Mississippi State signed 18 players in its 2016 signing class, five of which enrolled early. Head coach Dan Mullen discussed his thoughts on the 13 players that signed on Wednesday during a press conference that afternoon.
“A good day for us today. I think coming into this year we knew we had a smaller recruiting class, only 13 guys signed today. But we didn’t have many seniors on last year’s team. So coming we kind of knew that would be a situation that this year’s group would be a little bit smaller. We’re excited about the guys.”
“Korey Charles, a great athlete out of Florida. You watch him, a dynamic player with the ball in his hands. He worked at camp at corner for us and did a great job there. We’ll look at starting him on the defensive side of the ball, but I guess I’ve been wrong with that stuff before and we usually find a good home for guys that are great high school football players on the field. I thought Gabe Myles would make a heck of a corner and he’s a pretty darned good wide receiver. And Johnthan Banks would be a pretty good wide receiver, he’s not a half-bad corner. So those things can kind of go back-and-forth for us.
“Jamal Couch is coming in as a wide reliever for us. Obviously he’s 6-5, 215. With De’Runnya Wilson declaring for the draft it opened up only one wide receiver spot for us really on the roster to fill this year. And he fits that with his size. A very similar player. You look at him, he’s a guy on the offensive side of the ball that has got great skill, can go up over people and catch balls. He has good speed for a guy his size and is really just a tough matchup on anybody out there in space.
“Cam Danztler is a guy we targeted very, very early as the top corner for us. If you look at his size, his length, he reminds me a lot of John Banks when John was in high school as a guy who has length, has great cover skills, was up at several camps with us this summer. So we got to see the ability he has out there on the field and the different ways that we’re going to need him to perform at the high level. So, really excited about him and what he brings to the table.
“Greg Eiland, one of the top offensive linemen in Mississippi. Boy, he’s all of 6-7, he might be bigger. We’re going to have to watch, maybe get him a little helmet to wear or he’s going to have to duck walking in and out of doors around the building. We’re going to have to make some taller doors. But a great tackle body for us.
“John Michael Hankerson, another athlete. Again, not sure if he’s going to pay receiver or corner for us moving forward. But, he’s a guy that we had in camp, we identified very early in camp. I’m pretty sure he won the 100-meter state championship in Mississippi; he’s also the 100-meter state champion in Indiana throughout his high school career. He’s from here in Mississippi, moved up to Indiana during his high school career. An explosive player on both sides of the football, the fasted player we had on campus all year in all of our camps. And you know, really excited to have him on board. And what he brings is a dynamic playmaker on both sides of the ball.
“Kobe Jones, a guy that we’re thrilled to have, right here coming to play for his home town and representing everybody here in Starkville. I know that made everybody proud here in town and over at Starkville High School. But you look at Kobe, he is what our program is all about. The effort, the character, doing things the right way all the time. He’s a guy that we’re so excited about. What most attracted me to him is a guy who every time we had him in camp, even though he’s been here and they get all the stars and all that stuff, he’s always going to be one of if not the hardest working guy you’re going to see every single day in every single drill. As we get into recruiting we’re looking for work ethic, we’re looking for high character young men. He fits that for us.
“Nero Nelson, a dynamic athlete again. A receiver, a DB, running back in high school, a quarterback, does everything for his high school team at Simmons over in Hollandale. A guy who is really explosive. I guess you hear me say this all the time, a competitor, loves to compete. We had him in camp, you ask him to go play receiver he’s the first one in line; play corner he’s the first one in line; it doesn’t matter he wants to keep going, going, going, going and compete at everything that he does. So we’re thrilled to have him.
“Dareuan Parker, you look at what he is, just a massive, massive guy at 6-5 and he’s all of that. 326 is probably conservative. But very, very athletic for a guy his size. I know in the Miss-Al game a lot of people said he was the top lineman in the Miss-Al game this year, when you talk to players. I mean a big, powerful guy. Could play tackle, could play guard.
“Stewart Reese, the same deal. 6-5, 340, again those are probably a little conservative. I think we had him maybe 6-6, 365 mark. He’s a big, big man, but very athletic on his feet. Again, I think can play multiple positions, could play guard, could play tackle for us coming in here. We’ll see how he adjusts. But a great young man, high character, hard worker, and really excited to have him on board.
“Jeffery Simmons, obviously a great football player. The top player in the state of Mississippi on most of your guys’ rankings. He’s the top player in my rankings, too! But thrilled to have him. And all the discussions we had during the recruiting of Jeffery is that he was #1 on our list, not just because of the talent he is out there on the field. But I’ve known Jeffrey now for about three years and you look at what he does in the classroom, you look at what he does in his community; you look at the effort he gives at everything the does and how he has developed. He’s a first-class young man and I see him potentially being the next Fletcher Cox, Kaleb Eulls, Pernell McPhee. When you start getting mentioned with those guys you’re talking about some of the top d-linemen ever to play here. I guess in Fletcher Cox one of the top d-linemen in all of football right now, is up there in that discussion. But I think he has that work ethic, that demeanor, that attitude that he’s a very, very special player.
“Marquis Spencer out of Greenwood, we’re really excited about as a d-lineman, and I guess you can put the athlete tag on him. But he’s going to be a defensive end and outside linebacker for us, kind of an edge player coming outside. Very, very explosive, has great size, has great potential, I see him having the opportunity to make an immediate impact for us right away on the field.
“Jordan Thomas, I’m going to tell you, I think people are going to be impressed when they see Jordan Thomas. At 6-6, 275 which is pretty accurate, at a tight end. In all our evaluations he’s more of a wide receiver than a tight end at 6-6, 275! So that’s a pretty tough matchup on the outside for people. Runs extremely well, great hands. And I think just his size and athleticism creates major mismatches for people out there on the field. He’s another guy I see making an immediate impact for us.
“Erroll Thompson, a linebacker out of Florence, Ala. He was the number-one linebacker on our board right from day one. To get him on board, we’re excited. He is a violent hitter inside. I mean he’s an inside linebacker, he’s got size, he’s got pop, he’ll come hit you. And he can really run the football down.
“So I’m really excited about those guys. We had six other guys join us mid-semester that are already on board. But as I said, a lot of people are asking today; I thought we’d probably sign 12, 13, 14 guys today would be the most we’d be able to sign just with such a small senior class we had. So I’m excited about all these guys that are coming in. I think we’ve got a great group of young men and I think it was a very, very successful day for us today.
You’ve talked about so many multi-position players, is that the type of athletes you wanted in this class?
“When we go to evaluate players it’s hard to kind of put them in a box. And some of them you have a good idea. But when you’re looking at some of these guys that play every position for their high school team it’s sometimes hard to just say OK, you’re definitely going to do this. I think we have a vision in our mind, which is always our starting point.
“But if you look through the years there’s a lot of guys that have had a starting point, that I envision this; and it turns out completely different but extremely well for everybody. So when you have some of those guys sometimes it’s hard to just say they’re going to play this position until we get them and put them within our scheme.”
This area always has good talent, this year was unusual. Does that make it difficult with local kids?
“No, I don’t think this year was any different in-state than it’s been in years past. I think maybe guys got ranked a little higher. My first year here recruiting we signed a lot of Mississippi kids. I think 12 of them ended up being NFL football players. And a lot of those guys weren’t ranked as high as guys were this year. But I don’t know that it was any different than it was in years past. I think guys in Mississippi are getting a lot more national attention right now.”
What is it like recruiting guys within the Golden Triangle, there seems a pressure they have to come here?
“I don’t know that it’s any different recruiting players that are local or players that are far away. We recruit them all just as hard, you know. I think what gets overlooked, there’s a lot of pressures put on these young men from all different directions. Everybody has an angle trying to work, what they’re doing. And they have to deal with those pressures. You’re talking about 17-year-olds that are having to deal with all kinds of pressures. I tell all of them I don’t envy them in having to make decisions in those situations that they’re at. But I think that is something is often overlooked when you look at the recruiting process with young people and the pressures that them and their families are under.”
This year first-year junior college guys could come to camp, like Jordan Thomas, how did that work for you?
“He came to camp, he started moving around; I said I don’t know what the heck he’s going to do but we need him on our football team! He was in a tight end drill, I said hey go over there and play some wide receiver. The great thing, he ran over and played wide receiver. Nobody covered him at tight end, nobody could cover him at wide receiver. He’s running buy people, like holy cow; go rush the passer. You know what he did? He ran down and rushed the passer.
“But you could just see his strength on the offensive side of the ball, of being a mismatch. And it’s a guy that he did start to get rated a little bit at the end of the year. But when he committed to us I don’t even know that he was on anybody’s radars as a top prospect. But that is a huge advantage, that those guys come up to camp. He got on the field and wowed out entire coaching staff.”
A.J. Brown said he felt Mississippi State didn’t want him. What do you remember from his recruiting, did you want him?
“Sure, I guess. We recruited him as hard as we recruited anybody else that’s out there. We wish him the best. Our program is not for everybody.”
With staff changes and coach Tony Hughes leaving, were you able to work around that?
“Yeah, it was tricky. I haven’t talked to Tony today, hopefully he had a good day as well, wishing him the best.
“I think any time you lose the coach the quality of a Tony Hughes it always hurts your program. And we had other changes. But Tony was the guy to me that’s been here with me all seven years. So when he moves on I couldn’t be happier, which is what you want as a head coach. You want your players to graduate and have the opportunity to play in the NFL or get great careers and jobs like pretty much all our guys do. But the same for the coaches. As a head coach you want to see your coaches grow and develop and get great opportunities to be a head coach.
“We had to work around it a little bit with Tony, because he does such a great job especially on the recruiting side of things in Mississippi, But I thought our staff a as whole did an excellent job. You look at a lot of the guys we got were still in his area, guys that were kind of Tony Hughes recruits in Jordan Thomas, Jeffrey Simmons. We were able to get those guys on board.”
You had underclassmen here a few days ago, and talk was about the energy Terrell Buckley and Peter Sirmon bring. What have you seen from them recruiting?
“Not just recruiting but who they are around our players. One thing I’ve always tried to do within our program if we’re bringing new coaches in it’s always important that one, they care greatly about the players and are going to treat them like they’re their own sons, like part of a family. Two, that they’re obviously excellent technicians and football coaches and great teachers.
“And three, have tremendous energy and love what they do and love helping young people develop. And both of those guys have that when you look at all the energy they bring on a daily basis is outstanding. Two young, excellent up-and-coming coaches. And also you’re looking at the experience. The tremendous amount of NFL experience. When they’re coaching, they’ve done it, and they’ve done it over and over and over at the highest of levels.”
What are your expectations for Tre Brown and Lashard Durr? “Any time you get the opportunity to get here early it’s going to put you in a great position to get on the field and play right away.
“Obviously with graduating a couple of senior corners it’s going to give Lashard an excellent opportunity to get out there and compete for a spot on the field. And with Tre coming also the same deal, with Chris Jones declaring early for the NFL draft it opens up playing time on the defensive line for those guys.
“They’re getting adjusted to workouts right now, probably working at a little different level than they’ve worked. Not that they haven’t worked hard, both guys played down at Co-Lin Junior College and they do an excellent job in that program, a very, very well-coached program. But when they’re coming in and competing against guys that have to be ready to play in the SEC I think they’re going to get used to the workouts. Coming in early is going to help that because now they’re going to get to go through spring practice, then get through summer workouts and have a great opportunity to get ready and get on the field and play right away.”
Something players talk about is the relationship with current and former players, how does that help? “When I got here, this is my eighth signing class I think? Back when I went there I’d sit down and Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd and Johnthan Banks and Gabe Jackson and tell them OK, here’s a plan we have in place that can help you become successful. Those guys believed in me. So I’ll always be indebted to those guys for believing in me.
“But they also believed in our program, believed in our university. They came in and bought into what we’re doing. Now you’re looking at the success that all these guys are having. So when we go out there and they talk about former players that have been here, you’re looking at guys that have degrees, that had great success in college, that either moving on to have great professional careers in non-football world. And guys having unbelievable professional careers in football. If you look, Pernell McPhee who is the captain of the Chicago Bears. You look at Fletcher Cox from Yazoo, Mississippi, that apparently is on the verge of becoming very wealthy man. John Banks, I talked to him last night, he was at the Thorpe Award in Oklahoma City where he’s won that trophy. I think was T-Buck the last guy from Mississippi to win that? Kind of a neat deal there. T-Buck had to work so he couldn’t go to the ceremony last night.
“But I think those young men look and say hey, here’s guys from Mississippi, from small towns, they came into this program and look at all the success the teams had on the field but individual successes as well. And I think guys are drawn to that.”
When Jeffery Simmons made his announcement the coaches could be heard cheering, what was that like in that room?
“It was a lot of excitement. Like I said, he was a guy that we had up at number-one for us all along. Because he fits so well into our program and what we believe in here. And to me, I’m really excited to have a young man of that talent coming to play for us. But more importantly the character. I truly believe in my heart this is where he belonged, he belonged in our football family and around our players, and it’s where he will be best-developed for his future and his career.
“So when that happened… I’m not a football-at-all-costs person I guess. I love developing young men. And when you see young men make a great decision, which I feel is going to be the best for his future, you’re really excited about it.”
In a small class you have three tight ends, was that a commitment?
“Yeah, because the other guys came in early and one today. When you look for us at tight end, Gus Walley moving forward his career is going to be in doubt because of injury. We had a young guy transfer out of the program (B.J. Hammond). So there was kind of a gap in there for us, where there’s an immediate need at that position. So that was really kind of important for us, especially getting the mid-year guys in; getting the high school guys in mid-year but also a Jordan Thomas who is going to be a more developed guy and potentially ready to play faster.
On Simmons, was that when you found out?
“I’ve felt good for a while, but that doesn’t mean anything I guess! As I said, I felt this was the best place for him. So when you feel that you feel pretty confident in your abilities to get him. You just hope the young man views things the same way, looks at his opportunity. Look at the type of character he his, the type of person he is. I view it and look at all the schools and say this kid fits in the best here for his future development. I really felt that. So you feel good about it. But I guess until it happens you never know.”
Much of the perception is of Alabama taking your top prospects. How difficult is it to compete with a school like that 90 miles away?
“It’s tough to compete with everybody in the SEC. I mean you’re talking about the best conference in all of college football. You’ve got some great teams, some great programs. In recruiting there’s so many talented players, not just here but in Alabama and Tennessee and Louisiana and we’re all kind of battling for those same kids.
“I guess in the end you’re going to win some and you’re going to lose some. The part to me that is most important is you get guys that are right for you and fit your program, and for us that want to be developed, want to be coached hard, and want to be much better players when they leave than when they came.”
With this small class, and a lot of seniors on the roster, what do the numbers look like for next year?
“We just finished the numbers for this year, so when we get all these guys in… You know, I think some of the numbers fluctuate. One of the numbers we look at is guys’ development, who might have an opportunity to leave early. That can change the numbers, to go to the NFL. Injury situations can change it.
“But next year is going to be a little bigger recruiting class because we did have such a young football team this year. We’re going to have a few more seniors in next year’s class so it will be a little bit bigger recruiting class.”
I have covered Mississippi State in some capacity since 2004 and joined the Daily Journal staff in 2013. I enjoy short walks on the beach, performing concerts in my car and watching professional wrestling.