“I actually thought about catching the ball a little more,” he said, “but it’ll work.”
Bumphis, a 5-foot-10, 195-pounder from Tupelo, has always expected a lot of himself, even against bigger, more experienced opponents.
The first time he touched the ball as a varsity player for Tupelo High, against Southaven in October of his freshman year, Bumphis returned a kickoff 49 yards. He hurt his shoulder on the play, but he would return, and against Horn Lake in November he took the opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown.
It was the first of 10 kickoff or punt returns for touchdown in his illustrious prep career. He amassed 2,034 yards receiving, 1,348 rushing, 1,429 on returns, and 568 passing over four seasons.
“It was something special,” said Darryl Carter, Tupelo’s former receivers coach. “He was electric.”
Bumphis almost took his preternatural ability to Florida, which has won two of the last three BCS national championships. He said he was “about 95 percent sure” he would become a Gator – until Florida’s offensive coordinator, Dan Mullen, took the MSU job in December.
The two had become close since first meeting the spring of Bumphis’ junior year. Mullen had left enough of an impression on Bumphis to make him believe that shunning the center of the college football universe for Starkville was the best move for him.
“Because I knew how smart he was and what he does on offense. I knew that if he came here, we’d change the offense and I’d have a chance to play,” Bumphis said.
He’s seized the opportunity, making such an early impression on coaches that he was penciled in as a starter early in August, and that status didn’t change even when an ankle injury kept Bumphis out of full-contact drills the last two weeks of preseason camp.
He had one week to get ready for Jackson State, and then delivered with TD catches of 15 and seven yards.
Bumphis is just the fourth MSU player since 1986 to start in his first collegiate game, and the other three – Milton Smith (1986), Quinton Culberson (2003) and Sean Ferguson (2008) – were defensive players.
“Chad’s a playmaker,” said senior receiver Brandon McRae. “Once he has that ball in his hands, he can take it the distance at any time. You’ve got to keep an eye on him.”
Carter describes Bumphis as “anxious” in that he’s always eager to get the ball and go. That’s not, however, a product of a “Gimme the damn ball” mentality.
“He’s a very humble kid. That’s one thing about him, to me, he wasn’t ever selfish,” Carter said. “I guess when you’re a playmaker and stuff like that, you just want the ball.”
In Mullen’s offense, the versatile Bumphis is a perfect fit. He was the starting quarterback for Tupelo’s JV team and played the position at times throughout his varsity career.
On the first play of the JSU game, Mullen called a reverse pass for Bumphis, who made a nice throw but missed a well-covered O’Neal Wilder.
He didn’t run the ball Saturday, but there’s little doubt Bumphis will get carries. However Mullen can get the ball in his hands, he will.
The little things
As much as Bumphis enjoys working magic with the football, he’s not one to eschew the little things. Mullen has emphasized that his slew of young, talented receivers need to become complete players, and that’s something Bumphis has worked on for years.
Carter, now the head coach at Kemper County, made sure of it.
“He was willing to put in the extra work, the little things people think is boring – cone drills, catching 100 balls or so a day, and just running the same route over and over again,” Carter said. “He pushed himself, and he put himself in great position.”
Bumphis, who turns 20 on Oct. 18, enrolled in June, which gave him a bit of a head start going into camp.
“He actually came in wanting to play. He proved that to coach, that he can play,” senior running back Arnil Stallworth said. “He learned the offense very well, that’s one thing I can tell you he has done.”
It was obviously enough to get Bumphis on the field, which was Mullen’s hope the first time he saw him at THS.
At that time, Mullen knew Bumphis had the physical tools.
“I thought the thing that could make him help early from the first time I saw him was his physical stature,” Mullen said. “That he was not a guy that needed a lot of development. He already had some thickness to him, some strength and some quick explosiveness to him.”
McRae compared Bumphis to a young Percy Harvin, the former Gator who shredded many an SEC defense. There’s still a ways to go before Bumphis can reach that level, but he expects to get there eventually.
Following his MSU debut, Bumphis got a text message from Carter reminding him to stay the course. Things get tougher this week with a trip to SEC foe Auburn.
“I just spoke positive and told him to stay humble and keep growing from that,” Carter said. “Don’t be satisfied with what you’ve done, because it’s a tough road ahead.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or at firstname.lastname@example.org