January 22, 2011 11:03:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen calls January the "crazy season" of college football.
He isn''t coaching or working on game plans for the next opponent; he''s trying to lock up the next Mississippi State football stars.
Recruiting, though, isn''t the obscure process it was 15 or 20 years ago. High school players have about as much limelight as college players on NFL draft day. That fan interest, fueled by recruiting sites like Scout.com and Rivals.com, helps maintain the interest as soon as seasons end for teams. That''s why there''s plenty of players "verbally commit" and later withdraw that commitment all before national signing day.
"There''s people coming at these young men from every different direction," Mullen said recently. "I hear more stories than you could ever imagine of people showing up on their doorstep and what goes on in recruiting and the situations these young men are faced with."
Mullen and the Bulldogs, on the strength of a 9-4 record and a 52-14 victory against Michigan in the Gator Bowl, are keen to lock up several once committed players to add to the 24 who have pledged and/or enrolled for the spring semester.
One player going through the "craziness" of the home stretch of recruiting season is South Panola High School wide receiver Nick Brassell, a U.S. Army All-American.
Brassell, a one-time MSU commitment in October, has since de-committed and has narrowed his college options to the University of Mississippi and Alabama, according to Bulldogblitz.com publisher Logan Lowery.
South Panola''s proximity to Oxford and the schools'' well-established pipeline have made Ole Miss a favorite, but how did MSU go from Brassell''s destination to not being in the picture?
His South Panola teammate and current MSU commit Kendrick Market shed some light:
"I talked to him today (Thursday), and he asked if I was settled with the Mississippi State commitment, and I was like yeah," Market said. "He was telling me how crazy it was. He was telling me about how people are throwing all kinds of stuff at him, people are lying on him and stuff.
"Nick''s got so much pressure on him. I don''t believe he was ready for that verbal commitment."
Philadelphia High linebacker C.J. Johnson arguably is the most high-profile player the Bulldogs are after with a little more than a week left until signing day. Johnson recently received a five-star rating from Rivals.com and was selected to play in the U.S. Army All-American game.
MSU is fighting off strong pushes from LSU and Ole Miss to secure Johnson''s signature following the departure of two of its coaches. Mark Hudspeth, MSU''s former receivers coach and Johnson''s recruiting coach, left the school to become head football coach at Louisiana-Lafayette. The big hit came when Manny Diaz left his post as defensive coordinator to take the same role at the University of Texas.
Johnson de-committed the same day Diaz accepted the job at Texas.
"Once (Diaz) left that kind of made his comfort level go down," Lowery said of Johnson. "He felt like he really didn''t have a contact on staff he really knew well. He had to kind of re-familiarize everybody on staff here and get a feel for the coaches he didn''t have that strong of a relationship with."
Coaching changes are common during the recruiting season, and MSU''s two promotions and outside hire pale in comparison to teams shaking up entire staffs.
Some players are realistic about coaching changes.
"I can''t speak for anybody else and why they may have de-committed, but you commit to a school more so than a coach," West Lauderdale tight end Daniel Knox said. "More than likely, all your coaches are not going to be there before you graduate."
If Johnson signs with MSU he would have an opportunity to earn significant playing time as a freshman. The Bulldogs must replace all three starting linebackers from the 2010 season.
The wide receiver position is a different story.
MSU lost out on consensus four-star receiver Tobias Singleton of, Madison Central, who committed to Ole Miss. With Brassell leaning away from Starkville, the Bulldogs are set to miss on the state''s top-two receiver prospects.
Mullen has talked repeatedly about adding depth to his receiving corps, which won''t have a senior until 2012.
First-year MSU receivers coach Angelo Mirando echoed that feeling earlier this month when he met with the media.
"We''ve got some wideouts we need to go get," Mirando said.
MSU enters the 2011 season with juniors Chad Bumphis, Brandon Heavens and Chris Smith, sophomores Ricco Sanders and Michael Carr, and redshirt freshmen Robert and Malcolm Johnson and Jameon Lewis. Joe Morrow, a 6-foot-4 wide receiver from Ocean Springs, also has committed.
That long list of receivers, many of whom were featured in the Gator Bowl, might have caused recruits to look at other schools.
"You''ve got two kinds of recruits: Guys that understand the picture and kind of just want to play here and enjoy the competition level," Lowery said. "Other guys want to walk in and have a starting position wrapped up when they step foot on campus.
"I could see where the depth chart would scare some guys away because they''re not even going to have a senior receiver next year. They''re still a couple of years away from getting a lot of playing time. Freshmen are going to have to beat out upperclassmen."
With little time left before signing day, Lowery said the Bulldogs are trying to get the best available players to finalize the class.
MSU has 15 prep commits from Mississippi. Defensive end John Harris, offensive lineman Joey Trapp, quarterback Dak Prescott, and offensive lineman Nick Redmond are already enrolled. Only Redmond is an in-state product.
The Bulldogs are pursuing three-star Georgia offensive tackle Xzavier Ward and Washington D.C. defensive tackle Kevin McReynolds, but Mullen''s annual quest to land the best talent in Mississippi remains strong.
The strong pitch Mullen and his staff use for in-state recruits was enough to convince Knox to commit last July.
"I love it," Knox said. "I''m kind of the same way -- I try not to be arrogant -- but whatever I do I try to be the best at, and want everybody to know I''m the best. That''s what coach Mullen is trying to do because they''ve been under the radar. I''m loving it, and I''m glad to be a part of it."
MSU Commitment List
Joey Trapp OL 6-5/285 (Wilmington, Ca.
Lloyd Allen DE 6-4/240 (Miss. Gulf Coast C.C.)
Darion Arrington DB 6-1/215 (Wiggins)
Justin Cox ATH 6-1/175 (West Point)
Barron Dixon DE 6-4/270 (Alpharetta, Ga.)
Devin Fosselman WR 5-10/182 (Woodville)
Johnathan Harris DE 6-6/230 (Boynton Beach, Fla.)
Zachary Jackson ATH 6-1/195 (Heidelberg)
P.J. Jones DT 6-2/252 (Tupelo)
Daniel Knox OL/TE 6-4/248 (Collinsville)
James Maiden DT/OT 6-4/280 (Woodville)
Justin Malone OL 6-6/305 (Madison)
Kendrick Market DB 5-10/185 (Batesville)
Benardrick McKinney ATH6-4/214 (Tunica)
Joseph MorrowWR 6-4/200 (Ocean Springs)
Shaquille Perry LB/RB 6-2/212 (Walnut)
Dak Prescott QB 6-3/220 (Haughton, La.)
Nick Redmond OL 6-5/312 (Gulfport)
Josh Robinson RB 5-9/198 (Franklinton, La.)
Devante Scott ATH 5-11/175 (Ferriday, La.)
Darius Slay DB 6-1/193 (Itawamba C.C.)
Preston Smith DE 6-6/230 (Stone Mountain, Ga.)
Rufus WarrenTE 6-5/238 (Indianola)
Jermaine Whitehead DB 6-0/183 (Greenwood)
2. Harris, Heritage Academy will count on seniors to lead way HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
3. Howland likes MSU's non-conference schedule COLLEGE SPORTS
4. Central Academy hopes to contend for state title HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
5. Walters column: Prep football season coming closer LOCAL COLUMNS