By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – There is no shortage of experience among Mississippi State’s wide receivers, but only one of them stands out as the spokesman, the example, the clear leader of the group.
Chris Smith is one of four senior receivers, and he’s the one who has eagerly seized the reins and told everyone else to follow him. He’s become more vocal in the past year and has a clear understanding of what his role is now.
There are plenty of younger receivers looking up to Smith, promising talents like Jameon Lewis and Joe Morrow.
“They’ve got to learn, I’ve got to be an example,” Smith said. “Like I always say, I’ve got to be an example. I’m trying to be a leader; I want to be a leader.”
Smith’s fellow seniors have their own strengths, and while he’s probably not the most naturally talented of them, he has those particular intangibles that have thrust him to the fore as a leader, qualities his position mates seem to be lacking.
Arceto Clark has great hands and is dependable, but he’s very quiet and serious, not the kind to speak up. Chad Bumphis is the most athletic of the group, but he struggled last season and has largely avoided the media spotlight this preseason. Brandon Heavens hasn’t been terribly productive and resides at a crowded slot receiver position.
Smith didn’t necessarily see himself taking on this role.
“At first when I came in, I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know what to speak,” he said. “You know how it is when you’re a freshman. You don’t know what to expect. As the years have gone by, I’ve seen myself as being a leader in the future.”
Smith arrived from Meridian High School, where as a senior he and starting MSU quarterback Tyler Russell won a state championship by beating powerhouse South Panola. That win snapped the Tigers’ state-record 89-game winning streak.
Smith sees similarities between that season and this one for MSU. Expectations within have risen thanks to improved depth all over the field, although many outside observers have written off State as nothing more than a six- or seven-win team.
“I can just feel the bond like (more) than it was last year or the year before,” Smith said. “It feels like everybody’s coming together as one unit. My senior year of high school it felt the same way. It felt the same way.”
The receivers will play a crucial role in whatever success or failure MSU experiences this fall. With Russell now the full-time QB, the passing game is expected to pick up its pace, and the experience at receiver – complemented by those younger guys – should make Russell’s job easier.
As MSU deals with Sunday’s sudden resignation of receivers coach Angelo Mirando, Smith’s leadership becomes even more critical. Head coach Dan Mullen said Sunday that he has confidence the receiving corps will be fine.
Earlier this month, Russell said he was quite at ease with who he’s throwing to. Smith said Russell doesn’t play favorites, and Russell said the receivers aren’t selfish.
“They want to win, and whatever they can do to help us win is what’s going to happen,” Russell said. “I go through my progressions, and whoever’s open, that’s the guy I throw it to.”