By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Johnthan Banks has plenty of expectations for himself, but he’s also got some of his coach, Dan Mullen.
“I’m looking for (preseason) camp to be way harder this year,” Banks said. “Me coming in as a senior, me knowing what to expect, I’m looking for coach Mullen to turn it up a notch.”
Mississippi State opens camp Aug. 3, and Banks’ attitude has been permeating this team all summer. Mullen’s mantra of “relentless effort” has been taken to heart in the past, but there seems to be a greater sense of purpose behind it for the older players like Banks, a senior cornerback.
He was part of Mullen’s first signing class in 2009. Several of those players have been key components of State’s return to respectability and now possess those valuable intangibles like experience and leadership.
Banks is a prime example. He played a lot as a freshman and is now considered one of the top corners in the nation. As the Bulldogs try to improve upon what they’ve called a disappointing 2011 season – a 7-6 record and Music City Bowl win – there is an urgency among the seniors to carry this program a little further.
“I’m one of the oldest guys on the team, I’ve been through it all,” Banks said. “These guys are going to follow what I do. If I’m doing bad, they’re going to do bad. If I’m doing good, they’re going to do good.”
Quarterback Tyler Russell, a fourth-year junior, was also part of that first signing class. It’s a group, he said, that is particularly close.
“On the weekends we’re always at one another’s apartments. If you see one of us, we’re all going to be together,” Russell said. “That’s really a strong bond, and that’s going to help out, too.”
As the older Bulldogs have gone through summer workouts, they have seen a difference from year three to year four in the way workouts and preparations are being approach. Russell said strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis has noticed it, too.
“He was just telling me the other day, I cannot wait until the season starts,” Russell said. “He said, ‘Y’all really are a team,’ and he was talking about how it’s changed since he first got here to now, and just talking about how everybody’s excited.”