By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – One of the great mysteries of recruiting is how winning games doesn’t always mean winning recruits.
It’s a mystery Dan Mullen is left to ponder after Mississippi State’s relatively light haul on Wednesday, national signing day. The Bulldogs had 23 players sign a letter of intent, concluding a tumultuous month that saw six players withdraw verbal commitments from Mullen.
But to listen to the two-year head coach, he got exactly the class he wanted. Decommitments? What decommitments?
“A commitment in my mind is someone who’s coming to Mississippi State and not taking a visit (elsewhere),” Mullen said. “If you’re visiting other places, I never considered you committed in the first place. So really we didn’t have any decommitments, is the way I view it.”
Not that this matters to Mullen, but he signed only two four-star players – Stone County safety Darion Arrington and Ocean Springs receiver Joe Morrow – the fewest MSU’s had since nabbing just one in 2006.
MSU signed only two of the top 10 players in Mississippi, according to Scout.com. Ole Miss got five of them, including receiver Nickolas Brassell (South Panola) and linebacker C.J. Johnson (Philadelphia), both former MSU commitments.
State’s class ranks 43rd in the country according to Scout.com and 42nd according to Rivals.com. Last year’s class was ranked 38th by both scouting services.
The 2009 class, largely put together by predecessor Sylvester Croom, was ranked 19th by Scout, 25th by Rivals.
“I have no idea how good of a recruiting class this is,” Mullen said. “I’ll tell you that in a couple of years.”
That comment speaks to Mullen’s emphasis on development, which he sees as a strength of the program. He cited athlete Taveze Calhoun and defensive back Kendrick Market as players who he feels can far exceed their star ratings.
“We’re getting players that we know we can develop to become the stars, not just in February coming out of high school,” Mullen said.
Focus on trenches
Mullen said he is more worried about striking a balance at each position than collecting players with high star ratings.
“It becomes that tricky balancing of need and position that you fill those needs,” he said.
Like last year, the 2011 class is heavy on linemen, with four on the offensive side and four on the defensive side. There are five defensive backs, three defensive linemen, three running backs and two receivers.
MSU had hoped to snag a couple more defensive linemen: Leon Mackey of Hinds Community College and Kevin McReynolds out of Washington, D.C. But Mackey chose Texas Tech, and McReynolds went with UCLA.
“I think one of the big areas you look at is offensive and defensive line, which to me is where your foundation of your program’s always going to be,” Mullen said. “That’s where you win and lose football games.”
Sixteen of MSU’s signees come from Mississippi’s high school and junior college ranks. Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt bragged about the amount of in-state talent he bagged this year, but Mullen was undeterred.
“That’s good,” said Mullen. “I thought we did pretty well, too. I guess we’ll find out next Thanksgiving, just like the last two Thanksgivings.”
Mullen is 2-0 in games against Nutt and Ole Miss.
Mullen said he plans to have 85 players on scholarship by the fall. That’s the maximum number allowed by the NCAA.
How MSU will hit that number won’t be determined for a while. Offseason attrition always happens, and some walk-ons will likely be awarded scholarships.
Two players already won’t be back to play next season. Center D.J. Looney’s career is done because of a knee injury, and holder Chris Cameron is leaving to go on a two-year Mormon mission.
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.