Market Has A Strong Nose For Safety Work

Say this for Kendrick Market. He might not have expected to be in such a responsible position, but with a game on the line he was the right Bulldog in the right place to literally save a game.

"Yeah, I saw when he broke out I knew I had to make a tackle," said Market. ‘He' being Kentucky back Raymond Sanders, who was about to turn a 4th-and-1 at Mississippi State's 49-yard line into a breakaway touchdown. Only strong safety Market had a chance to stop Bulldog disaster…and he did, coming in fast from Sanders' right side.

"I went over there and roll-tackled him. I knew when I rolled him, I was going to get him on the ground." Which Market did, dropping Sanders at the 43. Sure, it moved the chains and gave the Wildcats a fresh set of downs. But the sophomore had save State's day, and if it wasn't a head-up type of tackle the rolling approach worked just fine against a physical sort of runner. "Nah, he's pretty thick, man!"

Thick and thin, Market is quickly establishing himself as someone worth watching—and watching out for too. After being shoved into first-team duty on opening day by injury to Jay Hughes, the second-year varsity Dog has blossomed at this central position in Mississippi State's secondary.

"I mean it wasn't too bad. I've been doing it but it's just when Jay left I had to step my game up a little more."

Little bit? Try a lot. Assuming Hughes' position less than a quarter into the season Market has thrived under the pressure. His 30 total tackles are third-best on the entire team, behind only linebackers Benardrick McKinney and Deontae Skinner. Equally impressive, he's a couple of stops ahead of free safety Nickoe Whitley whether overall or in SEC-only play.

True, the strong safety—in this defensive scheme—is supposed to find his way into lots of contact. Yet Market is more than affirming the reputation reflected by his nickname of ‘Poke Dog'. Which to Coach Geoff Collins means Market manages to poke his hard nose into everything. That is why the coordinator calls Market pound-for-pound one of the best players in the entire conference.

"I look at it as a compliment," said Market who is listed for the record at 190 pounds. "I know I try to do what I can do."

The item of his to-do list isn't making tackles, though that is the intended end-product. Hughes, a junior and late-season starter in 2012, was groomed as the organizer of the defensive secondary. Within minutes of 2013 kickoff he was done with a lower-leg injury, and today he is still wearing a boot on the left leg as he recovers from September surgery.

Cue Market, who had practiced all spring and preseason as the backup. Soon as Hughes was helped off the Reliant Stadium field, Market was on it and has been strong safety since. "I mean it's a big, big step up," he said. "Jay had that enthusiasm, that confidence back there, he had a great attitude. So I just had to step up for him."

Not just him but the whole secondary. Communication, that was the heaviest responsibility at first.

"Jay communicated well out there. I don't talk that much so that's the biggest deal, communicating with the other guys." This meant asserting himself to a degree beyond his age and experience too, yet Market has made that transition by now. "Getting people lined up, and knowing what the offense is going to do before they even do it."

Market's situation is the epitome of mixed emotions. As a competitor he is obviously enjoying his newfound status as a starter, and as ‘quarterback' of the secondary. Oh, and yes, he played some high school quarterback as well and definitely uses such past experiences to his current benefit. "You're a leader back there. You know what that quarterback is going to do before he even does it. Some quarterbacks in college just look at their receivers, stare them down, so I know then where they're going with the ball."

At the same time, he hurts for his injured cohort. "When I first came in Jay was my ‘big brother' so every time we got a chance we'd talk, hang out, I'd text him every day."

"I wasn't expecting it to go down like that. Jay worked hard and to end a season like that, I wasn't expecting to play that early." But here he is playing a lot more than anyone anticipated. Making it somewhat easier to handle is the extra coaching Market receives from Hughes. Both of them actually, as father Tony is the safeties coach. Jay might actually be more critical at times though.

"Every time we go in the film room he's letting me know what I did wrong. At practice he's giving me some pointers what I need to do better and stuff like that."

The Bulldog way of playing safeties suits Market nicely. An all-purpose performer at South Panola High, he understands the entire game from all angles and that overcomes some self-perceived deficits. "I'm small, I ain't that fast, so I have to be a coach out there on the field!" Actually Market is a good size for safety, and as fast as necessary.

The brains, oh absolutely. Last week's game-saving stop was as much recognition as reaction getting him in position to do what he does best. "Tackle. I think I tackle well," he said.

"Basically at free you're going to be in a box more. At strong you're roaming. But I've played both and like both, really. I'd like to stay at strong. Because I can make calls, oh yeah!"

And then go poke that Dog's nose into action. Speaking of which, Collins isn't responsible for the whole nickname, just part of it. Market has been called Poke since eighth grade he said. "My name was Pokey at first, it's something my granddaddy used to call me." Not, he stresses, from being slow. Friends shortened it to Poke, and here at State the Dog was natural.

"Yeah, I guess so! But that's what I'm supposed to do, stick my nose in and try to hit."

Market and team have a lot of hitting ahead as Mississippi State takes on #14 South Carolina this Saturday. The Gamecocks bring both power running with big-strike passing, and a ground-gaining quarterback to boot. That assures a busy afternoon for safety Market, and is the next test for a Bulldog secondary still putting pieces into places.

But making crucial stops to seal both the Bowling Green and Kentucky wins were signs of progress, Market said. "I mean we've took a big step ahead. Everybody was downing us, we lost a couple of corners and a safety. But we've stepped up, all our young guys have stepped up, and we did great."

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