Rating The Recruiting During The D.B. Era

Rankings. Ratings. Grades. We fans love ‘em. Present us with a list of bests and/or worsts, stand back, and watch the fur fly as we discuss, debate, and downright disagree. Especially if the subject of dispute is based on opinion not final scores.

This is the second in a four-part review of Mississippi State football recruiting classes in the Dawgs’ Bite publishing years, from 1976-2013. Today covers the 1985-92 years, which includes all of one coaching regime and parts of two others. As explained in Part 1, grades are arbitrary of course but meant to show how the class helped, or hurt, the program over its complete career. In a few cases classes turned out better than regarded on Signing Day, and in many more the grades turned out worse. Surprising, right?

Blue Chips are the most touted prospect at the time, regardless how their career actually panned out. Or not, as many of these names are barely remembered today. By contrast Finds are lower-profile signees at the time who became big contributors or even stars. All-SEC are those who eventually were named first- or second-team by league media or coaches.

1985 D Blue Chips: TE Jesse Anderson, DL Anthony Butts, QB Johnny Cash, SE Darrell Kenneybrew, OL Durward Minor, QB Jerry Myers. Finds: Russell. All-SEC: Anderson, DB Bo Russell

In his last recruiting year as a college coach, Emory Bellard inked a load of offensive prospects and a fair number of them proved to be competent role players. Such as Myers, RB Michael Taylor, DB Marcus Bush, RB Jeremiah Sangster, and Kenneybrew. The defense got good help from LB Darren Martin, DB Asa Bennett, and of course Russell who was an outstanding scholar-athlete. The fact remains though he and all-purpose athlete Anderson are what prevent a flat F grade, because there were criminally few linemen signed and only Ty Johnson and Mike Hendershot won more than one varsity letter. This class also produced one of the great flops of program history—which is saying something--in Butts, a #2-ranked national prospect who exemplifies the danger of recruiting ratings. State got more mileage from his black Z28 with the fake cel phone (no like, it really was a fake) than from the player himself. Which is a sad sort of summary for ol’ Emory’s last five seasons at State.

1986 B- Blue Chips: QB Chris Correro, RB David Fair, OL Adam Jones, OL Tony Robertson, QB Albert Williams. Finds: OL Ricky Byrd, QB Tony Shell. All-SEC: Byrd, LB James Williams.

Less than two months into the job as the youngest college head coach, and Rockey Felker did give the fans something to cheer about in his first class. And there were some genuine players here. Williams became a great linebacker and when Byrd moved over from defense to offense he blossomed as a lineman. Bobby Barlow and Desmond Bates had solid careers on defense, while touted in-state star Robertson, Derrick Dean and Ryan Ford helped with rebuilding a badly-depleted offensive line. Quarterbacks Shell and Eric Underwood became starters and had some big wins each, while athletes Milton Smith, Michael Robison, and Jarrod Young contributed in various ways. The great tragedy, of course, was Fair, an incredible physical specimen who was never the same after a September knee injury. What he might have done healthy over four years is forever a what-if? proposition.

1987 C Blue Chips: WR Jerry Bouldin, PK Joel Logan, OL Kenny Stewart, WR Anthony Thames, RB Orlando Wade. Finds: Riley, LB Reggie Stewart, DE Robert Young, TE Trenell Edwards. All-SEC: P Mike Riley, R.Stewart

The second class did feature some bright spots, just on the whole it was not the big step-up hoped for. Badly needed, rather. Some second-year staff departures and hires didn’t make Felker’s job any easier, either. As things played out the ‘best’ of the signees were the relative unknowns. Riley became a punting standout, Young a sack specialist, and Reggie Stewart was the SEC’s top tackler his senior season. Placekicker Logan would win some dramatic games, too, including a pair of decisive field goals in consecutive years against Southern Mississippi. Yet there wasn’t really an offensive linemen of note brought in to reinforce the ’86 blockers; and Wade was the only back to contribute much at all. Receiver Bouldin had talent but Thames was a letdown compared to his recruiting rep. It was juco signee Bill Knight who bulked up the defensive line for two years. When a punter and transfer are the big producers, that summarizes the class as a whole.

1988 B Blue Chips: DL Kevin Henry, DL Demetrius Hill, OL John James, RB William Prince, QB Sleepy Robinson. Finds: RB Kenny Roberts, LB Marc Woodard, TE Treddis Anderson. All-SEC: C Lee Ford, OT James.

While the team on the field was about to hit bottom (remember Tech-and-10?) as a cumulative price of years of mediocre or just plain poor classes, Felker’s recruiting was starting to turn a corner. Prince was the Signing Day prize yet it was Roberts and Tay Galloway who really produced in the Bulldog backfield. Robinson became one of the finest Dog triggerman, albeit when finally put in a system suiting his skills. Dan Mullen would have loved him. Linemen Ford, James, and Byron Jordan made up the best group of blockers signed in a decade. Hill was merely adequate on defense but Henry, juco Derrell Robertson, and Rodney Stowers made a big difference on the defensive line and linebacker Woodard would be an ironman. Speed positions were a weakness with only WR Chris Firle and DB Edward Williams contributing. This class paid off eventually, when added to better groups such as...

1989 B+ Blue Chips: OL Lee Brown, DL Arley Gibson, OL Michael Howard, QB Jordan, DL Keith Joseph, LB Juan Long, RB Karl Williamson. Finds: DL Herman Carroll, WR Tony James, OL Bill Sartin. All-SEC: Gibson, WR Willie Harris, P Todd Jordan, FS Kelvin Knight, Long

Felker’s best class by far, as part of three solid groups which became key to the early-1990s revival. Jordan would shine brightest at punter but headlined a QB-rich group with Greg Plump and colorful flop Handy Campbell. WR Harris and TB Williamson were bright-blue chips, though it would be James who set kick return records. The defense came out well as LB Long and FS Knight solidified the center while Gibson-Carroll-Joseph anchored a good line. Felker also pulled in Minnesota transfer Boyd, soon to become a true defensive leader at middle ‘backer. On Signing Day blockers got the headlines yet big-names Brown, Michael Howard (injury), and Kyle McCoy were not ultimately factors; while Shea Bell and Michael Montgomery panned out better than expected. So did several others of these recruits, just for another coaching regime and system.

1990 B Blue Chips: LB Keo Coleman, RB Michael Davis, DB Tony Harris, LB Orlando Patterson, DL Nate Williams. Finds: DL Jerome Brown, LB Wes Leasy. All-SEC: Brown, Coleman, OL Jesse James, Williams

A respectable follow-up to an excellent ‘89 class, this also marked State’s first serious investment in junior college recruiting with six transfers. It was a smart move too because three of them made All-SEC as seniors. This class was most notable for its muscle, as jucos Brown and Williams put some punch back in the defensive line. Coleman was instant help at LB and Leasy, an academic gamble, paid off; but all-star Patterson bailed out his first semester. State never signed a better bruiser than RB Davis, and James and Jason Wisner became quality blockers. CB Harris and S Lee Lipscomb were juco DBs that played from the start, and Charlie Davidson developed along with competent performers Andre Bennett and Frankie Luster. If Felker’s five seasons didn’t do a lot on the scoreboard, he very much set a foundation for the next coach to build upon.

1991 C+ Blue Chips: RB Randy Brown, LB Derrick Cagins, SS Scott Gumina, DL Eddie Maxon, DL Steve McWilliams, WR Fred Ward. Finds: OL Brian Anderson, OL Matt Caldwell, TE Kendall Watkins. All-SEC: Anderson, Watkins

The initial reviews for Jackie Sherrill’s first class were, naturally, inflated by enthusiasm. Grades since then have dropped pretty sharply, as the new coach really thrived immediately by developing inherited players in a system to suit their strengths. Speaking of which, this class was not so much about individual stars as it was warning the world State and Sherrill believed in power football. The collection was the best up-front, with fine blockers Anderson, Caldwell, Melvin Hayes, and Brian Wright, along with prototypical big tight end in Watkins. Line signee McWilliams had to wait a year with grades. It was a pretty thin year for productive skill personnel since QB Derrick Taite was delayed by grades. JC wideout Ward helped out, WR Chris Jones was average. Out of several linebackers only Cagins did very much, and K Josh Siefkin never lettered. New Orleans yielded four signees but only Hayes lasted, yet their recruiting showed State was trying to reach into new grounds.

1992 B-? Blue Chips: NG Koche Anderson, RB Kevin Bouie, Curry, QB Bernard Euell, DB Walt Harris, QB Rodney Hudson, OL Henry McCann, LB Lateef Travis. Finds: OC Dan Hoover. All-SEC: Bouie, LB Dwayne Curry, Harris, WR Eric Moulds.

Over two decades later it’s still tough to give a definitive grade to this group. First, because it was small, just 16 players. Second, because Sherrill went for instant junior college help and while Bouie, CB Mike James, and Travis had obvious ability the first two careers were interrupted by injuries. Fortunately both got extra years and it worked out well in ’94 season. State also redshirted re-signee QB Taite and academic casualty Moulds; also lucky investments as both would set program standards for throwing and catching. CBs Harris and Jimmy Lipscomb contributed and ILB Curry led in tackles twice. McCann panned out, Hoover overcame a prep injury to be a very good center. But the whole class was also notable for wasted scholarships. Travis was seriously overrated, re-signee Steve McWilliams and Anderson never contributed, and Hudson and Euell didn’t fit into a changing offense. Just say it was a class with serious star-power at the top dragging up the overall grad into B territory.

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