Jiles Sees Bowl Camp As A 2013 Starting Point

He still doesn't know whose hat he hit. The painful lesson learned, now that's still very clear to Cedric Jiles as he flexes the right hand cracked back in September.

"I broke it when I was running down the field and didn't say ‘I got it'," the freshman cornerback explained. "And I hit somebody's helmet. I was trying to hit the ball. I don't even remember whose helmet it was."

Certainly Jiles can't forget the results. Fortunately there is no cast on the hand to remind him these days; just the normal playing glove. One would never know it contained a busted bone that cut short Jiles' unexpectedly early activation as a true freshman. Well, not unless one tried to shake the hand or something stupid like that.

"Now it's getting better, but I still feel it every now and then," Jiles admitted.

There do not seem to be any painful feelings as Jiles participates in Mississippi State's practices for the Gator Bowl. He is out there taking his turns in the backup cornerback rotation as if nothing ever happened. He's also showing why Coach Dan Mullen and staff activated him so early, battling on apparently even terms with veteran backups Taveze Calhoun and Jamerson Love in bowl camp.

"It's really just going hard every day and making improvement every day," he said. Jiles' status of the moment points to another unusual fact about this frosh. Even after the early-season injury he did not drop down to scout team duty.

"I was still with the varsity, I still played with them every practice everything. I basically went on like I was still playing." Only, he wasn't. His season ended after three games during which he'd found his way into five tackles. Making contact with a helmet instead of the football during that midweek passing drill interrupted everything, and he knew it.

"I pretty much figured it out, because my hand was hurting so much. I was like I guess its just best to sit out."

Yet even then there remained some thought that Jiles would return to action, showing just how highly his new skills are regarded. "And I was going to go in for my team. I wanted to play, I was going to go in and take the pain and play hard for my team."

As it turned out his services were not requested again, though Jiles did stay with the varsity for the next two months. Now in bowl camp he has dropped back into the mix with other underclassmen as everyone gets refresher courses on their positions. He had not been definitely ruled-out of the Gator Bowl as of Wednesday…but most figure now the smart call is to call it a season and in due time request a retroactive medical redshirt for a legitimate, shows-on-x-rays injury.

But then the temptation will still be there.

Here we use ‘precocious' to describe many freshman year players who impress immediately. In Jiles' case this adjective falls short. It isn't merely because a first-fall cornerback found his way on the field as part of a veteran Bulldog secondary that was not hurting for depth. It was who all had to move aside and make room for this rookie. Remember, any snaps Jiles received came off the account of an all-conference starter first, and then two pretty promising backups in their own right in Calhoun or Love.

This is what makes Jiles' case so remarkable, and his future so promising. Not, he said, that he is assuming anything for granted just because the coaches thought enough of his youthful talents to play him immediately and alongside older Dogs. That actually has accelerated his development, not only technically but intangibly.

"The biggest thing I learned it just to work hard. And if you work hard good things will come. Jonthan Banks told me that!"

Yes, big Dog Banks, the Thorpe Award winner and All-American example for every Bulldog defensive back. It is part of his lasting greatness that Banks didn't just attend to his own senior season opportunities; he's taken it upon himself to prepare his successors to, well, succeed.

"He does," said Jiles. "He's on all of us just to work hard, and he's a great person." By the same token this freshman has benefitted from the other senior starter of 2012, maybe more so technically because Jiles has worked most at the same position as Darius Slay.

"I'm behind Slay a lot. I'm a field corner so I kind of watch him the most. He's great fundamentally and technique-wise, and everything. He's a good person and great corner."

Mississippi State has gotten spoiled having outstanding corner-coverage whether by Banks, Slay, or Corey Broomfield. They're all bowing-out after this Gator Bowl though, and come spring the depth chart shuffles. Calhoun and Love have the edge of course based on their combined experiences. At the same time, Jiles is ready to resume competing for his own snaps…maybe even starting status. And there is a classmate who did redshirt this year despite his own impressive young skills. Jiles likes the idea of becoming the next cornerback tag-team with Will Redmond.

"I see that. Because we're similar in a lot of ways. I can't really tell a difference because we work together so hard. So we're basically playing the same; some more aggressively and some better fundamentally. But it will all come in time."

A time not all that far off either as when New Years Day ends the handoff from Banks & Co. takes place and the next cornerback era begins. "I'm looking forward to it," Jiles smiled.

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