January 17, 2010 12:46:00 AM
Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen has stressed the importance of in-state recruiting ever since he took the job more than one year ago.
Two recruiting experts have given Mullen and the Bulldogs a thumbs up in that regard.
Yancy Porter of Scout.com and Barton Simmons of Rivals.com agree that MSU has the upper hand in the state when it comes to getting Mississippi talent.
"The one thing that sticks out is they really seem to be doing well within the state," Simmons said. "They''ve really recruited well and targeted a lot of guys. They have made it a priority."
Simmons has noticed the criticism the Ole Miss has taken for not focusing on in-state recruits and he believes most of that feeling comes from the fact that the Bulldogs haven''t backed off from their plan of recruiting at home first.
After he arrived in Starkville, Mullen noticed the strong family values Mississippi high school players have and that''s what he wants to build his program around.
"I see the type of parents they have and how they''ve been raised," Mullen said. "That''s what we want on our campus at Mississippi State. We want to put an emphasis on recruiting those types of kids that fit in here."
Mullen also realizes the potential talent in Mississippi and doesn''t plan to let the next Walter Payton, Jerry Rice or Brett Favre get away.
"You consider Walter Payton to be the greatest NFL running back, Jerry Rice to be the greatest NFL receiver and Brett Favre to be one of the greatest if not the greatest quarterback even though I know they argue that one all the time," Mullen said. "All three of them are from the state of Mississippi and none of them played here so those players are here. We need to make sure we don''t miss them and go get them."
When Mullen came in and immediately kept many players in the state like wide receiver Chad Bumphis, of Tupelo, and defensive lineman Fletcher Cox, of Yazoo City, it impressed Porter.
"Last year was probably the best signing class I''ve seen Mississippi State have in the 12 years I''ve been a recruiting analyst in the state of Mississippi," Porter said. "It was a very deep class and very talent ridden at the top of the class."
He sees that continuing this year with 14 out of the 17 commitments either being Mississippi junior college signees or high school players. Three of The (Jackson) Clarion-Ledger''s Ten Most Wanted recruits are MSU commitments in Lawrence County defensive back-running back Matthew Wells (No. 4), Yazoo County High School defensive lineman Kaleb Eulls (No. 6), and West Point High School athlete Michael Carr (No. 8).
"They seem to be doing a good job of getting a group of guys who are some of the top targets in Mississippi," Simmons said. "That''s important to build that base and those pipelines in the state."
If St. Stanislaus High School quarterback Dylan Favre honors his commitment and signs with the Bulldogs in February, it will be the second-straight year they''ll sign the Mr. Football in Mississippi. Former Meridian High quarterback Tyler Russell was part of last year''s recruiting class.
Even though MSU missed out on landing junior college quarterback Cam Newton, Porter said the program has done a good job of going to a Plan B with Favre.
"Losing (Newton) did hurt them somewhat in the immediate future, but I think Dylan has a good future down the road," Porter said. "When you don''t get Plan A, the question is how good is your Plan B. You usually see a big gap between Plan A and Plan B. With coach Mullen there, Mississippi State has been able to get some Plan Bs that are a little bit better than what we''ve seen in the past."
Porter said the Bulldogs appear to have "some good finds" in athlete Jay Hughes and wide receiver Robert Johnson in a booming Oak Grove area near Hattiesburg.
"You see an increase in population around Hattiesburg and the surrounding area, especially out west," Porter said. "Oak Grove is becoming one of those schools that is traditionally going to become, like what you''ve seen with Olive Branch the last few years, a hotbed program in the state of Mississippi. They''ve fought for their cause down at Oak Grove."
The emphasis on Mississippi doesn''t mean that MSU doesn''t care about out-of-state talent.
Porter likes what the Bulldogs have committed in running back Rajion Neal of Tyrone, Ga., and linebacker Ferlando Bohanna of Memphis, Tenn.
"Mississippi State has had trouble recruiting in Memphis and it was really good to see them to be able to reach out in Whitehaven (High School) for a middle linebacker," Porter said. "I got a chance to see him for about eight different days during camp this summer and he''s just an outstanding player."
Mullen hopes to sign 25 players on Feb. 3. With only 17 commitments at this time, there''s still some work to do.
"We''re not going to sit there and say we''re going to take this many junior college players or this many high school players," Mullen said. "We''re going to try and recruit the best players that can help us become a winning program."
Mullen said the focus of the coaching staff has been to look at filling needs first. In the event that MSU over-signs, Mullen will try to place extras within the junior college system in the state.
"We haven''t gotten the final number down," Mullen said. "Once we feel like we fill the positional needs, then we''ll go best available player. I think that will judge where we go within the signing class."
MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning said there were holes created with the departures of seniors quarterback Tyson Lee and running backs Anthony Dixon, Christian Ducre'' and Arnil Stallworth, but is excited about what''s returning and what the Bulldogs can get out of the signing class.
"We feel very positive about what''s happening," Koenning said. "We really look forward to seeing those high school kids."
Simmons is anxious to see how the latest recruiting class will fit into the offense of Mullen and Koenning.
"Up and down the line, they''ve got a lot of weapons coming in," Simmons said. "One of the guys I''m really fired up about is Rajion Neal, a four-star running back (Rivals.com) out of Georgia. He has a chance to be a really good player."
On defense, even though MSU signed 6-foot-7, 360-pound defensive lineman James Carmon of Gulf Coast Community College in the mid-term, recruiting coordinator and safeties coach Tony Hughes said there''s always room for more defensive linemen.
"That''s where it all starts," Hughes said. "Last year, we were able to get Josh Boyd, Fletcher Cox and Johnathan McKenzie who are as good as anybody in the country. Two of them (Cox and Boyd) played last year and one of them didn''t (McKenzie-redshirt)."
Hughes also said linebackers are a point of emphasis in recruiting. The Bulldogs lose a senior in Jamar Chaney.
"You want linebackers who can run," Hughes said. "The whole key in the SEC is speed."
Hughes also wants to build more depth in the secondary which has gotten thin in scholarship numbers. "We''re beginning to pick it up and after this signing class we should be back with other SEC teams."
MSU director of player personnel and high school relations Rockey Felker likes the chances of having a "pretty well-rounded" recruiting class.
"It''s going to be a nice blend to add to what we''ve got now," Felker said. "There''s a lot of excitement from not only our fans, but these recruits, about where the program is headed and the way we played last year."