By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Johnthan Banks has noticed something different about this Mississippi State football team, and he’s not the only one.
The senior cornerback has been in the program from the beginning of coach Dan Mullen’s tenure.
Banks is part of a core group that’s been critical to MSU’s improvement the past three seasons, and that group has evolved into something this summer that Banks hasn’t seen before.
He recently told Mullen that “this is the hardest-working team I’ve ever been around.” As evidence, Banks noted that during MSU’s brief break between the first and second summer class sessions, teammates were texting him about wanting to get back to work instead of taking time off.
“We had a little team get-together – I didn’t know it – but there were some guys (who) got together, and they went and did some stuff on their own,” Banks said. “I love to see that out of these guys. It’s just a blessing to see them go hard and want to be better and want to be great.”
Banks had the option of entering the NFL Draft earlier this year but chose to come back and lead one of the SEC’s strongest secondaries.
This summer has been different for him on a personal level.
“This is the most fun I’ve had since I’ve been here, since I came back. … Sometimes coach (Matt) Balis, he’ll get to us a little bit. We’ll be out there running sprints and I’ll be like, man, why did I come back?
“I try not to think about it. I’m just trying to enjoy it.”
Balis is MSU’s strength and conditioning coach and the man in charge of players until preseason camp begins Aug. 3. He said the upperclassmen are doing “a phenomenal job” this summer. “They’re really focused.”
He had particular praise for Banks, saying, “He is like working with a professional.”
All the instruction given by Balis over the years has fully sunk in to where he doesn’t have to tell the veterans much this time of year.
They know what to do and are now able to bring along younger players who are still trying to adjust to the demands Balis puts upon them.
Quarterback Tyler Russell, a fourth-year junior who like Banks was part of the 2009 signing class, has a group of receivers that includes four seniors. Their summer passing sessions have become more efficient and productive.
In the past, Russell said the sessions would last about an hour.
“We only throw about 30 minutes a day, but it’s like full-out, go get it,” he said. “You should be tired, sweating when you get done. Right now that’s the only thing we need.”
How all this will translate onto the field come fall is the unanswerable question for now. MSU has put together back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in over a decade, and so the Bulldogs feel very confident in taking another step forward.
Russell recently got a text message from senior receiver Chad Bumphis that read, “This is our year, we’ve got to be ready.”
Said Russell, “He was saying we’ve got a lot to prove, and that’s something I hadn’t seen in past years. I really do feel like this team is (very) close. They’re like my brothers, so I really do believe that everybody is locked in and ready to go, and they’re just ready to play.”