By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A little extra work isn’t going to throw off Tony Hughes. Plus, he’s got good help.
The Mississippi State safeties coach is also having to coach cornerbacks and nickelbacks this week as the team prepares for Tuesday’s Gator Bowl matchup with No. 21 Northwestern. The extra duty is due to Melvin Smith leaving for a job at Auburn on Christmas Day.
Hughes, who’s been at MSU since 2009, has coached entire defensive backfields at other schools, including Southern Miss, Ole Miss and Louisiana Tech. So this is nothing new.
“He’s trying to handle all 20 of us at one time,” cornerback Darius Slay said. “That’s a lot on his head, but coach will be all right.”
Hughes isn’t doing it alone. Head coach Dan Mullen is pitching in, and graduate assistant Ryan McNamara was leading the cornerbacks during position drills Thursday.
It also helps that this is a veteran group, with Slay, Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield all seniors. Banks started his MSU career at safety, and Broomfield played a lot of safety earlier this fall, so they’re very familiar with how Hughes works.
“If you have a lot of young kids that never played before, that would be a different deal,” said Hughes. “Right now the kids are older, and they’re mature, and we walk in the room all together: ‘Hey, this is what we’re going to do. OK, coach, let’s go.’”
As for the departure of Smith, Banks and Slay aren’t upset with him. Banks said he’s happy for Smith and understands that “it’s a business,” and Slay said Smith is still checking up on his former pupils.
“It’s kind of sad not having him out there, but we’ve got older guys – me, Slay and Broom,” Banks said. “We can run it.”
Quarterback Tyler Russell is no longer limited in practice.
A sprained ankle limited the junior during pre-Christmas practices, but he did normal work during Thursday’s practice – the first of bowl week – and will continue to do so.
“The ankle feels good, so it feels good to be out there at full speed,” said Russell, who was dealing with a knee injury this time last year. He wound up not playing in the Bulldogs’ Music City Bowl win over Wake Forest.
“He has no excuses, and I told him that,” offensive coordinator Les Koenning said. “There’s a difference between pain and injury. It’s a little pain, we’ve got to fight through it. He’s OK.
“I haven’t seen any problem with him at all.”
Bumphis having fun
Two years ago, receiver Chad Bumphis had to watch as MSU prepped for the Gator Bowl after suffering a broken collarbone a few weeks earlier against Ole Miss.
Well, he wasn’t really watching. Strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis had Bumphis running the steps at Hodges Stadium.
“So it’s a lot better to be practicing,” said Bumphis, who has 55 catches for 904 yards and 12 touchdowns this year.
This is the last week of practice for the senior from Tupelo. He’s trying to relish it.
“It’s fun, but it’s emotional,” he said. “You just want to go out and play and have fun and make sure you leave with a good taste in your mouth.”