Dan Mullen talked – a lot – about his 2012 signing class this afternoon. Including the five early enrollees, it’s 28 strong. During his opening comments, Mullen said something interesting.
“A lot of people are going to get up and preach about what their program is and when they get there the guys all of the sudden realize it is something very different,” he said. “A lot of people view themselves that way. They get up and preach but yet they don’t live it. These young men had the opportunity to not just hear us preach about our program but see that we actually live it.”
This is going to be the lead to my main story tomorrow, so I’ll just leave it at that.
All in all, Mullen sounded very pleased with this class. Here’s how it’s currently ranked by the three major recruiting sites (I’m including Missouri and Texas A&M in the SEC):
• Scout: 20th nationally, eighth in the SEC
• 247sports: 25th nationally, ninth in the SEC
• Rivals: 30th in the nation, 10th in the SEC
You know what? Here’s the entire freakin’ transcript. Have at it.
This is a very exciting day for us as we welcome 23 new members to our family. It is an exciting time for them. Great young men and one of the things I’m pleased with is the character of these young men and the families they come from. It has been a long process for us with a lot of these young guys. You go through and you sit down and they have an opportunity to here you talk about their program, they get to watch you on TV and do things, but most importantly we get to spend quality one on one time with them as the process goes on and they get to spend time with us on campus and be around our players. They get to see the program and what the program really is all about here. That’s what I’m really excited about it the character these guys all have. In seeing that and the hard work that our guys have to do here on campus, these expectations we have of our young men in the classroom to graduate. The standard we set for them to come into a program with extremely high expectations. In a program that is going to be based upon hard work, commitment and sacrifice. These guys have that character and that’s something they embraced, that they wanted.
A lot of people are going to get up and preach about what their program is and when they get there the guys all of the sudden realize it is something very different. A lot of people view themselves that way. They get up and preach but yet they don’t live it. These young men had the opportunity to not just hear us preach about our program but see that we actually live it. A lot of people go to church on Sundays and tell you one thing but walk out the door and live their life very differently. We don’t do that here as Mississippi State. We live our lives the way we preach within our program. The values that we have and these young guys got to see that, every aspect of it. You’re very excited obviously when guys look and you talk about being the best you can be, wanting to work hard and make commitments and sacrifice. We’ve had a tough week of workouts with our guys on the team now and these guys got to know guys on our team, or already knew them. They know how hard we work, the standards we set, and the expectation to graduate and they’ve all embraced that concept and decided to come join this football program. I couldn’t be more excited to have this group of you men and I know four years ago we said we were going to make an emphasis on Mississippi and I think we’ve signed more players form Mississippi than any other division I program in the state and I know over the last four years we’ve sign more than all the other division I schools combined in the state. We are going to add 13 more today from the state of Mississippi joining our program and we can keep that foundation alive. And I think when you also look at the quality players from the surrounding states, out of state, that are coming here now. It is a tribute to what we’ve been able to build, what our fans have been able to build with the excitement around this program. We are becoming more prevalent on the national stage and everyone gets to see that by going and winning back-to-back bowl games.
I congratulate our staff for a fantastic job with recruiting all of these guys, some for two or three years. They’ve done a great job of working with all of them and we will continue to work with them. Right now we will wrap things up with them as they finish up their high school careers and hopefully on very very strong notes and come in here with a lot of momentum in their life, living their lives like champions everyday. This is a very balanced class with potentially 11 guys on offense and 11 guys on defense and a specialist, but as they come there is obviously a lot of flexibility in that. As we go through guys, as we see them develop, as they continue to grow, when we get them here on campus and we get to work with them within our program, how the development will lead them and what positions it ends up leading them to. So I guess there’s a lot of excitement still ahead for us when we get there. The hardest part now is that it will actually be several months before we get these guys on campus and even a longer time until our assistant coaches get to work with them on the football field. But it has been a good day and we’re excited about a lot of these different players, a lot of quality players. I know that someone showed me one of the recruiting rankings and how you can be all over the place. I think everybody knows my feelings on that and we will evaluate this recruiting class three years from now and see where we are. But if you look back at my first recruiting class right now you might give (Johnthan) Banks a couple more stars or points, or however everybody rates them. He probably wasn’t a must have ranked player, but he turned out to be pretty good. I don’t even think Fletcher Cox was the best player in the state but he turned out to be pretty good. So, you know, we evaluate these guys as their careers continue to move on. I think we are very fortunate to have people tell me we are ranked in the top 20 recruiting class by different websites they have but as coaches now it is our jobs, it is our obligation, we’ve been given this piece of marble and now we have to go carve a masterpiece out of it with these young men. You don’t win any championships today you’re just given a bunch of material and it is our jobs as coaches to sculpt these young men’s lives on and off the field for the next four years. We look forward to that opportunity, to work with them, with such great young men. We are excited to get these young men here on campus and get going.
Anyone in particular in mind when talking about preaching one way and living another?
No, you just see a lot of people, parents a lot of time will say and I get amused because others schools will say certain things about you or say this… We had rather spend our times talking about ourselves to the recruits. I just think that that’s not indicative of certain schools all the time, that’s indicative of a lot of people in life, of how they live their lives on a daily basis. We try to make sure that our guys understand that you need to live your life a certain way. That’s the responsibility of our coaches our program. I think all these young men and their parents see that we do demand that our guys go to class, we don’t just talk about it. We do demand that they work hard and we do not settle for anything but their best. We want to develop them beyond the football field. When they come on campus and they see our players they can see that we live it and that’s important to me.
Will the defensive linemen remain on the defensive line?
You know, we will see. One of the things we do is when everybody gets on campus our first practice we will have the freshmen come out to their first practice and I do maybe a country fair is the best way to describe it. We kind of put them through multiple position drills where everybody goes through a running back drill, everybody goes through a receiver drill, everybody goes through a defensive back drill. I think what you see is that a lot of guys have this special ability in one place that you thought maybe in something else. When we do that will all those guys we will see when they get on campus and a lot can physically on their bodies. Right now we expect those guys to play defensive lineman for us. Obviously there are two guys on the defensive line that enrolled early, one being a junior college player in Denico Autry and Quay Evans being here early, they get the opportunity to get here early so they will be ahead of the other guys when they get here. That can make a lot of difference.
Is this the deepest recruiting class among defensive linemen?
It’s something that is really important to us. When you have players that are leaving early and going to the NFL, that’s a good problem to have and some really good football players and we’re doing a great job developing them. With Fletcher leaving early, that’s going to give more guys the opportunity to step in right away on our defensive line. We’re excited about that group as a whole and think it may be the strength of this class.
On versatile DBs like Will Redmond:
One of the things you want to see when you turn on the high school film or go watch them play, it shouldn’t take you real long to ask, ‘Who are you there to see?’ and Will is one of those players that will jump off immediately whether it’s running back, safety, cornerback everywhere on the field. He has the physicality to play safety, the athletic ability to play cornerback and the skill set to move over to the offensive side of the ball. He’s then a guy I know their coach trusts to lead their lead and their coach wants to put the ball in their hand with the game on the line even though he’s a defensive player. Those are the players I want to have in the program because those are winners.
On OL Cole Carter of Caledonia:
Cole is a good kid. Coming from a very small high school in Caledonia. He has big shoes to live up to I guess. The last guy to come from Caledonia over here had pretty successful career, Derek Sherrod. Cole is a guy that played a lot of tight end and plays basketball a lot in high school. You can see in his physique that as soon as he grows and fills out his body that we expect him to play offensive line for us. He’s also a tremendous student in school. Great young man from a great family.
On QB Nick Schuessler:
It’s very tricky because I’m very picky in quarterbacks because what I look for in a quarterback, you can’t see on film. That’s always the hardest thing when you evaluate these guys. Go look at the NFL and see there’s a lot of guys that weren’t five stars coming out of high school that still play in the NFL. It’s because they have an it factor about them. When you get to Nick and the first thing everybody at his high school described him as was the ultimate winner. He’s going to do whatever it takes to win. As a coach, that’s what you want in the quarterback. If he has to throw the ball a bunch, he’ll throw it. If he has to run the ball a bunch, he’ll do that. If he has to hand the ball off, he’ll manage the game. That is what you want. All the kids are talking about him as a leader and how they respond to him. Named the Georgia offensive player of the year and physically reminds me of a guy I coached a long time ago in Alex Smith who was a guy that didn’t put up huge stats but led his team to state championships. Then filled out his body and I see a lot of characteristics in Nick.
On signing small-town kids:
Not just Cole but a lot of the guys on our team. That’s a tribute to our coaches. It’s pretty easy to wait and see ho many stars someone gets. Our guys do a great job of getting out and our prospects a lot of the time, we’re the first offer they’ve had. That’s the trust I have for our coaching staff getting into every high school in Mississippi and having great relationships with the coaches here. We trust when they tell us we know what we’re looking for in the type of athlete and player we’re looking for in this program. You don’t have to play at the big schools to come play for us. We’re going to get out at every single school in the state and evaluate single school in the state. Fortunate to get a bunch of good players that came from (small schools).
How big to get Beniquez and Richie Brown at LB, and who could play immediately?
That was huge for us on signing day. Obviously, you want to close well. Both of those two young men handled their recruiting fantastic, in how they did things and the process they went through and communications with us and other schools as well, really doing things the right way.
When you look at this class, obviously anybody that enrolls early always has an opportunity to play. So the guys that got here early do. Richie Brown is a guy that has the physical abilities. He’s coming in as 6-2, 230, he has some physical stature already to him that will give him the opportunity to get on the field right away. I guess if you look at some other guys, a Will Redmond, who has that athletic ability and the size to get on the field right away. Beniquez Brown, who has the size to get on the field right away. Some of the defensive linemen – Nick James. I guess if you’re 6-4, a generous 330 – on the light end of generous right now – he has the physical stature to get on the field right away. It is very difficult. I have no problem with all 23 of them playing as freshmen. We want to make sure we put them in a position to be successful. When we feel they’re ready to step on the field and can significantly contribute, we go play them. Probably the first guy I imagine would be on the field is going to be Devon Bell. He’s a guy with just phenomenal leg strength that we’ve been excited about getting here for over two-and-a-half years now, since we first had him at camp. We were excited to get him. I think he just has special leg strength. Even as a specialist, he’s going to have the opportunity to play right away.
Is Bell a kicker or punter?
Yes. When his foot touches the ball, it goes, and it goes a long way. Whether he’s kicking it or punting it, he can do both. He’s a special talent.
Lots of guys listed as ATH (athlete):
I probably should scour this more, but knowing us, you could probably put ATH next to all of them. Devon Bell will even tell me he’s an athlete, and he can run and pitch.
What’s your plan for athletes?
We have a plan, and as we discussed with the guys what we expect them to be. When you look at a Beniquez Brown, who we expect to be an outside linebacker. That’s what we kind of talked about, but also put up huge numbers as a running back in high school. We hadn’t counted that out as well as we moved forward. When we do that, those are kind of the projected positions that we see everybody playing at right now. Maybe there are some guys that are more defined than in the years past when you have some guys that were high school quarterbacks that we have no idea which direction they’re going to go, you can put down as athletes. We have a thought of what direction everyone’s going to go. There are still guys like Deonte Evans, he could go any number of positions, whether it be defensive back, running back – he catches the ball extremely well. We just kind of put them in that category now, and we’ll sort it all out once they get on campus.
Have you talked to players about multi-year scholarships?
It came up at the very front end when they were going to pass that rule with the early signing guys. When I talk to these young men, when I’m in their home, I’m committed to them graduating. That’s what I’ve told all the parents. I have no problem with whatever direction that rule goes in in the future, because we’re committed to these guys until they graduate. Even a Fletcher Cox, hopefully you make millions and millions and millions of dollars – I’ll fight to keep you on scholarship until you have that degree.
How much does it help having the coaching staff intact?
It helps. It helps an awful lot for us in stability in our group, that there’s not new guys trying to learn a new way to do things. In recruiting, obviously it helps because there’s no changeover in the middle of the process, which can hurt sometimes. I also think a lot of these guys know that eventually I imagine there will be changeover within the staff at some point in their career. I hope there isn’t. It’d be a great thing to say that all these guys, four years through here they have the same exact coaching staff. The important thing that they understood is I’m going to be here as their head coach, and the program will not change. Our philosophy of how we hire coaches, the standards of how we run our program, will not change during their career. And that to me is always the most important thing. But it helps when you don’t have to deal with the distraction of new coaches and have to learn a new position coach.
Can you expound on Nick Schuessler’s recruitment?
What happened is, there were a lot of issues. One was the question of whether we were going to take a quarterback this year. We would’ve had potentially three guys coming back with no seniors in next year’s class. It was a question, do we want to have – you can get yourself in trouble that way. That’s the golden rule: You take a quarterback in every signing class. But we had a lot of discussion. We had a little bit of turnover at the quarterback position in December (when Dylan Favre transferred), and it kind of really refocused us. We had offered a quarterback (Lafayette’s Jeremy Liggins), and one of the things, and Nick understood, we said, hey, we had offered a guy. We were going to give him until a certain time to let us know to make a decision. We actually allowed him to extend his time a little bit longer, and as soon as we knew about the decision, we said, hey – and the great thing with Nick is he understood that. He understood that honesty and appreciated it, that we didn’t feel right if we offered him and he committed, and then somebody else wanted to come, and I said, ‘You no longer have your scholarship. Even though I promised you one thing, I’m going back on my promise.’ But he was always the top guy sitting right there on the board for us at quarterback – well, I guess the second guy, because we had another guy that we thought we had an opportunity at as well.
It’s always tough, because they’re right there, the guys that we evaluated, and very different players that you look at in that situation. I always told Nick, I always err to the in-state guys first as a loyalty to the kids from Mississippi, and that’s why we went and gave one guy the first opportunity, and then we jumped all over Nick. It was actually funny, during that whole weekend when we were sitting there with Nick, I kind of came to the conclusion, I thought Nick was the better quarterback. Then it kind of came real heavy that he was the much better quarterback. In our minds and the time we spent with him, it became tough. I think he’s just a great kid and a great family, and really understood everything that went on during recruiting. The fact we were up front with him right from Day 1, I think allowed that great open communication with us.
How difficult was it to play the scholarship numbers game?
I think it’s scary, because one of the things that you look at on signing day is, you can’t go over any more. Even if there’s a guy that’s questionable academically, we don’t want to send out letters, you’re not going to send over letters because of the severity of the punishment for over-signing. So as you go through this whole process, it does make it difficult in balancing. You say, hey, there’s three kids you don’t know about, and can you risk sending three – you might have only two spots. If all three of them signed, you’re going to get punished severely. So if you send out two and you send out the wrong two, and they don’t decide to come, then you’re way under. It’s made it a little bit more tricky balancing the numbers and trying to be exact, but our staff and the quality of the young men we went after, we really didn’t end up with those issues on signing day.
What do you know about TE Gus Walley’s injuries?
He met with our doctors on his knee, and then he also had a shoulder issue. One of the things we had talked about was the potential of grayshirting for him, really for health reasons. What happened with his knee and his shoulder after the season, when he got that fixed, he lost about 20 pounds. Not being able to train and doing some stuff. We spent some time, did some research, talked to the doctors within his rehab. We felt that he was ahead of schedule; he felt that he was ahead of schedule. Really kind of was an open discussion with him and his option of which road he wanted to take. When we talked to the doctors, and he talked to the doctors, they said they felt he was ahead of schedule, that he will be 100 percent healthy way before he reports, that he’ll be able to get his weight back on and report at a good weight and come in on a positive note. Again, just the relationships we’ve had, our coaches do a great job, it allows you to have open discussions with young men like that, that they can really look at their future and understand why we talk about and even discuss that. Some people look at grayshirts because they’re going to over-sign a lot of people. As we discussed with a couple of guys this year, there were factors involved in each one of those, whether it be academically or medically, there were factors involved.
WR Artimas Samuel, came in late:
He was a guy we really liked all along and for us I liked those kind of crossover players that are tough to defend and he certainly is that. Is he’s a little bit smaller tight end, a big wide receiver? What is he? He’s a mismatch guy. He’s a guy, academically, we had some concerns about and weren’t sure and the more we discussed with everybody in school, and (co-defensive coordinator) Geoff Collins and everybody and talking to the counselors, did a good job recruiting and staying with him. They felt he’s going to have a good opportunity to qualify, so that’s why we decided to go in the direction to sign him and get him on board. We hope to have him here this fall.
What does S Quadry Antoine bring to the table?
We have to make sure he doesn’t get a lot of fines or penalties or suspensions. If you’ve watched his highlight film, the first six plays you’d be wowed with the hit and then you’d see the flags come a-flying. I love contact. I love how he plays with the reckless abandon he plays the game with. He just loves the game of football, loves to hit and love to play. That attitude is always great to have on the team because he’s a great young man. He’s not a bad guy, he just loves to play the game hard. To me, that brings a little attitude to you back there and I think he will bring a little attitude to our secondary.
How big was it to get A.J. Jefferson?
It was huge. He went through the process and I thought he might commit to us very early on and he kind of let the whole deal play out throughout the whole recruitment. He never wavered, though. He’s such a great kid. The thing that really impressed me with A.J. was how guys spoke of him and not just coaches with his team. He went down to the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star game and guys that were already committed to us spoke highly of his work ethic and the effort that he gave every single day at practice. Those are things that really excite me and so I think, in the end, getting somebody that is not just a really good player but somebody other guys are coming into the program really respect because of his work ethic. That’s something that really puts him up a notch in my book.
Any shifts within the staff? Anything on the horizon?
We’ll look. We have a position open in recruiting for a recruiting specialist. We’re going to start interviewing people here in the coming weeks for that position, but I don’t expect any changes within our on-the-field coaches. We might have some grad assistant turnover as I think some of them have graduated or are about to graduate and have served their time.
Do you expect any issues with kids qualifying academically?
You know our staff. We work tirelessly to make sure all of our kids qualify, which we have done in the past. There’s some guys who still have some work to do but we’ve been pretty successful in the past monitoring that and working very closely and making sure they do it. The one great thing is the guys, when they know they’re coming to work, and talk about hard work, commitment and sacrifice, you see a lot of our guys get great grades in their last semester of high school because that mindset has kind of already taken over them by the time they come in. They do really well and hopefully all these guys finish up strong in the classroom.
Some people are going to take your comments about preaching and church as a shot at Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss:
I don’t know. No. I have people email me all the time that are like, what is your background? I go to church all the time but, to me, it’s always more important you live that life than just talk about that life. So, I just see it every day. I see it every day and I really preach it to our guys. You don’t talk about one thing and tell me one thing, and live your life a different way. I think in recruiting, a lot of times, I have guys call me and tell me all kinds of stuff. I’ve had guys call me and say they’ve reported that we’ve had coaches already leave the staff and no one has left the staff. It’s going to turn out this way and it’s not that way. For our guys, we try to be up front with these kids right from Day 1.
What are your thoughts on spring practice with only two active QBs?
We’ll protect those two guys. You might not see them get hit as often this spring as you might in others.
Have you considered the pace of practice in that regard?
No. We’ll keep doing some things. Honestly, everybody has been wondering for the last couple of years if we’re going to snap the ball to Chad Bumphis or Jameon Lewis. One of the hard parts is, as you script and do things, yo have to make sure you get a certain number of reps doing it. I think this will give us the opportunity to really force us to develop that package we want to develop.
Jameon, I think, when everyone saw when he gets the ball in his hands he can do some exciting things. As he keeps taking those steps forward, we can do some neat things with him in the future.
Any walk-on QBs in the spring to help out?
Rockey (Felker) and I have talked. There are a couple of guys that are quarterbacks that want to walk on this spring. We’ll see as that goes. A lot of walkons show up for one day, get through stretching and … (cut off, end transcript)