By Logan Lowery
STARKVILLE – Often times, coaches want their teams to be an extension of their own personality.
However at Mississippi State, it’s sometimes hard for the linebackers to keep pace with their energetic position coach Geoff Collins.
A defensive coordinator in his fourth season with the Bulldogs, Collins can usually be found at practice sprinting through drills like a maniac overdosed on Red Bull spouting off about juice points to players he has all awarded nicknames to.
“I just love what I do, I really do,” Collins said. “I love being a college football coach. I love being around the players and getting to have fun with them. They keep me young. I love impacting young men’s lives. I am helping them become better on the field and off the field. Every day we go out there, we get to compete. I get to wear shorts and tennis shoes and run around like a wild man. Who wouldn’t love that?”
And Collins has plenty to love this season. MSU returns seven linebackers, headlined by All-SEC junior Benardrick McKinney.
McKinney paced the Bulldogs with 71 tackles last season and has racked up 173 stops in his two seasons. The Tunica native is considered the top underclassmen inside linebacker by ESPN NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper Jr.
“I’ve coached him every single day since he’s been here, and I can’t say enough about him,” Collins said. “He’s 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds. He runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash, jumps 41 inches and he is a better person than he is athlete. All he cares about is being a great teammate and getting other people around him to play better. He doesn’t care about stats. He doesn’t care about accolades.”
Senior Matthew Wells is also back as a starter with 39 games of experience. Wells notched 50 tackles last season including six for loss.
State lost Deontae Skinner to the NFL opening a spot for sophomore Beniquez Brown, who started three games last season.
“Getting playing time at the end last year helped a lot going into this year,” Beniquez Brown said. “Now it’s about perfecting my craft every day, getting better at my technique and listening to coach Collins.”
Collins feels just as comfortable with his second group of linebackers and plans to utilize both units on the field this fall. Junior Zach Jackson, sophomore Richie Brown and redshirt freshman Dezmond Harris make up that second faction.
Senior Christian Holmes also returns to linebacker full-time after splitting time at tight end last season.
“We’ve got some depth and some good linebackers,” said Richie Brown. “Dez is going to be a good player and we’ve got some good young guys. I think we’ve got a really good rotation going at linebacker.”
The Bulldogs signed a pair of linebackers in February in Deshon Cooper of Atlanta and former Greenville four-star Gerri Green. Cooper is in camp practicing with the team but has yet to qualify academically to play this season.