And, it was done with a modest-sized roster. Not on talent or potential but numbers, as Mullen counts 20 newcomers for 2013. "We got 16 new guys joining the family today, we had four come in at mid-semester obviously but 16 new guys today that joined us. So, really excited about it."
A little more excitement seemed in store, as Mississippi State remained in-play for a couple more signees. A 17th recruit was anticipated before the day was out, and another won't make his college call for at least one more week. Mullen could not discuss unsigned or unconfirmed signees Wednesday.
There were some obvious highlights to this 2013 group, capped by elite national-prospect and defensive end Chris Jones. His recruitment, most of all the final weekend, wrought a classic and confusing Mississippi soap opera of twists, turns, rumors and rants. In the end Jones, ranked #2 at his position nationally, lived up to his long-ago-given word and signed Mississippi State papers.
Mullen was also able to score such ‘style points' in the recruiting ratings with the state's Gatorade Player of the Year in running back Ashton Shumpert; and to coax Texas receiver Fred Ross to Mississippi. A PARADE All-American, Ross extends Mullen's streak of signing one member off that elite national squad each year with Mississippi State.
One difference in year-five from Mullen's previous classes was a larger proportion of out-of-state recruits. Only eight of these 20 hail from Mississippi addresses. Another shift in emphasis was after investing heavily in defensive players a year ago, Mullen and staff leaned to offense this time around.
The transcript of Mullen's signing day press conference follows.
"You look at the consistency of the stuff we've done. I think getting the Gatorade Player of the Year in the state with Ashton Shumpert. And another PARADE All-American this year with Fred Ross coming over from Tyler, Texas. And the top player in the state I guess by most people's consensus in Chris Jones, if not the top player in the country. So a pretty exciting day for us, lot of fun here and looking forward to getting these guys."
"Now, the next big step, the hard part is waiting. Because you get all excited on signing day, you know, it's like Christmas morning. And then you've got to wait until, whenever they show up on campus. And wait to August practice to get to get on the field with them."
"But a pretty exciting day for us with a lot of good guys we're really excited about."
You said this morning Jones told you all along he was committed, when did you last talk to him? "I talked to him about 12:30 last night. We were driving in, actually we were fogged-in in Starkville so we had to land in Tupelo coming back from the Thorpe Award last night. And on the drive back he called me and said Coach, I'm ready to go tomorrow morning, all fired-up."
"I think it is a lot of drama, I think the media created a lot of drama with Chris. And he learns, as you do with young kids their first time dealing with all this stuff. But like I said, all along he said hey Coach, I'm coming to be a Bulldog. And I trusted him from day-one and he never wavered on that with me."
You never had concerns with secret visits to Ole Miss? "Well he told me a lot of stuff he was doing. I mean, people called me on twitter like he was at the Super Bowl, right? I think he was spotted at the Thorpe Award briefly last night and spotted all over the place! But you know what, he'd always been pretty open with me with everything going on."
Talk about signing six wide receivers? "Yeah, adding some size when you look at the guys coming in. Shelby Christy is a smooth, tall, great athlete, I mean really good before and after the catch coming in. B.J. Hammond with just incredible size, just the thickness, the big body; plus being a tall receiver. Fred Ross, I mean one of the top receivers in the country as a PARADE All-American. And De'Runnya Wilson who is a big giant, tall receiver, I think he was nominated to play in the McDonalds All-American basketball game as well. So when you look at the athleticism at that position and the size at that position it helps. Because with all the receivers we have leaving those guys are going to have to step in and play right away."
How many do you expect to contribute right away? "Well, Chappelle obviously. Junior college guys that get here early obviously have a huge edge getting on the field first, because they get to go through spring practice. That's all the guys that came in early. But those (younger) guys, I don't now. I mean, there's going to be spots open. So until we get them out there to practice, see how fast they pick up the offense, see how fast they adapt to the speed of the Southeastern Conference, determine who gets on the field first."
Did the addition of Tim Brewster help extend your brand outside Mississippi? "Tim is a great recruiter and did do a good job. I think all our staff did a great job this year within recruiting. One thing Tim brings us is being a head coach it kind of makes my life a little bit easier at times. Because he knows what I'm going through and he knows the thought process and sometimes what the head coach is dealing with. And someone good to keep bouncing ideas off of and being there and help with the recruiting aspect of things."
Was size at receiver a concerted effort? "No, as we were evaluating guys, as we rated our guys, those were the guys that kind of jumped to the forefront that we wanted. And those are the guys that we ended up getting. So I think we hit a pretty good success rate when we looked at our receivers, that we were going after and who we got."
"But I think looks at the offense, at a lot of the records we set throwing the ball this past year, the school records; and the fact that there's going to be an opportunity to play early I'm sure really weighed in on that."
You have to wait on a decision by Cord Sandberg and baseball this summer? "Yeah, in getting to know Cord and his family, that's a win-win situation. If he goes really high, if he goes in the first round of the baseball draft, hey, I'm happy for him, proud for him. That's a pretty big deal and with some of the financial security that also brings to a family in the long term. I think that's fantastic, and he's such a great kid. I think it would be well-deserved."
"And the downside, if he doesn't go in the first round draft pick? Well, that's a great situation too, he gets to come play quarterback in the Southeastern Conference. So with him and his recruitment, we kind of knew what was going on, he knew what was going on, we were always very open about it with everything. And as I said I don't think there's a bad ending to it either way."
Could Sandberg play baseball too? "Absolutely. I've had guys do it before. I know one of Cord's concerns being a quarterback and having to do it. I think the relationship that John (Cohen) and I have certainly would really lead to making that easy. There is some extra development it takes to be a quarterback. The benefit of being a field player, being an outfielder, I think that also makes it a little bit easier. You are looking out our 15 spring practices and their season. That's really when you're working together. The rest of the time ‘hey I can get a workout, I can get a (batting practice) in the morning I can get a lift in, in the afternoon, I can throw with the wide outs in the morning and get quick fielding practice in the afternoon'. It's when we are kind of going through spring ball, they are in season that you work it out. I think that is something we will definitely be able to work out."
Was John able to help with recruiting? "It helped. We get so many visits. John used one of those in home visits earlier this year. I think it just helps. The great communication that we've had with myself, our program, John and his program and then the family's experience in baseball. Especially the family's experience in professional baseball. I think it will end up being a win-win for everybody."
You made defensive staff changes between the bowl and signings, it did not seem to be a hitch? "You bring a guy in like David Turner who is so well respected, knows the school, knows what expected of us here, knows what's going on, I think that was a smooth transition. Bring in Deshea Townsend, I think it was great learning for him. This is his first time recruiting. Last time he saw any of this he was being recruited! His ability to relate to players and his experience in professional football will attract kids."
Your thoughts on committed players wanting to visit other places? "It is all very individual-based kind of how you do it. The biggest one to me is why? ‘Hey coach I just want to take a visit'; people are going to question are you committed? They are questioning your character. All this outside perception, you're opening up for."
"The next question is ‘I want to take a visit because I'm not sure I want to come play for you. I want to really look at other schools.' That's a little different. You say OK, obviously you are going to take these visit, it's hard to view those guys as really committed anymore at that point. You have to look around and make sure you are balancing out your class and what you need."
What were your thoughts of Chris Jones and other visits? "He's a 17-year old kid. Some of these kids, I bet if you expanded recruiting out a couple more weeks, they might take a couple more visits. I think he wants to go have a good time. It's always hard to judge what's going on in a 17-year old's mind from minute to minute sometimes. It's a fun challenge what goes on with those guys. I remember being 17 too and the thoughts that go through your mind. You are thinking about all kinds of different things that sometimes grownups, I guess that's what I am now, is a grownup unfortunately, sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad. Grownups think a little differently, so you have always got to relate to their minds."
You were able to get another quarterback in Damian Williams? "It was great. It was something all along as we went through the season, talked about Cord, talking about getting a second quarterback in this recruiting class. He knew that from day-one, it was something we would consider doing."
"The toughest part about getting a quarterback is finding all the things you don't see on film that are critical. You think we've got it with Damian. All-state player, led his team to the state championship and point guard on the basketball team. You go walk around at Rummel (High School) and you can't find anybody that is going to say anything but wow, this kid is special. He has got the ‘it' you are looking for. The fact that he can really spin the ball, the ball jumps out of his hands when throws it. It brings a little bit of size to him running the football. Not just power running, but also as an athlete, has that size to be able to come in and be dual threat guy. We are very excited to have him as a part of the program."
Are you getting more running and bigger quarterbacks? "I think it is kind of, who's out there for you? It hasn't been a consorted effort to just say hey lets try to get this style of guy. Our focus at the quarterback position is always the same. Let's go get a guy that has the ‘it'. The guys that I've coached that aren't great runners if we could get a couple more years of eligibility out of Alex Smith or Chris Leak, I'd been into it! I'd still take them even though they weren't the dynamic runners that maybe some of the other guys I've had were. For us we look in terms, the big picture for us or the intangibles."
What do you expect from the cornerbacks? "Justin (Cox) a guy that we need to step in and play immediately. As you look at things, when you come at that position, Jamerson Love got a bunch of experience at the nickel last year playing for us. With him, with Justin, Cedric Jiles—without the wrist injury he would've ended up playing for us last year. And then Taveze Calhoun played for us last year. So there's some experience right there, but obviously recruiting-wise Justin's the guy we're going to count on to step in and play immediately."
Talk about recruiting Fred Ross? "Because of the family relationships he had, and we had offered him early on, he'd always had interest in us. He took an unofficial visit out here in the summer, got to see campus, and we've just been in constant communication with him the whole way through. When he took the official visit out here and his family came here, he felt how much he fit in with the guys here, I think he knew this was the place for him. There was a lot of celebrating for us when he told us he was coming."
Did you remind him who you play in the season opener? "No. I don't want to ruin his shock, but I had some information that that was happening before. But I happened to be in Oklahoma City last night when that news broke, and Joe (Galbraith) hit me and said, hey, Fred Ross is out. I'm looking around me saying maybe we've got to sneak out the back door to get out of here right now, because there were certainly some Cowboy fans in the audience last night! I don't know if it'll add more to it. That'll just be a fun game anyway between our teams."
What do you like about Gabe Myles as a defensive player? "Obviously he's a winner. And I think you saw that at different times this year. When Starkville High School, the game was on the line, he made all the plays. Obviously he's a phenomenal athlete. Again, we project him playing corner. I made that mistake with Jameon Lewis a couple of years ago, and he ended up playing receiver. When you project these guys, it's hard, but obviously we think he's a very, very talented athlete and a guy that when the game's on the line, he's making all the plays. That's the type of guy you want on the field for you."
Does Ashton Shumpert bring size and speed? "He has the ability to play both ways probably for us. There are a bunch of different positions he could play. We're going to look at him playing tailback for us. We're really excited about that, him being the tailback of the future for us. Since day-one he's been the #1 tailback on our board when you look at what he brings to the table. His size and his physical ability, but he has the foot quickness to make people miss. But even more so the mindset. When you talk about the respect he had of other players down at the Mississippi-Alabama game, that's something that when you talk to those guys, say, hey, who do you respect, who do you like down there, and they say, that Ashton Shumpert's a worker. That's what fits into our program. We tell these guys, we want guys that will come in and work hard, develop to become the best that they can be. Even though you might not be the most heavily recruited guy in the country, four years later you're winning the Thorpe Award, because you're willing to outwork people. Those are the type of guys that we want."
This class had a lot of non-Mississippi guys, is going outside the state the next step? "Yeah, you know what, not the next step. I think all the other schools in the state are making a much more concerted effort to recruit the state as well. I think that's fantastic. It shows, we've had success doing it, and so I guess imitation's a great form of flattery to come and say, hey, let's try to get more kids from the state of Mississippi. But I also think the success that we've had over the last couple of years has certainly helped give us a lot better name recognition throughout really the Southeast."
Did this new Complex make any difference with recruitings? "I think it'll probably have even more of an effect next year. The kids in this year, most of those kids had kind of made a decision by the time we were actually in the building, and they got to come in to see the finishing. We're still not even finished, we're still getting some things done. What it does not just this year and next year, not just with this facility and the stadium, they see the commitment that Scott Stricklin and Dr. Keenum have made to the athletic department and especially the football program for us to continue to compete and fight to find a way to get a championship here in the Southeastern Conference."
You signed three in-state offensive linemen? "Really excited about them. Jake Thomas, I was joking earlier, I've been recruiting him since I got here. First time here, David Turner came in and said we've got to get this lineman in Columbus. I said, great, he said I think he's in eighth grade right now. I'm like, holy cow! So every year Jake would come over in the spring I'd be like is this it? No, coach, I'm only a sophomore right now--I'm like, holy cow--I'm only going into my junior year. All right. But we've been on him for a long time. Obviously has played a lot of football, has that experience, had that size early on, but also for his size one thing that helps him is he's been big for a long time, so he know how to move his body. He's adjusted to being a big man and can move his feet. On top of it, he's a great student. Really excited about having him in."
"Jamaal Clayborn, same way, a guy that is what I believe in the program a hard, hard worker. You look, he takes advantage of his opportunities. He's already telling me about hey, I'm down to this weight, I'm checking my body fat, I'm working. I want to come in, I'm ready to go Day 1. That type of energy and enthusiasm, you get excited about."
"And Kent Flowers, who playing smaller school football, playing out in Hollandale Simmons, is a guy that I think has a really bright, bright future ahead of him. You look at his athleticism, you look at his feet. I like to trust a lot of the high school coaches, talking to them at the Mississippi-Alabama game, they said, wow, you know, he's got some really good raw potential. He hasn't completely grown yet as a player, but he's extremely athletic, so we're really excited about him as well."
After five classes have you gotten the roster to the balance you want? "We're getting there. It's never easy to get there, you know what I mean? There are always different scenarios, different situations that are going to affect you and how many you take in each class. I think now we've been able to get pretty good balance. You look at some of the depth."
"Obviously receiver is something that is still balancing out because all of those guys had to come in and play right away as freshmen for us. Defensive backs are still balancing a little bit overall you look at a lot of positions, I think we've got some decent depth as we move forward. We're a young team. We've got 11 seniors next year, so we're going to be a very, very young team but I do think we've created some good depth, the type of depth you need to compete in this league."
What stands out about the offensive recruits? "Last year it was all boy, we had a big defensive class and a smaller offensive class. I still think that goes on and it kind of goes from year to year a little bit and how it transitions itself. But when you look at overall 20 guys right now, that is a pretty good balance for us. Twenty guys a year should be about your normal signing class year in and year out."
Is this class finished? "There could be one or two more things that come up here in the future but I don't know if we'll expect much more today or in the next couple of weeks you could have a little more going on. With the twenty guys in, there's some room and you have to look. You're always checking with our trainers. There's always potential of medical redshirts and guys end up transferring. You hope not. There tends to be an attrition guy here and there every once in a while and those are things we'll keep an eye on as we move forward."
Would you consider it normal if a kid didn't know where he wanted to go on signing day? "We communicate. I tell guys to be honest with us. We're a big, honest program. We're going to tell you where you're at and what we feel about things and how things are going to shape up. To me, I tell young guys to be honest and be up front. If you like us a lot, say hey, coach, you're my first. I love you. I just want to look around to make sure. I'd say, hey, if we're ever caught in a bind where numbers are tight. I'll let you know. I'm going to have to know and let you make a decision at that point or we move on."
"As far as the guys who are committed, we tell them: a commitment and what it means to us. We ask them because here's the big thing. These guys sign today and they're going to make a lot of commitments to this program to be successful over the next four years. Commitments in going to school and commitments in growing socially, growing spiritually, commitments in growing at practice and commitments in growing as an overall football player on Saturdays. There are a lot more commitments that have to be made for them to succeed and we want to make sure our guys understand that."
Do you like the collection of Mississippi talent? "Yeah, we do. We do. Again, Mississippi is a fun, great place to recruit. A lot of people say Chris Jones might be the #1 player in the country. Six months ago nobody even had him on. He wasn't, I don't want to single any of your guys' individual summer newspaper lists or whatever you all have, and he really on those lists this summer. Here is six months later and a lot of people think he might be the best player in the country. That's the fun part of recruiting Mississippi."
"Again, I always take this and we'll see how successful this recruiting class a couple of years down the road. My first recruiting class, wow, that was a pretty successful class. Wrapping up last night with a guy who had one scholarship offer in Oklahoma City and there were more people at the banquet than live in Maben, Mississippi. They're there to celebrate him winning the Jim Thorpe Award, a national award. Four years ago you probably wouldn't have projected that at that point but it's great getting out and seeing the talented young guys and evaluating these young players who might not have as much national recognition as most states. But seeing them come into your program and succeed is pretty special."
Chris Jones told us he talked to you and Hugh Freeze at 6:00 am? "I talked to him at 12:30 last night. I learned a long time ago with Chris. What I learned from him is he's going to tell me what's going on. Everything else you hear out there might not be the reality of what might be going on. He said, coach, I've got you. I trust you."
Could Wilson play basketball? "At the receiver position it helps, you know what I'm saying? A quarterback, again… It's position by position, dual-athletes change. When you're a receiver, we want them to be athletic. Rick, if he goes and plays basketball, he'd want him to be athletic and that's what those guys are."