Senior Tolando Cleveland saw his fourth season in Starkville end before it began with a torn ACL, Cleveland's fellow starter at corner, Cedric Jiles, is expected to miss nearly half of the upcoming campaign with a broken arm. While injuries are part of the game, these serious ailments took place before the first contest was played.
While the Bulldog defense features experience at several positions, corner is not one of them. No matter how the Mississippi State defensive staff slices it, there will be a pair of new starters at corner this year. Sophomore Chris Rayford is not expect to start in game one against South Alabama, but the Byhalia, Mississippi product will certainly play.
"I think I have to step up a lot," Rayford said. "I am going to be in our rotation and I have to be ready to make plays. My role this year is a lot different than it was last year. I have learned a lot more during the transition from coach to coach. I feel like I have a great relationship with all of the coaches on defense."
Rayford appears to have warmed to the coaching style and personality of new Mississippi State corners' boss, Coach Terrell Buckley. While Buckley was not responsible for bringing Rayford to Starkville, the veteran coach has been charged with making him a player. So far, it appears progress is being made.
"It's been a lot different," Rayford said. "I feel like I have the gist of things. I understand what Coach Buckley wants from us in the secondary. He does some different things technique wise and he helps us really understand the schemes we are going to run on defense."
Lightly recruited out of high school, Rayford wowed in the Mississippi State's summer camps. With two years of college football under his belt, the former three star believes he is ready to transition into a regular in the rotation at corner.
"The main thing I have learned since I have been here is to go as hard as you can all of the time," Rayford said. "You have to have relentless effort. It's been something I have had to work at and now I feel like I know what I need to do to help the team."
The Bulldog corners have their work cut out of themselves this fall, but their efforts will be aided by the play of some talented safeties. Rayford reports that the new Bulldog defense really pushes the team concept.
"The way our scheme is set up, we really have to communicate with one another," Rayford said. "We are always working for each other and watching each others' back. The main thing I like about the defense is that it's not just one person out there making plays. Anybody on the defense can make an impact."
Game week is here and the Bulldog defense will get the chance to show their newfound football knowledge as they unveil the Peter Sirmon defense against South Alabama. Rayford reports that the final week of preparation will be an important one as the team makes their final adjustments before teeing it up.
"We just have to continue to push forward," Rayford said. "We can't worry about the past or whatever. We just need to communicate on defense and to the best we can to look out for one another. I am beyond ready to get out there and get the season started."
Mississippi State will host South Alabama this Saturday in the season opener for the 2016 campaign. The Bulldogs are 2-0 All-Time against the Jaguars. Kickoff is set for 11 A.M. with the broadcast duties being handled by the SEC Network. Tickets remain available, but a capacity crowd is expected.