"I'd say we're still on path of what we're looking to do," said Mullen.
What Mississippi State looked to do this particular recruiting year was both round out the overall roster with the annual August target of 85 scholarship players; and stock up personnel across the board. Thanks to a relatively small graduating senior class from the 9-4 Gator and Egg Bowl champions of '10, as well as a large 16-man redshirt freshman class, Mullen did not need to issue the maximum 25 grants allowed each year by the NCAA. Much less to go over that by tossing out some sign-but-not-enroll grants; i.e., grayshirts, a practice that is increasingly frowned upon in the college game.
That capped this year's class at 22, of which four are already on campus as spring semester enrollees. Three of them are all of the junior college transfers for 2011, too, and the fourth the lone quarterback signed. Mullen did say that at the moment Mississippi State is over the 85-roster limit but that is not a problem in spring. It will be addressed by any post-semester attrition, as well as if needed some walk-ons who were given grants for this year giving them back for the 2011-12 school year.
Just as with his prior to signing groups, Mullen proudly pointed to the predominance of Mississippi natives on the State University roster. Fifteen are from Mississippi high schools, and another has spent the last two years in the state juco ranks. That was more state natives inking with MSU than with the state's other two Division I-A programs combined, and gives Mullen 51 Mississippians in his three signing classes so far.
And, as he even more proudly noted, of those 47 are still here on campus and playing their parts in the program, a retention rate that speaks well not only for the players themselves but the evaluation that went into selecting and signing. It's the same procedure Mullen followed for year-three.
"It's been very exciting for us, this process right now. A lot of good players came in."
Which, after all, is the only point of recruiting. Mullen expounds on why these players fit the Bulldog bill, both individually and as a group, in the following full transcript. And for those who claim that in 2011 Mississippi State ‘lost' the battle for home state recruiting control, well, Mullen has his own answer at the very end.
Dan Mullen opening statement: "It's a great day to be a Bulldog. We welcomed 18 new members to our family today, which is very exciting. I want to start off by thanking all the Mississippi high school coaches for all their assistance during this recruiting period. We've got a lot of great high school coaches in this state that have really helped us since I've been here, their believing in what we're doing. I think 15 of our 22 members of this year's signing class are from the state of Mississippi which again is more than the other (two Division I-A) schools combined. And in three years here now that's 51 of our players have come from Mississippi. So I thank all the high school coaches for the great job and all the hard work they've put in, developing these young men and preparing them for SEC football and their assistance of having them come here."
"It's been very exciting for us, this process right now. A lot of good players came in. I think one of the big areas you look at is the offensive and defensive lines, which to me is where your foundation of your program is always going to be. That's where you win and lose football games. To come out with James Maiden and P.J. Jones, the top two defensive linemen in the state of Mississippi, fantastic. We really filled a need today with Preston Smith, a defensive end. I know we have John Harris here on campus already working out, I think he's already put on 25 pounds in our workout program just in the short time he's been here. So that's very exciting."
"We also had two offensive lineman enroll early, which really is invaluable and hopefully in the future we continue to get more and more. I know the four guys we had enroll early, Nick Redmond being the only one from in-state; we've got to work harder at being able to get in-state kids graduated early. I think we had several who had the opportunity do that, and just the different school systems we're still working, getting adjusted for them to be able to do those things and hopefully be able to get on to college earlier and continue their education faster."
"With Daniel Knox coming in, Justin Malone right now playing on the number-one ranked basketball team in the state of Mississippi, a great athlete for a guy his size, 6-6 and well over 300 pounds right now, we're really going to have to slim him down. He can move some people around on the basketball court, that's a good thing, hopefully he's moving some people around on the football field for us. When you look at that foundation on the offensive and defensive side of the line it's really hard to make up recruiting if you ever fall behind at those positions. I'm really happy with those guys."
"Looking at just some of the athletes in this class, like Dee Arrington, Zack Jackson, big time hitters in the secondary coming in with the size potential to grow. And when you look at guys like that, one of the things we really focus on is recruiting football players. You look at a Dee Arrington, who runs the ball, plays quarterback, plays receiver, plays safety, plays all over the field; Zach Jackson does the same thing for his team. Those are the type of guys that we look for. You get a Kendrick Market off a national championship high school football team, Coach (Lance) Pogue did a great job developing him. I think if you talk to people at South Panola he easily was the MVP of their team and maybe the best football player in the state of Mississippi. Might not put up the measurables that a lot of people in the internet like to write up on, but when you turn on the film and watch them play he makes a ton of plays. I'm excited for those guys."
"Some other big athletes coming in, with Benardrick McKinney, again another guy that plays linebacker, plays quarterback plays all over the field, which is what we look for. Devin Fosselman, a great receiver. Talking to a lot of the coaches, with Devin Fosselman and Joe Morrow down at the Mississippi-Alabama game a lot of opinions were that they were the top two receivers in the game. So we're very happy to have those guys on board. I don't know who I'm missing…Rufus Warren, another one that we're very excited about."
"But part of recruiting, and this is what I'm excited about, I think our staff did a great job this year, is the recruiting and evaluation of players, making sure that they're going to fit our program. I have no idea how good a recruiting class this is, I'll tell you that in a couple of years. Now the last two recruiting classes we've signed 53 players; 47 of them are still contributing to our program, one of them is playing professional baseball for the (Cincinnati) Reds. And one the others just re-signed to enroll this fall having completed his junior college work to get here."
"So if you look at that percentage for us, it is making sure that we're finding the players that fit our program, that fit what we're looking for, and give us the ability to develop them for the future. That's a pretty good statistic for us that I look at. That to me is how you evaluate a recruiting class. So hopefully with these guys we continue that. Hopefully we've done a great job of this evaluation of these guys, that they fit that mold that we're looking in the 90-percentile range of these guys that we sign contributing to our football program in the coming years. Not just in one year, over a course of years that these guys are still involved in the program. So we're pretty excited about it. These young guys that we think that fit that profile, and we're very happy. We're excited about our future. Very excited about our future."
Q: With four mid-year signees and 18 more today, was that determined by how many were redshirted last year and the 85 roster limit? "The number of scholarships, yeah. As you look at it right there, the number of scholarships that we have. You hear all this talk of grayshirting and of all the people oversigning. That's not our program. We have a distinct plan in what we do for young men. When you hear about how unethical some of those things are, you know, it's hard for me to tell our guys we're going to be a man of our word and then I'm not a man of my word during the recruiting process of these young men. That's not the type of program we are. For us, that's how we looked at it."
"That's how the numbers fit for us. We didn't have a very big senior class, we don't have a very big senior class again next year. So our numbers will probably be maybe even less next year depending on attrition, the three to four guys, the last 10% that doesn't make it through the program."
Q: Looking at the lines, did you want one or two more for the depth; and talk about getting just one linebacker? "The question with linebacker is who else is going to play that position. Because when you look at guys that are 6-2 and well over 200 pounds we don't know how they're going to grow or develop through the years. So I don't know how that's going to sort out in the end at those positions, again we go look for football players to make it fit."
"And we signed four defensive linemen. You're always looking for them. If we're ever going to be heavy in a position I want it to be on the offensive line or the defensive line. Especially defensive line because we rotate and play so many guys at that position over the course of the game. I'm happy with the four that we got, but you're always going to look at them. When we balance out our roster of where people are if there's one position it's OK to be over a guy or two guys it's on that defensive line. But when you bring in four that's a full defensive line freshman class, it's a pretty solid lick to try do that every year."
Q: Talk about adding speed to the program? "When you look at a Justin Cox, at camp…lightning fast. Really, really fast. Any player that plays quarterback and leads his team to two state championships is a pretty good football player. We had him in camp, he ran great times for us. Josh Robinson the same way, he ran one of the fastest times we had at any of our camps this year, Josh did as a pretty stout running back. Derek Milton came in in the same way."
"So I think we've added some speed at those skill positions. And Darius Slay is a guy we recruited a couple of year s ago, a very dynamic player in the return game, played a lot in the secondary this year; you don't get to see him to a lot because I think people stayed away from him up at ICC this year. But if you do look at Darius what we're excited about, there's a young man that signed with us, has followed through, has done his work, and is coming back to the program and very excited about us. And the success we've had with junior college players, every junior college player that we've signed has come in and contributed to the program in the last two years. And that's critical when you're going to recruit those guys."
Q: How much did it hurt having guys decommit? "Well as you can see with the numbers, not really. Because we really didn't have spots for everybody so we were going to have to balance out the numbers in the end."
"I guess a commitment in my mind and in the media's mind is very different. A commitment in my mind is somebody that's coming to Mississippi State and not taking a visit. In other words if you're visiting other places I never considered you committed in the first place. So we really don't have any decommitts the way I view it! Because the guys that were visiting I don't really view them as being committed to our program, that's how I view recruiting. I guess we don't talk about it, we're not allowed to comment on it so that's all up to you guys interpretation, the internet, all that stuff, and the way you want to see it. I view it as a guy that's committed is someone that is coming to Mississippi State, that's where I'm going, I'm not taking any other visits, that's where I want to be at school, hold my spot for you. If they're taking visit, I don't really count them."
Q: Did the number of redshirts have anything to do with some guys deciding to de-committ? "No, if guys are nervous about competition I certainly don't want them on our roster. Because every day in our program you have to compete, in everything that we do. I think that's what helps you win. That's what helps you win. There's no shortcut to the top of the mountain, if you're going to get there you're going to get there through a lot of hard work. And on the football field you have to compete."
"So I don't think so, it just shows that we had some pretty solid depth last year. And I look at this group, there's a lot of guys that could come in and contribute of this freshman class right away. When you play in the SEC we're going to make sure they're ready to get on the field before we put them on the field. But having more guys come in mid-semester certainly helps and it gives them an opportunity to get on the field early."
Q: You've mentioned having a balanced class, how do you get to a balanced roster? "The same way. You're always keeping the balance in your numbers, and you're trying to look not just one but two years out, to make sure that if you have a bunch of guys leaving at a position that you are going to be balanced. You look at a guy like Joey Trapp coming in this year, taking a junior college offensive lineman; there is a little bit of a gap in there. We had a bunch of older guys, and a bunch of younger guys; we needed some more in-between guys and so he comes in and fills that. That's really how we evaluate it each year."
"You'd love to get to the point where you have kind of a senior at every position across the board, and you go out and sign one player at each one of those positions and that keeps your balance in the program. It never works out that way, but you'd like to keep it that way. Instead of having I know two years ago three senior tailbacks. That's a little scary in the balance-point of the running back position when you have three guys that play the same position walk out the door. You'd like to keep it a little more balanced from year to year."
Q: What are the needs for next year? "It's such a long way away until then. In my mind right now we've already started. We had a meeting this morning going through our 2012 recruiting board. We're going to recruit every position again, just to make sure that we have depth at each position we're recruiting."
Q: You mention terms like decommit and soft verbal, what term should we use. "A reservation? Right? I mean, if you make a reservation to a restaurant they don't hold you to getting there, you know. You can call up and say can you reserve me a spot right there? That's better than it."
"But some kids are committed. That's what kind of makes it tough. I think recruiting has taken on a life of its own in the perception of it as opposed to the reality of the situation. And I think that's kind of where things changed. I know fans and the internet sites, it's big business and a lot of people are on-line at all times looking at things and trying to figure out what's going on. I think I have a much better idea, just NCAA rules we don't comment on them. I could probably give you all the answers of what's going to happen well before what's going to happen on Signing Day."
Q: Last year you said you wanted a better class this year, do you feel you did that? "Yeah. Yeah. I don't know what the rankings show, what do they show?"
Q: About 42, 43… "I'll take that. I did read an article today that Wisconsin has never been over 40. I'd take a Rose Bowl trip. Wisconsin and TCU I don't think were ever over 40 the last four or five years recruiting. So maybe that's a good number to be around if that gets you in the Rose Bowl!"
"But you know, I don't pay much attention to that, because to me a program is about development. If you said to me we had 47 of 53 we signed the last two years still contributing to our program right now, that's a petty good number. I guess 48 if you add Darius Slay in there. 48 of 53, we'll take those odds. That's the evaluation and development of the program. I guess if not then four years ago whoever was ranked number one and two in recruiting should have just played for the BCS championship. And I don't think either of those teams played in it this year. I don't put a whole lot of weight into any of the rankings, I put it into making sure we're getting players that we know we can develop."
"Whatever the stars, not just in February coming out of high school, they don't stick with you. I mean, when you go out on the field you don't get an extra first down because you had stars next to your name. You have to go earn those on the field. So for us we'd look for those guys that… I'm more concerned of our recruiting rankings I guess in our player performance on Saturday in the fall over the next four years will define how good a class they are, or not."
Q: The four defensive backs are all 6-1 or taller, is that something you targeted? "No, it was just very fortunate to get the size of those guys. Even though Kendrick Market is listed as a wide receiver, he's a DB and he's not that tall! But when you look at those things I think that's just a fortunate deal for us to be able to get some bigger defensive backs and play with some bigger defensive backs the likes of a Jon Banks that plays for us now. That length kind of helps you a little bit out on the field."
Q: You want to dominate the state, and get one of the top-five and two of the top-ten… "Of whose top ten?"
Q: Those internet sites? (laughing) "I guess! As I view it, the two top safeties, the top three DBs or top four in the state if you talk to the coaches were Kendrick Market one, Dee Arrington two, Zach Jackson three, and Justin Cox four. That's how I viewed it."
"And I guess it's bad I don't know the rankings. I talk to a lot of high school coaches that go down and watch all the talent in the Mississippi-Alabama All Star Game and said the two top receivers are Fosselman and Morrow. So if they're the two top receivers we're pretty happy to get those type of guys. Figuring that we've got 15 players in Mississippi and the two others schools in the state didn't get that many combined, I'd say we're still on path of what we're looking to do."
Q: Do some people overlook Taveze Calhoun as a late guy who came out of the all-star game with people talking about him? "He's a perfect example of I guess why people don't always pay attention to the internet. You evaluate a young man that I guess coming into his senior year wasn't rated very high so nobody was going to pay attention to him. We recruited him throughout the year, paid attention to him. He had the opportunity to go play in an all-star game against maybe better talent or the ability to show his skills better than he was on a weekly basis. Even though you watch him perform, playing receiver, playing running back, playing quarterback, playing corner, doing all these different things on the field again that we look for in recruiting football players, it is pretty good on the senior film as we studied him and researched him."
"But we do a lot more than just that, too. We go way beyond that. When you talk to people in high schools, you go into that high school and almost everybody comes up and talks about how great a young man he is, what a great worker he is on the field, what a great role model he is off the field. A lot of that goes into our evaluation of recruiting. To me, that is our process as coaches that maybe people on the outside never see. I guess I've only ever recruited, or coached one first overall pick in the NFL draft, and he was a one-star some someone told me at some point. So whose mistake was that?!"
Q: Will there be any late signees? "Not that we plan on. But again you don't know. In a situation that you never know can happen. if there are more it would be a junior college player that all of a sudden is going to graduate that nobody thought was going to graduate this spring, that might fill a need for us if we have attrition on the team. I don't we have any spots right now, we'd probably need some attrition on the team for that to happen."
Q: Who pays grayshirts' way to school? "Well, we don't grayshirt players. We try to stay away from that business right there. But you know what, to us that's part of our evaluation and how we run our program, to make sure that we are doing things the right way. Because that's what is going to help you win in the end. Like I said, there is no shortcut to success, only hard work gets you to the top of the mountain."
Q: Is Chris Cameron leaving the team? "He's decided to go on his L.D.S mission. He and I talked, we gave him his release so he could go talk with coaches at BYU and Utah. He talked to me about it well before the bowl game, so we kind of assumed we'd have that spot."
Q: Is he the only player leaving? "D.J. Looney had the medical (scholarship). But you're never sure, you could have an injury in spring. We had spot come open mid-fall last year that we never in a million years would you expect to have come open. And hopefully we never have that type of situation open up a spot again. But that's how you never know how the numbers are going to shake out. And we might have another spot come open before next September."
Q: With these 22, is the roster at the full 85 limit right now? "Actually I think we're over, we have some seniors still on scholarship, and with the guys leaving, you know, some walk-ons that were on one-year scholarship this year that they know they might not be renewed depending on the numbers. We're always going to have 85 on scholarship in the fall. I think we've had about ten walk-ons different that were on scholarships."
Q: What do you think of the pot-shots people are taking at this class, do you listen to that? "You know, I listen to our coaching staff and our needs and where we think we are."
"I mean, are there more players we want? Sure, I'd love… It's hard, I have to meet with kid sometimes, I wish we had more scholarships to give because there's more kids I'd love to give scholarships to. It just becomes that tricky balancing of need and position, that you fill those needs."
Q: The Ole Miss coach emphasized in-state and thought they'd beat State? "Good! That's good! I thought we did pretty well, too. I guess we'll find out next Thanksgiving, just like the last two Thanksgivings!"