This time last year, Mark McLaurin was not sure if he would play or redshirt. Due to some team needs at safety, the former state champion stepped right in to provide depth. With the loss of senior Kendrick Market to injury, McLaurin's role increased. Heading into the 2016 season, there is no question that McLaurin will play.
"I came into this season with the same drive and dedication that I did last year," McLaurin said. "I have worked even harder this year. I know that I am going to have to play a lot more and do more to help the defense."
The lessons learned a season ago will certainly aid in McLaurin's confidence level this fall. Having played in some of the grandest stadiums in all of college football, McLaurin knows what to expect when he takes the field this fall.
"Like Coach (Dan) Mullen always says, I learned how to play special teams," McLaurin said. "I learned my role and how to help the team. I just keep building off of that.
"With Coach (Peter) Sirmon coming in, I feel like I did a lot and I learned a lot from him this spring. I feel like I got better this spring."
In addition to a new defensive coordinator in Sirmon, McLaurin got a new position coach in Maurice Linguist. The talented sophomore reports that Linguist has his own style of doing things, but that many of the techniques taught are similar to what former safeties' coach Tony Hughes employed during his time in Starkville.
"Coach Linguist probably pushes us a lot harder, but Coach (Hughes) did good when he was here," McLaurin explained. "As a younger coach, (Linguist) he pushes us more and demands more out of us. Both of them were about fundamentals, so a lot of things are the same. (Linguist) does a lot more with our footwork and hands and stuff like that."
McLaurin, along with good friend and former high school rival Jamal Peters, are expected to build on last season's successes and experience. The true sophomores are working with Brandon Bryant and Kivon Coman to make up one of the toughest safety groups in the Southeastern Conference.
"We feel like we are going to be the best safety group in the nation," McLaurin said. "(Coman) brings a lot. He's a great leader on and off of the field. He sits down with us sometimes and watches extra film. He is always going to be that leader that we know he needs to be and he will produce on the field.
"Jamal (Peters) just loves to play. Sometimes he seems real serious, but he just loves to play. He is always smiling around us.
"(Bryant) is a hard working man. He brings a lot to the table too. I just sit back and observe it all."
With a strong mix of seniors and talented newcomers in the front seven, Bulldog fans are eager to see the new 3-4 alignment. For the four men in the defensive backfield, not much has changed from a play calling standpoint. The continuity with personnel has McLaurin confident about his unit's production this fall.
"We brought a lot back in the secondary and we were one of the top secondaries in the nation," McLaurin said. "We are just looking to go back into the season and keep playing and keep building off what we did last year."
Mississippi State will open the season on Saturday September 3rd against South Alabama. Kickoff is set for 11 A.M. Single game tickets including the Bulldogs' opener against the Jaguars remain available.