First Bowl Appearance Has Bumphis On The Run

He welcomes playing another football game. He enjoys opportunity to participate in post-season activities. And he gladly accepts any and all bowl gifts. Still the very best aspect to the 2011 Music City Bowl is what Chad Bumphis is not doing this December. "Last year at this time I was running stadiums."

Right, running stadium steps, not running around the field. It still stings Bumphis a bit that as Mississippi State rang out their breakout 2010 season with victory in the Gator Bowl, he was confined to the sidelines. That shoulder busted making a big first-half catch in the Egg Bowl meant Bumphis had to miss the on-field fun of routing Michigan on New Years Day.

Fast forward to the present. "It's a whole lot better now. I mean, I'd much rather be practicing, easily," Bumphis smiled. "Like when we got to Jacksonville last year me and Marcus Green were running stadiums with Coach Balis."

Come next Friday Bumphis and tight end Green get to run real game routes again, after Mississippi State (6-6) and Wake Forest (6-6) kick it off on LP Field. It will be Bumphis' first full bowl experience too, an overdue sort of reward for the part this true junior has played in rebuilding Bulldog football over these three seasons with Coach Dan Mullen's program.

Yet don't overlook how much stock an old Dog puts in simply practicing for a bowl game. It isn't just that he is glad to be full-speed for this post-season; Bumphis really has taken to the camp tasks with zest more suitable to youngsters. "These practices are huge for us, just working on smaller things. I mean, we're just working on our base offense. As far as the bowl game I think we're ready to play."

For that matter the Bulldogs have been playing football most of these allotted bowl prep dates. Anyone watching their 7-on-7 or full-team drills; or the down-and-distance situations and scrimmaging, can attest. This month has had the competitiveness of a spring game, spiced by the just-experienced season's results. The difference was obvious.

"Yeah, it's a lot more fun," Bumphis said. "The thing is there's no scout team, so you get to watch everybody and get to see where everybody has come from since the beginning of the fall. So it's real fun."

Now, the natural temptation for an elder member, much less a full-time starter, would be to ease-up and let the kids have all the fun. Uh-uhhh, not C-Bump. Or many of his peers, either. Take the practice day when Mullen had the first teamers doing routine pass catch/cover drills, one on one. Bumphis was matched on first-team cornerback Johnthan Banks, his classmate and compadre these three seasons.

No pass ever got thrown on that matchup because Bumphis and Banks immediately locked up and kept at it well after the whistle sounded. Old grudge? Nah, just athlete against athlete, skill against still, and yes pride vs. pride. Neither came out the winner of this wrassling match, by the way.

"I love that drill, that's one of my favorite drills," Bumphis said. "Between the lines it's just like he's on a whole different team! But outside of practice we're best friends!" Good to know, because it sure looked intense there between numbers 1 and 13.

"Yeah, but at times like this you've got the young guys watching," explained Bumphis. "So our job is to set an example for them, so they'll know how to practice."

How to play, too. Obviously a young Bulldog wideout would be wise choosing to follow Bumphis' example. Here through three seasons (and bowl stats count) he already has 100 career catches, only the eighth State receiver ever to reach triple-digits. He has caught a ball in every career game played but once, against UAB as a sophomore. His 1,351 yards are just 40 outside top-ten status, and his 12 touchdowns rank sixth-most already.

Yet there was still a public sense of incompleteness about 2011. Having caught 76 balls his first two seasons, Bumphis dropped off to 24 grabs in this regular season. Interestingly, his average gain per-grab went up a bit. One might argue that he was a victim of general offensive inefficiency in the first half of the campaign, as State scrambled around injuries on the line and related uncertainty in execution.

There's a better explanation why, after topping his team in receptions the first two seasons, Bumphis wasn't as obvious a go-to guy in the passing game. He had more help. A lot more. It wasn't just how fellow juniors such as Chris Smith and Arceto Clark came into their own in '11, but other offensive options emerged. Such as tight end Malcolm Johnson, or a healthy Green for that matter. More balls were thrown to running backs this season as the repertoire expanded.

And even as this junior campaign approaches the end, Bumphis can foresee similar spreading-of-wealth in 2012. When not taking practice snaps of his own this month, the ranking veteran of the receiver corps has had extra time to observe the youngest members. Some have already been game-seasoned, such as Jameon Lewis. A second-year frosh, Lewis still had to settle for limited turns as wideout most times.

But he made up for it with over-time work in bowl camp.

"Jameon is good," said Bumphis. "He'll be real good. It's like I said, just small things right now we're working on. So once he gets everything down, and is understanding the defense, he'll be real good." Or take some even fresher men who earned practice-report attention for their routes run and balls caught. In fact, Bumphis thinks Joe Morrow and Devin Fosselman are ready to play now after sitting out the fall. Not that they will in Nashville, of course…

But as 2012 dawns? "They look good. But mainly just because they feel comfortable, you can tell. Joe is a lot more comfortable. So they both look real good." Good enough to force their way into the spring practice competition? Even to threaten some of the already-proven pass catchers? That is what spring is for.

In fact, bowl camp gave Bumphis some extra direct experience with the new kids because of how lineups where shuffled. "It let them go sometimes against the ones, sometimes against the threes, just to see where they are and where they need to be." And, by the way, to remind elder State-smen that they oughtn't assume safe status next season. "Yeah, it's possible!" Bumphis smiled.

Speaking of possibilities… What has grabbed Bulldog bowl prep headlines is the uncertain quarterback depth chart. Well, at least the top slot is certain; senior Chris Relf will wear the uniform for the last time next Friday as starter. Now, as to how much alternate and third-year sophomore Tyler Russell can go on his sprained left knee is another matter. One which Mullen won't settle until game-day or even kickoff.

And the only other quarterback on the roster, scholarship or walk-on, is redshirting freshman Dak Prescott who will not burn an entire year on one bowl game. So what if...?

Ahem, Bumphis can interrupt. There is another option. Literally, as back in the day at Tupelo High he took over as quarterback when a touted triggerman-teammate was injured, and produced winning results. And hey, on the very first play of his college career, and Mullen's tenure, Bumphis took an end-around pitch and threw a pass. Incompleted, true, but a real pass.

Ever since then Bumphis has lobbied for more such shots to take, well, shots. And given a thin bowl depth chart, c'mon Coach, why not? Bumphis knows why not bring it up right now.

"Nah, not yet! I'll say something about it in spring, but not yet! I think we'll be fine for the bowl game. I'm sure I could, but…nah!"

Oh, and Chad Bumphis will be just fine playing in the stadium this bowl game...not running up and down the steps.

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