Mullen's First Class Set A Bulldog Standard

This time next week, fans will claim recruiting supremacy over rivals based upon rankings, average star ratings, and head-to-head 'victories' of home state variety. It is all good fun to talk about. But the sole purpose of recruiting is to win more football games. Mississippi State Coach Dan Mullen says that history is the best judge of recruiting classes.

Mullen's first official inking group was comprised of a stellar, if under-appreciated at the time, group of in-state prospects, many of which are still playing football. The 2009 Bulldog signing class set a new standard in Mississippi State recruiting and on the field success.

The redshirt seniors from that group became the first seniors in Mississippi State history to practice for or play in five consecutive bowl games. While the 2014 Mississippi State team reached #1 in the nation and earned an Orange Bowl invitation, the program's first since 1941, the foundation was poured by those 2009 signees who bought into a promise and worked to make it a reality.

The 27-man class brought not just big crowds at Davis Wade stadium but record attendance, including the beginning of a multi-season streak of sell outs.

Two of that 27 never suited up for the Bulldogs on the field of play. Madrecas Hood never returned to the Bulldogs' recruiting radar once he enrolled in junior college. Instead of catching passes, Taylorsville star Billy Hamilton opted for a pro baseball career and now steals bases for the Cincinnati Reds.

A half dozen more either transferred or elected to give up football due to injuries. Montrell Conner and Dennis Thames left the program for junior college, Ricco Sanders transferred after his junior season that saw precious little playing time and Johnathan McKenzie, William Shumpert and Sam Watts left the team, but remained in Starkville as Mississippi State students.

The remaining 21 saw over half of their number advance to professional football careers.

Detroit Lions' corner Darius Slay starred at State after a short stint at Itawamba Community College and was recently selected for the 2014 Pro Bowl.

Another ICC transfer, Pernell McPhee, was a true leader during his time in Starkville. McPhee just complete his fourth year with the Baltimore Ravens where he recorded a career high 27 tackles and 7.5 sacks.

The Bulldog defensive line haul in 2009 was downright scary when you look back at McPhee playing alongside Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd.

Cox elected to forego his senior season in college and was selected in the first round by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2012 NFL draft. Cox just wrapped up an All-Pro caliber season in his third year with the Eagles.

Boyd was a fifth round selection by the Green Bay Packers in 2013 NFL draft. This season, Boyd saw extensive action in the Packers' rotation and started four games coming up just one win away from the NFC championship.

Mississippi Gulf Coast product Chris White anchored a strong linebacking corps at Mississippi State winning the Conerly Trophy as the state's top college football player in 2010. White will be on the field this weekend as New England plays in the Super Bowl.

White has been able to play alongside a familiar face this season as former Bulldog teammate Deontae Skinner has worked his way into the mix with the Pats' practice squad. Skinner played in seven games this season and earned his first professional start.

Another linebacker from that class is also enjoying his time in the NFL. Cameron Lawrence signed with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent and has worked hard to earn a spot on the Cowboys' 53 man roster each of the last two seasons. Lawrence helped lead the Cowboys back to the playoffs this season.

Gabe Jackson was selected by the Oakland Raiders in the 3rd round of the 2014 draft after an All-American career at Mississippi State. Jackson battled through some injuries this fall, but is projected to return to the starting line up full time in 2015 as the team's left guard.

One of Mississippi State's most beloved players, Johnthan Banks of tiny Maben, Mississippi, picked the Bulldogs over a competing offer from Holmes Community College. This hometown hero went on to an All-American career becoming Tim Tebow's best friend and winning the 2013 Thorpe Award. Banks was a second round selection by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he has been a mainstay at corner.

Bulldog back LaDarius Perkins spent time with a pair of NFL teams in 2014 eventually ending up on the practice squad of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Prior that stop, Perkins was in Green Bay. A team that eventually inked the hero of the 2013 Egg Bowl, Nickoe Whitley.

Discussions of the 2009 class would be incomplete without mentioning Bulldog record-breakers Chad Bumphis and Tyler Russell. Both players rewrote the records for their positions at State and both still have professional football aspirations.

Bumphis spent time with the Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars and Denver Broncos before taking his talents to the Canadian Football League.

Russell missed last year's Pro Days and workouts and is poised for a comeback this spring. Several NFL teams have been in touch with Russell and his representation about a spring workout, so look for the number of 2009 signees to play pro football to rise.

The 2015 signing class will have high expectations just as the 2009 group did. The work to meet or surpass the accomplishments of that heralded group will soon begin. The journey to college football is nearly over. The quest for college football greatness will then begin.

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