Gene Swindoll -

Mississippi State offensive lineman Martinas Rankin talks about the decision to redshirt this fall and his outlook on the future.

Martinas Rankin was ranked as the nation's top junior college offensive lineman once his career at Mississippi Gulf Coast was complete. Expectations remain high for the Mendenhall, Mississippi native even if his full potential may not be realized for another season. The talented tackle reports that he is making the most of his year off of the field as he prepares to compete for a starting spot next fall.

Rankin was signed with the hope of taking over at left tackle. A hot and cold showing on the spring practice field led to the decision to redshirt Rankin and retain his final two years of eligibility, while he adjusted to life in the Southeastern Conference.

"It's had its' ups and downs," Rankin said of his first year in Starkville. "I just have to find ways to go out and get better every single day even if I am not going to be playing on Saturday."

While nothing is official when it comes to redshirts until the season is over, Rankin understood that a season as an understudy was in the cards during the first days of fall camp.

"I knew that it was a possibility," Rankin said of the redshirt. "Coach Hevesy told me back during the spring that he wanted me to go out there and earn a starting spot. He told me that if I didn't do that, then they may end up redshirting me. 

"They didn't want me to just play a few snaps here or there, so they talked to me about redshirting. I still had to practice hard and work just like I was going to play though. Injuries happen, so I have to make sure I was still ready to go if the team needed me."

There are still five regular season games to go in the 2015 season, but Rankin understands that barring an injury to a Bulldog regular, his time will come next year.

"Coach (John) Hevesy has really just worked with me on everything," Rankin explained. "He has really talked about technique, understanding the plays and understanding where I am going. He has told me that I have to be mentally locked in on every play to be a beast in this league."

Rankin's "beast" days lie ahead, but that does not mean that he is not engaged in the action on the field. After every Bulldog score this season, Rankin has been among the first Bulldogs to greet the offense as they returned to the sideline.

"I just feel like that's my job this year," Rankin said. "I love the game of football. I get excited out there even though I am not playing. I may not have been on the field, but I still feel part of it every time we score."

The desire to be a part of it all comes naturally for Rankin, but he has put his effort into learning new things this year that will make him a better football player next year and beyond.

"I have learned a lot this year," Rankin said. "Most of all, I have learned that you just have to lock in mentally on every play. In this league, you never know what play is going to win or lose the game. I feel like locking in better and just being more consistent are the things I need to work on the most. I know that I have to strain myself mentally when it gets hot."

The Bulldogs should be in the bowl picture again this year. Those post season practices will give Rankin and the other redshirts more hands on time with the Mississippi State staff as they get a head start on spring.

"I am really looking forward to that," Rankin said. "I am preparing for that now, because I just want to keep building on what I have now. I am doing some extra now and I don't want to take any steps back."

While it was tough to accept in the early going, Rankin believes that the redshirt campaign may prove to be one of the most important years in his football career.

"At first it was hard to go along with it," Rankin admitted. "Now, I feel like this may have been the best thing for me. I have matured a lot this year and I still have two years to play. I just felt like I needed to follow God's plan, because he knows what's best for me."

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