February 7, 2018 12:08:17 AM
STARKVILLE -- In the three weeks between Joe Moorhead taking over as Mississippi State's football coach and the first early signing period in modern college football history, there was no time for outside targets. Moorhead and the pieces of the staff he had assembled at the time had time to retain as much as it could of the 2018 recruiting class assembled by his predecessor, Dan Mullen, and nothing else.
Once Dec. 20 passed, his priorities changed. He suddenly had time to cast his net wider and find players of his own choosing. Those that made his list knew it quickly, and Paul Blackwell felt it firsthand.
Blackwell, a long snapper out of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, received his offer from MSU and committed to the Bulldogs on the same day, Jan. 4. He was part of Moorhead and company's final recruiting push that ends with Wednesday's National Signing Day.
For Blackwell, the late attention from MSU primarily came from Scott Fountain, MSU's newly hired special teams coordinator. Fountain knew of Blackwell from his previous job as a special teams analyst for Georgia on its run to the national championship game.
"We talked one or two times while he was there (at Georgia) but he really started talking to me once he knew he was coming to Mississippi State and he knew he wanted me to come here," Blackwell said. "Once he knew he was going to be at State and be the special teams guy he was in contact with me a lot.
"I decided he was a good coach and a reliable source, so when he came over here I thought it would be a good place for me."
Blackwell comes with good timing after the final year of long snapper Hunter Bradley's career, but he knows he will have competition: Bradley's backup, Joel Baldwin, can return for his senior season. Blackwell still has a redshirt year available for use if it comes to that, but he said he and the coaching staff had not talked about such specifics yet.
Fountain and his 19 years of coaching experience, the last five years in the Southeastern Conference, were a big factor for Blackwell's decision.
"I know Coach Fountain is an awesome special teams coach, but I saw Coach Moorhead was coming in from Penn State and with the other coaches coming in, I saw that Mississippi State's program was most likely going to be on the uprise and I wanted to be a part of it," Blackwell said. "The atmosphere at the home games is unreal. I don't know who wouldn't want to be a part of that."
MSU expects to be in the hunt for other prospects. Safety Aaron Brule is one of the most notable, a three-star prospect out of Archbishop Rummel in the New Orleans area. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound safety is also considering Arkansas, among others.
MSU is also in the mix for two offensive linemen, Tyrone Sampson Jr. and Jalan Robinson. Robinson is a 6-foot-6, 300-pound three-star from Lawrence, Kansas, who MSU offered in late January and hosted on a visit last weekend; Sampson Jr. is a 6-foot-3, 295-pound four-star from Detroit.
MSU is also battling Alabama, Tennessee, TCU and Missouri, among others, for three-star cornerback Eddie Smith, a 6 feet, 180-pound prospect out of Slidell, Louisiana.
Three-star athlete Nathaniel Watson (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) will sign Wednesday at his native Maplesville High School in Alabama. He has been committed to MSU for over five months but visited Auburn in January. Another three-star prospect -- 6-foot-1, 170-pound wide receiver Johnquarise Patterson from Pearl -- said on Twitter last week he will sign with both MSU and a junior college and remains undecided on which route he will go.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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