He hasn’t been. Nothing is coming free even to the highest-rated junior college of 2015. It’s not even coming easy here at Mississippi State, as Martinas Rankin finds himself battling his way up the offensive tackle depth chart.
Just as he expected all along.
“I wanted to work my way from the bottom,” Rankin said. “Kind of how I had to do coming out of high school.”
Now, few figure Rankin is going to stay at the bottom for long. He didn’t achieve his juco reputation for nothing. At Mississippi Gulf Coast CC he was ranked not merely the leading tackle prospect, he was a top-five overall nationally for all positions.
So when Mississippi State not only signed him, but was able to bring Rankin to campus for the spring semester, naturally the notion was he would challenge for the open left tackle job. Take it outright, even. Instead Rankin began August right where he came out of April, third on the right tackle list.
This doesn’t worry Rankin at all.
“It’s just getting back into the swing of things. You know, trying to get prepared for the season and prepared to take a spot.”
For now that would be right tackle, though the top spot is held by returning starter Justin Senior. Then there is sixth-year senior Damien Robinson who held on to #2 status through spring and was still there as preseason opened.
Whether he stays in the mix on the right end; or gets a training camp look at left tackle, only Coach John Hevesy can say. Which he won’t. Just three days into preseason Rankin can’t be concerned. He’s got enough on his practice plate already.
“Any spot I can get on. I just want to be on the field,” he said. And yes, he was somewhat surprised to be assigned to right tackle upon arrival. “At first I didn’t like it.”
“But I’ve grown into it, and I feel like wherever I can get on the field I just want to get on the field.” So then what will it take to get there? “Adjusting to the tempo. Making sure I understand the plays and the terminology. And just working technique.”
Don’t read all this as a critique. Rather, the deliberate pace of progress is more a reflection of just how priceless experience is at the senior college level. Even elite recruits have to adjust to greater or lesser extent.
Rankin fortunately did his adjusting as a mid-year signee.
“It was definitely good to go through the spring. Because it was kind of a growing period for me. And I’m a couple of steps ahead than I was in the spring. So it was real big for me.” And when he says ‘big’ Rankin means it. Even a good juco program can’t compare to SEC reality.
“It’s like going from a pond to an ocean!” Rankin said. “You’re going from where you’re playing against maybe one or two good players every week or every day, to now every play at practice and a game is always great players coming after you. Every play.”
It wasn’t just the on-field experience that showed Rankin how he must raise his game now. “I think I realized it in my first workout!” he said. “I mean it was just rough,” he said, dragging out the ‘ruuffff’. “You see people around you, they’re giving everything they’ve got and you’re gasping for air, trying to make it through.” Fortunately he’s survived and is starting to thrive.
“I mean I’ve grown into the program a lot. My body is getting better, I’m getting bigger and stronger and faster.” With practices underway though it’s about getting his skills better, bigger, stronger and yes faster too. Here Senior has been big help with tips on technique and preparation.
Otherwise, it’s “Just being consistent, coming to work every day and focusing on the little things.”
Big things are surely in store though. There is another reason why Rankin is not insulted at having to work and win his way up another depth chart. He was not exactly a prominent prospect out of Mendenhall High School, after all. Taking the junior college option also kept his profile low…until Rankin began dominating defenses and scouts noticed.
So this is just the next step. “I always felt like I was a great player. And I just had to show the world that I was.” Mississippi State now presents that same opportunity, on a higher level.
“I still have a long way to go learning the game but it’s started teaching me things I need to focus on. It’s been great being here. It’s been what I thought it was, they haven’t told me no lies in recruiting. They told me it was going to be hard and it hasn’t been anything short of that.”