“Every guy that played quarterback on the team tries to let me know every time I’m throwing, ‘let me show you how it’s done’,” Prescott said. And that’s a long list indeed because quite a few current Dogs were calling the cadence in their prep days. In fact Coach Dan Mullen has often proudly reminded how often Mississippi State recruits quarterbacks to become quality players at other positions.
Two of them are up for post-season honors at these spots, too. Benardrick McKinney is recognized as one of the best linebackers in the country today. Jameon Lewis could become the first Bulldog wide receiver to make first team All-SEC in two decades.
At the same time…once a quarterback at whatever age, always a quarterback in at least some sense. And if they want to pester Prescott with tips on how to read a defense or deliver a ball, well, why not? “It’s fun, they all want to get out there and throw the ball and goof around every now and then,” Prescott said. And since they judge him, it is fair to ask Prescott: between Lewis and McKinney which throws the better ball?
“Oh, Jameon by far! Benardrick, I’m glad he switched positions!”
WATCH AND WAIT: Prescott is on the Maxwell Award watch list and has an excellent chance to be on the O’Brien Award list when it comes out later in the week. Lewis was included on the Biltetnikoff Award list for top college receiver. The senior certainly is tops among Bulldog wideouts, after his 64-catch, 923-yard junior season with five touchdowns.
McKinney trumps both in this area at least, as he is up for three of the major post-season prizes. Today it was announced the Lombardi Award will be tracking Mississippi State’s linebacker along with the Butkus and Bednarik awards. Those latter two named McKinney to their 2013 watch-lists as well, but this is his first time on the Lombardi list.
Either way, ”It’s a great honor,” McKinney said, “not really coming from much in Tunica, Mississippi. My Mom always told me to be humble, so it take it day by day and just be a great player.”
McKinney is great enough at this junior season stage that many assume he will be moving up to pro football in 2015. There was even talk last fall of leaving after the sophomore year, and McKinney admitted today he thought about it a little. Enough so that he recognized the need to return and do what it takes to get a good draft slot. Which means,,,?
“To make plays. I mean, Coach put me in a great position plays, but to make bigger plays, to make unbelievable plays, people like ‘oh wow!’. Plays like that.”
Some people have already said wow about McKinney. He was listed by one national outlet among their twenty ‘freak athletes’ in college football. It’s a compliment he accepts, conditionally.
“Knowing me, I have high expectations of myself. I mean I feel I’m just a normal player, I guess I like being hard on myself. My friends tell me you’re good, but me? I’m really not satisfied with what I’m doing right now.”
SPEAKING OF FREAKS: The Lombardi watch lineup includes another Bulldog, sophomore defensive lineman Chris Jones. Jones, one of the most impressive freshman defenders in many Mississippi State seasons and already a rising SEC star, was an honorable mention all-conference pick by AP after seven tackles for losses and a team-best ten hurries despite playing rotation duty.
So it’s well and good to tell McKinney how he is a freaky athlete. But Jones? “He’s a freak,” McKinney emphasizes. “He’s a big man, he’s fast, he’s athletic, he’s very strong. I encourage him every day to be the best he can be. And I just think of when he’s in the game or in practice that can’t nobody block him. He’s a big freak.”
WELCOME ABOARD: While they were representing Mississippi State as veteran players today, the three Dogs in Hoover had pressing duty back home. They are setting a summer tone for a bunch of pups just getting into the college football culture. These are the incoming freshmen Bulldogs of 2014 who have been cleared in time for summer enrollment. Most received certification in time for June, too, with a couple more added last week.
McKinney has been working with the new teammates for weeks now and likes what he’s seen from Mullen’s most recent recruiting class. “The freshmen, they’re hard workers. They can run a lot, too! Conditioning-wise those boys can run. They listen to everything the older guys tell them to do, what Coach Court is telling them to do. Their work ethic is good.”
Asked which rookie has caught his eye already, naturally McKinney called upon somebody who in time could take over his own position. “Gerri Green, he’s a tall guy already and very athletic. He listens, he’s very humble, he doesn’t say too much but when he does he’s a very cool guy.”
McKinney won’t call him cool just yet but does give quarterback Elijah Staley a thumbs-up for athleticism as well. “Oh, he’s a very fast guy too. He can run.” Not just run with a football either. Staley of course was courted by many college basketball programs with scholarship offers. There are no regrets over choosing football, but the roundball topic does come up at times.
“He was talking about basketball the other day,” McKinney reported. “We’re trying to get him into Sanderson to see what he can do.” Which would raise an obvious challenge: who would win a HORSE game between Staley and De’Runnya Wilson, who spent two months with the basketball Bulldogs himself?<“You probably can’t put them in a match together,” McKinney said. “De’Runnya is quicker I guess.”
Maybe the most interesting newcomer isn’t a high school kid. Junior college transfer Darrion Hutcherson might make the most immediate impact as a true tight end. It’s a position that down in summer numbers after the move of Rufus Warren to tackle and departure of Artimas Samuel. But Hutcherson has the potential—and absolutely the size—to put this position back in the spotlight.
Count Prescott impressed. “We’ve worked with him a lot, we’re throwing three times a week, sometimes four. He’s a guy that just wants to learn, wants to do well. And he’s been doing that so far as a big guy who can run and has good hands.”
SECOND TIME AROUND: Much like Jones, receiver Wilson is another of State’s exciting sophomores with so much more potential for tapping after a full year in a college system. Because in his own way the lanky wideout is rather freaky, too; just without as much gridiron background as Jones.
”He has tremendous ball skills, naturally catching the ball, great leaping ability,” Mullen said. At 6-5 on top of that, great body control, he does make a tough matchup. He only played two years of high school football so here is a guy now who is really starting to understand the game.”
Considering the sorts of catches Wilson made as a very raw rookie, the idea of what he might achieve as he puts great gifts to best use in a real system is almost frightening. In fact it should be for defensive backs. “Now he’s out there understanding coverages, understanding how to get open and do different things,” said Mullen. “Because he has so much natural ability that when he focuses on becoming a great football player the sky’s going to be the limit.”
POWER PLAYS: Each summer there is a ‘topic de jour’ at Media Days. Conference expansion was all the news three years ago; paying players manages to come up more often now; and so on. For 2014 around the SEC it is the league’s spring-announced mandate for upgrading schedules beginning in 2016, with a required game against at least one member of a ‘power five’ league. For some conference clubs that is no problem as their arch-rival is from such a league.
For Mississippi State it is more of a challenge. Unless it is a special arrangement, like last year’s meeting with Oklahoma State in Houston’s Reliant Stadium, finding available series with P5 foes has proven difficult. Or at least so in the short term; State has announced home-and-home sets with Arizona and North Carolina State…in 2020s. The 2016 slate still needs a big name foe to meet the mandate.
Mullen understands the SEC’s thinking since it is meant to assure the league champion—and maybe some years a second squad—are part of the new four-team playoff system. Which most coaches at Hoover this week figure will someday grow to eight teams, by the way. At the same time these home-and-homes have a cost, Mullen said.
“We’ve tried to play a lot of regional games. Good or bad for us, the one reason we do that is a lot of these kids their families, their parents come to every single football game. Unfortunately if we’re playing a bunch of games on the West Coast their parents aren’t going to be able to make that trip out there.”
But the mandate takes precedence now, and Mississippi State continues seeking series for 2016-17 and beyond within the context of keeping seven home games every fall. Much as he likes a ‘regionalized’ schedule “We’re going to schedule who is out there,” Mullen said.
The other 2014 topic is talk of bringing back the early signing period for college football, something that long, long predates Mullen. “I think the early signing date is coming,” Mullen said. “Here in the near future.” However, he cautioned that picking a date isn’t easy or obvious; and the recruiting ‘calendar’ for visits will have to adapt too.
Besides, Mullen reminded, “By doing it later in the school year it gives the players an opportunity to see hey, is the coach going to be here or not?”