It wasn't an expectation that hung over them, but it lurked within sight, and now the trio of receivers must strap on that burden and carry it forward.
Bumphis, Heavens and Smith, all rising juniors, enter today's Maroon-White spring game with the task of bringing MSU's passing game to a new level. Bumphis and Heavens have played in 25 games apiece - the most possible the past two seasons - while Smith has seen action in 22.
The leader of this little pack is Bumphis, the Tupelo product, who's led the Bulldogs in receiving each of his first two seasons, and he understands what is now expected of the receivers.
"Now we're all juniors, really, and it's a growing phase," Bumphis said. "We've learned the offense now, and there's no more we can say we're young."
The receiving corps, a fallow bunch when Dan Mullen took over after the 2008 season, is now considered a strength. It has experience and, for the first time in a while, depth. Arceto Clark is a fourth-year junior who's flashed great hands, sophomore Ricco Sanders looks to build off his Gator Bowl performance, Michael Carr had nice moments as a freshman, and redshirt freshman Jameon Lewis can be a playmaker.
Bumphis said it's helped that he, Heavens and Smith came up in Mullen's offense together, "because now we're all able to help the younger guys, and we understand the system now, we understand what we're trying to do.
"The main thing," Bumphis added, "is we've got an understanding of what the defense is trying to do to us."
Being forced into action early in their careers reaped long-term benefits that Mullen has spotted this spring.
"They come back as sophomores and play again and realize, they think they're good because they played as freshmen, and then their sophomore year they kind of realize, I'm not that good," Mullen said. "So I think that work ethic and that demeanor, how they change their approach, is really taking shape this spring."
After Leon Berry was injured midway through last season, there wasn't a junior or senior among the receivers. While the passing game improved - thanks in large part to quarterback Chris Relf's development - the Bulldogs had plenty of shortcomings.
Mullen expects to shore those up for this fall, and Bumphis expects the same. As Relf has continued to improve and the receivers have continued to mature, the expectation now is that the passing game will take off in 2011.
"We've been waiting long enough," Bumphis said, "so it's about time for it to."
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.