STARKVILLE – Mark Hudspeth never got to play football for Mississippi State.
He wanted to, but the 5-foot-10 quarterback from Louisville’s Winston Academy didn’t make enough of an impression on then-head coach Rockey Felker.
Hudspeth played at Delta State instead, as a defensive back and quarterback.
“People accused me of turning down Brett Favre, so I guess Mark Hudspeth is another one I turned down,” said Felker, who’s now MSU’s director of player personnel and high school relations.
It’s turned out OK.
Hudspeth got his start in coaching at Delta State, but he always kept his eye on Starkville, where he’d attended so many Bulldog games in the 1970s and ’80s and watched his childhood heroes, guys like Mardye McDole (1977-80) and John Bond (1980-83).
Hudspeth finally got his chance to come to MSU when Dan Mullen became head coach in December and hired him as passing game coordinator and receivers coach.
“I’ve been up here to so many games and practices, it was just an opportunity I’ve always sort of wanted,” Hudspeth said.
He wasn’t a bad quarterback, but Hudspeth is an even better coach. He was previously head coach at North Alabama (2002-08), which consistently fielded a light-’em-up spread offense that led to several Division II playoff berths. As Delta State’s offensive coordinator, his unit led the Statesmen to the D-II national championship in 2000.
When he and Mullen first talked, Hudspeth pitched that offensive background, as well as his strong ties to Mississippi’s high schools and junior colleges.
“I felt I could be the best recruiter for the state of Mississippi there is,” he told me.
That sort of confidence is what’s made the 40-year-old Hudspeth’s transition from Division II to the SEC so seamless (so far). He’s won everywhere he’s been – including Winston Academy, which he coached to a private school state championship in 1997.
“The only differences I’ve seen is our weightroom here and locker room’s a little bit bigger,” he said. “Other than that, it’s still trying to get a football team ready to play each week, trying to develop players at every position, and just putting in a lot of hours trying to get this team ready.”
Hudspeth has perhaps the biggest challenge of any of the MSU assistants, for two reasons:
A) The quarterback position is unsettled, and
B) The receiving corps is thin in both numbers and experience.
“It’s obvious they’re getting better every day, they’re really improving,” Felker said of the receivers. “I think they’re just gonna keep getting better as the year goes on.”
For all the talk of Mullen’s offensive mind, Hudspeth’s football IQ can’t be overstated, especially considering the MSU offense’s dreadful past. And don’t forget – Hudspeth’s been a head coach, Mullen has not.
“He’s got a lot of energy and enthusiasm, and he brings a little bit different spread offense philosophy (than Mullen),” Felker said.
Hudspeth said he’s learned some things from Mullen that he hopes can help him should he again become a head coach. For now, though, he’s quite happy at MSU.
And he still likes to rib Felker for taking a pass on him all those years ago.
“Coach Felker missed out on a good opportunity. I tell him all the time, he missed out on the best 5-10 quarterback in the state,” Hudspeth said with a laugh Tuesday evening after practice.
Just out of earshot was Felker, who was walking toward his car in the parking lot of the Holliman Athletic Center. On Wednesday, Felker said he has trouble remembering Mark Hudspeth, the high school quarterback.
But he’s sure glad to see Mark Hudspeth, the coach, at MSU.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal