July 29, 2014 12:49:36 PM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen has been true to his word.
From the moment he accepted the Mississippi State job nearly six years ago, Mullen has stressed the importance of building a championship program with in-state talent.
He has reinforced that plan at Signing Day press conferences, during his annual turn at the Southeastern Conference's Media Days, at fan events, and at visits to alumni chapters throughout the region. Simply put, Mullen believes the talent in the state of Mississippi is good enough to compete for championships in the SEC.
"One of the big things for us and our staff is we have to get the best players in Mississippi to come play for us," said Mullen at his introductory press conference in 2008. "If we do that, we're going to have a chance to be a consistent championship team."
Mullen's plan could be coming to fruition.
With 18 starters returning, MSU enters the season with a considerable amount of buzz thanks to one of the league's most homegrown rosters. True to Mullen's plan of attempting to build using a roster with Mississippi's best, the Bulldogs will boast 63 in-state players this year. That number (63 of 105) puts MSU behind Texas A&M (92 players from Texas), Florida (83 in-state players), and Georgia (69) for the most homegrown talent in the conference.
MSU players will report to training camp Wednesday. Practice will begin Thursday.
While the Bulldogs enter the season as one of the SEC's most experienced teams -- MSU returns 30 players with starting experience, 15 on each side of the ball -- the bulk of that experience has Mississippi roots.
Mullen signed 31 of the 44 players on MSU's projected two-deep depth chart on offense and defense out of Mississippi high schools. Eight of MSU's nine returning defensive starters are in-state products, including linebacker Benardrick McKinney and defensive lineman Chris Jones, a pair of All-America candidates that started out as little-known two-star prospects at Tunica and Houston high schools.
In contrast to MSU's 63 in-state players, Ole Miss will field a team with 44 Mississippi products. Auburn will feature 39 players from the state of Alabama, while the Alabama Crimson Tide will have 33.
Mullen's 2014 roster matches his track record of signing in-state talent. In Mullen's six recruiting classes, 95 of the 147 players he has signed are from Mississippi, good for 65 percent.
While he has stressed the importance of building from within, Mullen and his coaching staff have shown an ability to send local players to the next level. In his six seasons, Mullen, the former offensive coordinator at Florida, has sent nine in-state players to the NFL draft. All of them were taken in the sixth round or better, including first-round picks Fletcher Cox, a defensive tackle, and Derek Sherrod, an offensive lineman. Mullen also has seen nine more homegrown players sign free agent deals with NFL teams.
In the same time, Ole Miss has had just four in-state players taken in the NFL draft. The Rebels haven't had a player drafted higher than the third round in five years.
While Mullen's base is the Magnolia State, he also has branched out to surrounding states with success. The Bulldogs boast 23 players from neighboring states: 14 from Alabama and nine from Louisiana, including junior quarterback Dak Prescott, who is from Haughton, Louisiana; starting RB Josh Robinson, who is from Franklinton, Louisiana; and center Dillon Day, who was plucked out of Monroe, Louisiana.
NOTES: Former Starkville High standout Gabe Myles is listed as the No. 2 wide receiver behind senior Jameon Lewis on MSU's two-deep depth chart. Myles, a redshirt freshman, is one of three underclassmen (De'Runnya Wilson and Fred Brown) among the six Bulldogs listed at that position. Wilson is one of three starters, while Brown is Wilson's backup. Former Caledonia High standout Cole Carter, a sophomore, is Blaine Clausell's backup at left tackle. Former Columbus High standout Jake Thomas, a redshirt freshman, is Damien Robinson's backup at right tackle.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brandon Walker on Twitter @BWonStateBeat.