-22 victory against Kentucky. However, the 5-foot-10 athletes' importance can't be measured in statistics.
"I think my best asset is getting people to understand what their job is and how it's supposed to be done from the playbook to the field," Market said.
Market, who is from South Panola High School, committed to MSU in October 2010. South Panola High is known as a fruitful recruiting ground for Ole Miss, but Market reportedly committed to MSU the same day as wide receiver and classmate Nicholas Brassell. However, as the day progressed, it was determined Brassell, a four-star recruit, never committed to MSU. He signed with the Rebels in that coming February.
A three-year starter on both sides of the ball and in the return game for the state of Mississippi's premier Class 6A high school program, Market knew he was a SEC-caliber athlete. There weren't many colleges that agreed until MSU offered him a scholarship and he immediately accepted. On Signing Day, Mullen called Market, a two or three-star athlete by most recruiting services, as "maybe the best player in the state of Mississippi." He also said Market was "easily the MVP" at South Panola High in 2010.
"He might not put up the measurables a lot of people on the Internet like to write up, but when you turn on the film and watch them play, he makes a ton of plays," Mullen said in February 2011.
Local fans saw Market before he arrived at MSU. He completed a 3-yard touchdown pass, completed a pass for a two-point conversion, had five carries for 42 yards, and started in the defensive secondary in a 47-13 victory against Starkville High on Oct. 31, 2010. At MSU, Market is using the skills he showcased as a Wildcat quarterback to decipher the tendencies of an offense. The Bulldogs hope to use that talent at 11:21 a.m. Saturday (WCBI) when they take on No. 14 South Carolina in Columbia, S.C.
"It makes everything easier because I'm able to figure out by the mannerisms more often than not what's coming from the offense," Market said. "That's part of my job. Jay and I knew we'd be the quarterback on the defense at strong safety."
Rated the No. 15 prospect in the state regardless of position by Rivals.com, Market helped South Panola win state titles in 2009 and 2010. The Mississippi Association of Coaches made him a first-team All-State in selection, and he was chosen for the Mississippi-Alabama All Star Game, where he practiced at cornerback, safety, linebacker, and both return positions.
At MSU, Market is reaping the rewards of getting a chance to play in college faster than many anticipated.
"We would've never asked for a injury like Jay Hughes to happen, but he's done a solid job of stepping in a leadership role and producing," Mullen said. "He does his job, and that's what we ask all of our players to do. We expect them all to play."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.