“It’s been fun for the most part,” Rankin said. “You know, being able to go out and get better, working different spots.”
Let’s get to the ‘different spots’ in a moment, since that will be more of a spring thing. As Mississippi State prepares for Monday’s St. Petersburg Bowl, their left tackle is staying put. In the same spot he started all dozen junior season games, and has spent a dozen more days refining things.
“Definitely for me it’s getting better at my fundamentals. I’ve got a lot I need to work on going forward. It’s just coming out working hard, not really anything else to worry about.”
Rankin doesn’t have any real ‘worries’ as far as post-season status. When the Bulldog offense lines up against Miami-Ohio the redshirt junior ought have the left end under control, and the blind-side of Nick Fitzgerald covered. True, this isn’t something that could be said through too much of the regular season, for any Bulldog blocker in any slot.
Yet when they danced off the field as part of the Golden Egg celebration, those offensive linemen were hearing genuine cheers. If it took over two months for things to click, well…better late than never. Just getting it all together was what mattered.
“I think so,” said Rankin of the last-month melding. “A lot of it was having that chip on our shoulder, just wanting to come off and hit people in the mouth for the most part.”
Safe to say several run-over Rebels still have sore jaws after Mississippi State pounded them for 457 rushing yards, a 9.7-yard average each attempt, and four touchdowns. The air attack played its part too, but the Bulldogs won their Egg Bowl on the ground.
Late, yes, but great all the same to Rankin. “I’ve watched the highlights a lot, just re-living the moments, how fun it was,” Rankin said. “How exciting it was to get that trophy back.”
And as a result, get the program back to post-season football for a seventh-straight winter. Rankin has seen a Bulldog bowl game, but only as a redshirt observer of the Belk Bowl. Come Monday he’ll enjoy the long-delayed experience for himself.
There will be at least one front-line shift on offense. Left guard Deion Calhoun’s left ankle, sprained at Brigham Young, is now in a cast after the sophomore struggled to play in three of the last six games. Tackle/guard Elgton Jenkins either replaced or rotated with Calhoun in the season-second half so will start the bowl there. It does mean Rankin has no varsity backup, but then he was able to go the distance in November anyway. Probably something to do with all that 2015 watching-and-waiting.
Now come March? A healthy Calhoun is a clear contender to take over at center. At the same time Mississippi State spent early bowl-camp testing other possible middle-men, Rankin among them. Just as bowl play is new to him…snapping a football?
“Never in my life!” Rankin said. This doesn’t mean the idea offends him though. Just the opposite.
““I kind of like it a little bit. It helps with my versatility. It’s a different feel from tackle.” Plus, he did practice it a little, unofficially, before junior college just in case he needed to win a job there.
Fortunately for Mississippi State this lightly-recruited and late-developing lineman found a juco home at tackle. And if he wasn’t really ready to contend for a job as a 2015 signee, even the delay paid-off in the longer run. Because November showed what Rankin ought be capable of as a 2017 senior.
Wherever he takes his stance, that is. Center would take more practice time to get comfortable—“It’s like a telephone booth!” Rankin said of being in the middle of so many big bodies instead of out on an end.
The real point is Rankin and returning offensive linemen, for that matter every underclassman on this side of the squad, intend to return from St. Petersburg with another post-season trophy…and a whole lot of off-season momentum.
“I feel it’s a bright future. I always say we have a lot of pieces. We’ve just got to continue to work hard and just come together and build chemistry. And it will all work out in the end.”