November 8, 2009 12:17:00 AM
Just the mention of "Mississippi State" causes Brandon Hill to smile.
Hill, a linebacker and defensive lineman on the West Lowndes High School football team, is as sure as he ever has been about his commitment to play football for the Bulldogs.
Even though the possibility exists MSU (4-5, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) won''t have a winning season or play in a bowl game this season, Hill believes the Bulldogs have what it takes to reach the postseason.
"I believe State can do anything it wants to do," Hill said. "If they can put their mind to it, they can go out there, get it done, and do great things. We have great athletes.
"There''s a lot of productivity and things going the right way. We just need to put more pieces together."
Hill believes he has the potential to be one of those pieces. The fact that MSU has received 14 verbal commitments for next season shows there are a lot of high school and junior college players in the state of Mississippi and from the region who want to play for the Bulldogs.
"We have some commitments from big-name players," Hill said. "I feel like we can make something happen. I look forward to it."
One of those "big-name" commitments is Yazoo County High School defensive end Kaleb Eulls, a four-star and top-of-the-board recruit by Rivals.com.
Eulls said the coaches, players, and atmosphere are why he committed to play for the Bulldogs.
"I like what (the coaches) are trying to accomplish and how much they love the players," Eulls said.
Eulls watched Oct. 24 in Starkville as the University of Florida defeated MSU 29-19 in front of a school-record crowd of 57,178.
"The crowd was bigger than I imagined it would be," Eulls said.
And what was Eulls'' impression of MSU against top-ranked Florida?
"They didn''t give up or lay down even," Eulls said. "Everybody thought (the Gators) were going to blow them out, but they really didn''t."
MSU coach Dan Mullen said things are falling into place that make a difference in recruiting and help "build a successful program."
"There are a lot of (recruits) around the country who turn on the TV on Saturday night, see an unbelievable environment, a team that''s up and coming, and has a great future," Mullen said.
Director of recruiting operations Reed Stringer said recruits have attended several home games this season, and some of them have made return trips.
"I think they''re excited about what they''ve seen on the field, by the way the team has competed and (how it has) played with relentless effort that we talk about all the time," Stringer said. "We''re excited about where we are in recruiting, but (we) have a long way to go."
Eulls has been so encouraged by what''s going on at MSU he''s on a campaign to get other players to commit.
Hill has stayed in contact with fellow commitments Curtis Virges and Michael Carr, of West Point High, and other prospects who haven''t picked a school.
Although Hill has always considered himself a fan of MSU, the team''s performance this season has showed him he made the right choice.
"I''m planning on making the Bulldogs better in whatever way possible," Hill said. "I just want to contribute and have fun."
West Lowndes High coach Bobby Berry said the Bulldogs haven''t backed off Hill and told him, "they will do what they can to help him improve."
Hill stays in contact once a week and makes sure MSU''s coaches don''t forget him.
"They let me know they still have great interest in me and I still have great interest in them," Hill said. "The sooner I can get in the better."
Hill is projected to be a wide receiver, safety, or linebacker, if he adds a little weight. He said he has been told he can make an immediate impact.
After watching freshman Johnthan Banks, of East Webster High in Maben, break into the starting lineup at safety, Hill doesn''t see why he can''t do the same thing.
Hill played against Banks in high school and looks forward to joining him with the Bulldogs.
"I hope the best for him and hope he (continues) to do well," Hill said. "When I come up, everything will still be good."
Berry likes the way MSU has paid attention to players at small schools like Banks and Hill. Mullen and his assistant coaches also have kept track of the bigger schools in the area, so it''s not surprising that the Bulldogs have landed commitments from Virges, Carr, and Aberdeen High''s Jamerson Love.
Mullen doesn''t want the next Banks to get out of the state.
"Young people can come and see that the next John Banks from Maben, Mississippi, doesn''t need to go to Southern Cal or to Ohio State to play in a big-time college football atmosphere," Mullen said. "They can do it at home and have their family come see them play. That''s a huge part of building our program toward the future."
Stringer wants to make sure he and the other coaches cover the area and evaluate all of the prospects.
"We want to knock on every door, go by every school, and make sure no kid goes unseen," Stringer said. "We offer a lot of juniors, but kids really grow and mature during the course of their senior year, and we evaluate them as well. As long as we do the best job we can and win in Mississippi every year, that will put us in a position to compete and have a chance to win the SEC West."
Although pleased with his last recruiting class, Mullen said it will take a string of strong classes to build a successful program. He uses his former employer -- the University of Florida -- as an example.
"They are No. 1 in the country and the past four years they''ve been ranked in the top five of recruiting classes," Mullen said. "You need to have consistent recruiting. One reason I took the job is I feel there''s great talent in the state of Mississippi. If we get players to come play for us, we can consistently have a top-ranked recruiting class."
Although MSU coaches and staff aren''t allowed to discuss specific players, Stringer likes the overall response from recruits this fall. He said seven assistants have been on the recruiting trail this week in the Bulldogs'' bye week.