There certainly will be plenty of emotions. Every upperclassman taking his Senior Day bow is taking part in something special. It's just that those who enrolled in 2009 hold something of a special place with Mullen. Of that group (see ‘The First Class' in the November 2012 issue of Dawgs' Bite Magazine) 13 are still playing their part in the program. Seven of them—Bumphis, Johnthan Banks, Josh Boyd, Brandon Heavens, Cameron Lawrence, Darius Slay, and Chris Smith—will be recognized Saturday morning prior to an 11:21 kickoff against Arkansas.
Bumphis is as fitting a representative for the group as any, since he had the most immediate impact of the group. Not necessarily from superior skills per se, but more from the absolute need Mullen's first team had for anyone that could make an offensive play. Whatever the reason Bumphis has benefitted; after 47 career games his name show up all over the receiving records lists.
In one case, touchdowns, it shows first; Bumphis has caught twenty scoring passes which surpasses a whole lot of big Bulldog names. He might not reach the total catches mark of 162; Bumphis has 144 with three games left. Then again a few more nine-grab games like at Baton Rouge last week would do the trick. And his 2,024 yards are 190 behind Mardye McDole's standard set 32 years ago.
Just don't ask the man himself to recite his own records. Bumphis claims not to know where he ranks on most of those cited charts. "I don't. The only one I know is the one I've got. No one really talks about it." This is something of a contrast to classmate Banks, who has for two years proclaimed his goal of setting the interceptions standard. Banks is tied for top right now at 16 with the same number of games left to set the record.
Not Bumphis. "One day this summer someone tweeted what I was close to. So I looked at it then. But I haven't looked at it since then."
Then again no one needs to remind Bumphis of the impact he and fellow ‘09ers have had here, not just on the record book but on Mississippi State's four-year record. When this bunch arrived it was a rare Bulldog team which had much chance to play beyond their Senior Day. Now State squads expect to go bowling every winter, just as this one will again. The goal has shifted from simply qualifying for post-season status, to securing the best bowl berth available.
Funny thing though. Despite enrolling as the first class of a new, aggressive coach with brash expectations, there was no sense of ‘ownership' by the ‘09ers at the time. At least Bumphis did not feel that way.
"You understand that you're going into college and you're a freshman, but you don't think about it like OK, this is our team already and we're expected to do so much. So we just wanted to come in and get our feet wet and get a feel for it. But we were thrown right in when we got here."
Bumphis certainly was. Setting aside the glaring need for receivers at the time to run Mullen's new-to-State spread offensive system, he already had a head start. He and the coach were already linked by prior recruiting. "I was probably one of the first people in Mississippi he met. Because when he was at Florida he came to see me at Tupelo." They must have struck it off very well indeed. Because after Florida coordinator Mullen was hired to coach Bulldog football, and long before Bumphis could sign, the two were already talking offense.
"The national championship game I texted and asked what the first play was. He gave me like the first ten-play sequence! I think they ran the first two or three, but after that it depended on the situation." Mullen obviously was depending upon Bumphis as soon as both were united on the MSU campus in summer 2009. "Because you see what kind of person he is and how competitive he is, you just bond with people like that," Bumphis said.
"And we've been close since then." How close? Very. "Yeah, my freshman year (Anthony) Dixon and B-Mac (Brandon McRae) called me ‘Chad Mullen'! We were real close." By the way, Bumphis affirms that some of those ten projected plays Mullen scripted for the B.C.S. title game appeared in the 2009 State playbook.
"Yeah, we've got a lot of the same ones. Our freshman year the package was so big! But we simplified it down." At least until 2012. Because now with a matured receiver corps built around Bumphis, Smith, and Arceto Clark; and as importantly '09 prize recruit quarterback Tyler Russell, the playbook is far bigger these days.
Mississippi State will need to maximize these potential plays this weekend, too. If Senior Day is to be a complete success the whole team has to beat a dangerous guest. Arkansas is teetering on missing bowl season for the first time since, ironically, 2008. That was also the last time a Bulldog team beat the Razorbacks, and at Scott Field to boot.
Bumphis has a heads-up for everyone expecting a lot of home-team fireworks after kickoff. "They're pretty good on defense. A lot of people look down on them because of their record, but if you look at there's still top-25 talent all around. So we're going to have to play." And, he added, take advantage of an Arkansas defense that has given up some yards, plays, and points via passing.
"As receivers you always want stuff like that. We just want the ball and we're looking to make a lot of plays." Which Mississippi State did when running, and passing, off on a seven-win streak to open the 2012 season. The results took a turn for the worse these last three weeks, albeit against a trio of Western Division opponents who all rank in the top-ten today.
Still the offense showed signs at LSU of getting back on the previous pace so Bumphis is optimistic again. As he should be, having caught touchdowns the past two weekends to extend his career record; and pull him within one of the season mark of nine caught-scores set by Justin Jenkins in 2003.
Bumphis can also count on hearing the cheers when introduced with fellow seniors. Some of them, personal. "I think it will be pretty good. I've got a lot of friends that already go to school here, but even some of my friends from Ole Miss are coming down! So I think it will be pretty good." Yeah, but will those buddies attending the rival school dress appropriately for the occasion. I.E., in maroon?
"They're going to have to!" Bumphis grinned. Just as he did when asked if, for the home-field finale, Mullen might give the receiver and one-time high school quarterback another chance to throw and at last complete a pass? Bumphis has been bringing it up this week to be sure, as he wants to show off the arm one more time.
"But it's not been so successful here!"