They are reading, analyzing, and projecting the future of their football programs based upon the score-and-more of high school and junior college players successfully recruited and signed. The more obsessive actually keep ‘score' comparing their program's recruits to lists of teenagers who, for completely incomprehensible reasons, opted to ink elsewhere. Some folk care more about the results of Signing Day than anything that will happen in a real game…since, after all, they can subjectively select winners and losers, whereas stadium scoreboards tend to be depressingly absolute.
Fortunately there was nothing for Mississippi State fans to be depressed about on Signing Day 2005, as Coach Sylvester Croom announced a list of (as of 3:00) new Bulldogs-to-be. A total of 26 young men, 25 from high schools and one junior college player, had inked with the Mississippi State program when Croom met with the media to discuss the results of Signing Day.
(Note: Croom said, when asked, there was a possibility that another player could still be added to the list. Though he did not say who, and could not discuss unsigned players, it is reported that Mississippi State was hoping to get the signature of junior college wide receiver Ken McClellan, the leading JC prospect in Mississippi. One source, not a MSU coach, said scholarship papers had been sent to McClellan at his junior college.)
Whatever else happens, there was more than enough to talk about among the announced signees. The Class of 2005 includes 11 true linemen, five offensive blockers and six defensive ends or tackles; nine athletes who either catch passes or defend passes, or both; a pair of running backs, two quarterbacks, and two true linebackers. One of the defensive backs will likely be a college punter.
So it is a well-rounded group of newcomers. And a fairly well-recognized one as well. Six of the in-state signees were in the Jackson Clarion Ledger's list of top-ten Mississippi prospects, and eight first-team All-State honorees. Eleven out of the 26 are products of the Mississippi prep ranks, while as usual Georgia contributed a strong contingent with seven Peach State players headed for Starkville. Croom's staff also reached into Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, and as far west as California for new talent.
Due to NCAA sanctions for penalties incurred before Croom took over the MSU program, only 23 new scholarship players can be on the 2005 Bulldog roster. Thus State is over-signed at the moment, but Croom said three of these announced signees will take alternate tracks before they ultimately suit up for MSU. He did not say which ones.
Nor did the head coach comment on specific eligibility situations. Other sources believe that three of the high school signees—DL Jessie Bowman of Brookhaven, DL Louis Ellis of Jackson, and DB Anthony Johnson of Jackson—are questionable in terms of freshman eligibility. But these situations will all await certification from the NCAA's clearinghouse over the course of the summer. Croom said that most if not all the signees of clear eligibility after high school graduation should be enrolled for the second term of summer school.
The following is a complete transcript of Croom's opening statement to the media, followed by answers to specific questions about today's signings.
Croom: Today is the culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of people. And I'm glad it's finally over.
We're very excited about the results of our recruiting class. We feel we got a lot of things accomplished today. I'd be remiss if I didn't congratulate our coaching staff for doing an outstanding job. We're fortunate to have the men we have on our staff, they worked extremely hard to get these young men that have signed scholarships with us today to be a part of the Mississippi State football program. They did a great job of working together. I worked with each and every one of them out on the road, they were away from their families throughout this time, the endless numbers of phone calls and contacts you have to make to even have a chance to bring some young men of the caliber that we brought in. It was outstanding.
There were a lot of near-misses. The thing I was most pleased about was the evaluation process. There were several guys in this class that you think you might have a chance at, and (then) you move to the next guy. When we moved to the next guy quite often we found out hey, the next guy is just as good as the first guy. Or in some cases better than the first guy. So we did an excellent job in the evaluation process, I think throughout the whole off-season and the season.
I'm very pleased with the results of this recruiting class. Now, I don't know where we are going to rank. I said this last year and I'll say it again: I'm sure the papers will rank different teams the number-one this and number-one that. I'm really not concerned with that. If we're ranked high, so be it. If we're ranked low it doesn't make any difference either. I told you our first Signing Day, that there were going to be some guys in the NFL some day out of that class. And we had three of the who were all-SEC freshmen last year. We had a few more make a significant impact, and there are some of those who did not play that will be outstanding players in the future.
In this class, we set about to do exactly the same thing. To continue to build a solid foundation on which to create a national championship-type program. One that will last for the long haul, we were not interested last year, we're not now in any kind of quick fix operation. We think we accomplished that, and we have increased the talent level over last year. We've got some excellent talent coming in. They have excellent potential. Now potential is just that, something to build on, something to work with, some positive things to create in the future. But it's just that, it's in the future. They're not ready to win now, we've got a lot of work to do.
These guys, I told them when we recruited them, we have no intention to redshirt any of them. We expect them all to come in and participate and make a contribution this fall. Some of them may have a chance to be starters before the season is over with; some of them may be starting the first ball game. Which means there are going to be mistakes. We'll tolerate their mistakes as long as they're giving us their best effort, we will be patient with them. But somewhere down the road, sometime in the future and I don't make promises when, they're going to make us stand up and cheer and be very proud that they are here.
I feel very good about the group. We went for some specific needs. At the wide receiver position I think we got some things accomplished. We got a good group of young offensive linemen that I think can come in and give us some immediate depth and create some competition on the offensive line. We signed some defensive linemen that I think can bulk up and help our run (defense) game extensively, and give us some improved pass rush off the edge. They have excellent size, excellent speed.
But the thing I feel most about these young men is I like what's inside of them. A lot of these men had the chance to go to programs that right now are winning more games than we are. The thing I like about these men is they had vision. They saw us not as we are. They saw us for what we can and will become. That's a rare quality, particularly in men of that age, to be able to look into the future and dream of the possibilities and be willing to pay the price.
We did not pull any punches as far as painting a picture to these young men of how it was going to be. We told them it was going to be a lot of hard work. We told them it was going to be a lot of ups-and-downs. But we also told them the price of success would definitely be worth it. And they believed us. Some players we approached in that vein did not believe us. They could not believe that we had any chance to win, and they told us that. Our answer was if you don't believe we can win I sure don't want you then. And that's the way we proceeded. But we're excited about the ones that we have, and we're looking forward to the future with them.
One thing I'm pleased about with these young men, particularly the young men we signed in the state. What they have proven to us today, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is you can have a successful recruiting class in Mississippi and do it the right way. This class, and their families, have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that what I believe when I came here, is that the vast majority of athletes and their families in this state are not looking for handouts. They want to earn what they get. And this group has proven it.
So we're excited about their talent. We're excited about their potential. We're excited about their vision. We're excited about their willingness to work hard and make something special out of Mississippi State. We're looking forward to working with them. Now, the real work begins tomorrow. Q: What are the strengths of this class?
Croom: Their character.
Q: With a full season to recruit this year, how easy was it to sell the program compared to last year?
Croom: We had to work extremely hard at it. We had a lot of interest early on. My concern was knowing we were going to have difficulties during the season, was how many players would stick with us and see the vision that we saw for Mississippi State through the tough going in the early part of the season. As we went through the season of course everybody was worried about our games, I was more worried about how it was going to affect recruiting, to be very honest. Because stability and confidence, or the lack thereof, are the two most important to me factors in recruiting. There has to be a ray of sunshine, the possibility of success. A player has to see that we can go to bowl games, that we can compete for the conference championship, that we can one day compete for the national championship, that we will be on national TV in prime time, those types of things. Selling that we were getting better. No question the Florida game, and the Kentucky game after that, and the way we finished the season, was a key factor in convincing those players that we were headed in the right direction.
Croom: Any time you can get the top players in your state that's a big, big plus. We're going to be recruiting all over the country but we will always try to sign the best players in this state first. Anthony Johnson, Derek Pegues, Archie Sims, Calvin Wilson, the list goes on. We're very pleased to have all those young men to be a part of the program. This was a very good year in the state talent-wise. The thing we're pleased with, really we only lost two players in the state that we actually offered scholarships to. The two of them went out-of-state.
Q: What was the biggest advantage of having a whole year, as opposed to a few weeks to recruit?
Croom: You don't have to get a map to find out where you're going! You know the high school coaches, you know the names of the schools, you know whether they're in the southern part of the state or the north part. You know all those things, that's huge. Just the familiarity. But the biggest thing for me, when we signed a lot of players last year we were evaluating and recruiting on the fly. We'd go out on a home visit and come back and look at the film of a guy we just went to his house; we had been talking to him trying to get him to come here and really didn't know if he was good enough to play or not, because we hadn't had time to look at the film! I mean, we'd be in here every night, Saturdays and Sundays, and on the (visit) weekends looking at the film of those guys sitting over at the basketball game, trying to see which ones we actually wanted to get!
Whereas this year we did very little film evaluation during the season, we'd done it all prior to the season. What we did was constantly re-checking whether a guy was playing up to what he was going to play, and try to make sure at certain positions we had them in the right pecking order, so we could get the best player at each position. And the other thing that I felt very comfortable in, every one of these guys on that list, I've been in his house. I've sat and talked with his family, I know his sisters and brothers, I know what kind of situation they come from, what kind of people there are. The other thing that was a big plus for us, I think almost every one of those families have come to this campus at one point or another during the recruiting process. That was huge for us. I mentioned last year that several players out of state we lost because their parents had not come to this campus. I think every one we signed, their players came to this campus.
Q: How much did it help this year to have the NCAA process finished?
Croom: That took the noose from around our necks. I mean, that was a heavy burden early, and when it was finally cleared up it took one more thing away. If that had been hanging on us much longer than it did, this would have been impossible.
Q: You signed a lot of players out of Georgia, which of your assistants was in charge there?
Croom: Well, we had some guys in areas, but I'm not going to single any particular coach. This is one thing I'm going to point out about recruiting: there are going to be some years where one of our coaches may or may not sign anybody. The next year he may come back and sign four or five guys. It is a collaborative effort from all of our coaching staff. Sometimes in certain situations and certain areas a guy may not sign anybody, but I have great confidence in each and every one of our coaches. Because they are all good recruiters, otherwise I would not have hired them. This program has been successful in Georgia over the years. We have been very successful in the Atlanta area. There are a lot of players there, Georgia and Georgia Tech can't sign them all.
And our location is very beneficial to us. They ask us how long it takes to drive to New Orleans, drive to Atlanta, how long from Dallas? So we're in a good location, we're in driving distance from a lot of places and most areas. That had a lot to do as well. And it's a fact that a lot of of players want to play in the Southeastern Conference. When they get ready to go out of state, they find our family values, the diversity of our campus, the atmosphere here, it's a huge plus for us in recruiting.
The other thing that also was a positive with the out-of-state kids was the improvement in our facilities and also the media attention we received last year throughout the course of the season. That really gave us great familiarity in a lot of locales.
Q: Were there any signees you got over winning programs that surprised you?
Croom: No. Not particularly.
Q: What was your reaction to Ryan Perrilloux's signing with LSU, and what was the impact of his interest in State?
Croom: Amos Jones did a great job recruiting a guy like Ryan. I can remember this summer when I first called and talked to Ryan and his mother, he'd already committed to Texas. Amos continued to keep our name in front of them, I had very little contact with them until just before Christmas. I didn't have anything on the schedule that night so I told Amos let's go to New Orleans and visit with him. It was a very good visit, and excellent visit. All the way up to this morning we thought we had a chance. You feel good in the fact to be in on a guy like that, but it does not feel good to lose at anything and I was very disappointed that we did not get him. I was even more disappointed that we did not get him and now we have to play against him! And let me say this about Ryan, even though we lost him, he is one of the most unique individuals I have ever run across in the recruiting process. He is a great talent, he is a great human being. I've seen far less talent have a disproportionate amount of ego compared to Ryan. It would have been a great, great compliment if we had gotten him. And I expressed this to him, 10 or 15 years down the road if I can ever help him I'll be there for him.
Q: How many of these players do you expect to qualify?
Croom: There's about three on here that we already have alternate plans for. Everybody else we're anticipating that they will be here in September, or have a plan for them coming in January.
Q: Alternate plans, meaning what?
Croom: Alternate plans as meaning going somewhere else and coming to our program at a later date.
Q: Is it unsual to visit a home visit with just the parents and not the player, Derek Pegues?
Croom: Derek and I had several conversations. I know he's that kind of person where at that point he'd heard all he wanted to hear, and I had not sat down and talked with Mom and Dad. It didn't bother me. I was glad to know all his questions were answered. He's another one of those unique individuals, too. We've got several of them in this class. He's a man of his word, I'll leave it at that.
Q: When did he commit? Did he let you know he'd committed?
Croom: He told me I'd be happy at his decision today some time ago.
Q: How much do the new linemen help depth?
Croom: You mean the lack thereof? Well, we have some now. And we're very excited. Brad Weathers is back out and we hope to see where he progresses; James Cochran is back out, so that's two older guys. We moved Anthony Strauder to guard, that's going to strengthen us. Now with this group we expect them to come in and compete for backup and in some cases starting positions this fall. It's a great improvement there from an ability standpoint already.
Q: Are you done or might you sign some more?
Croom: It's a possibility of another signee today.
Q: How will the wide receivers signees help you?
Croom: Well, the first thing we want is for them to catch the ball. Which we didn't do as often as we should have last year. But one thing we looked for is bigger guys with more speed and athleticism. And I think we got that. And in some cases, as in Adron Chambers who is not a big guy—when I say big I'm talking about the 210-215 pound range—but he has exceptional speed and quickness and change of direction.
Q: Do any of them have the ability to start the first game?
Croom: Right now our (signed) wide receivers are number-two on the depth chart. I think all of this group will probably be enrolled in the second semester of summer school and working out with us. We will do everything legally, within the NCAA rules, to get them as ready as we possibly can to make a run at starting jobs on opening day.
Croom: Yeah. Really those are guys who have potential there, but to be honest with you with the return of Jerious Norwood and the two young guys we have (redshirted) running back was not a priority this year. Next year it will be the ultimate priority. And we have already begun the process.
Q: Can you talk about the two true quarterbacks you signed?
Croom: Ty Evans is an excellent talent. I liked his size, he's been very well-coached, I like his attention to details. He's a very sound fundamental quarterback. I think he is a guy who has enough arm and enough mobility to make plays and create things on his own, he has enough lateral movement to run the things in our West Coast system that we like as far as play-action and misdirection passes so he can create some things on the edge. And I noticed how he carried out fakes, his footwork on the three- and five-step drops, just the delivery of the football. And I liked how he ran the team prior, just all the little details of the operation.
Tray Rutland was a young man I looked at all year. We originally had him as a wide receiver, it was late when we finally decided to go with him at quarterback, and let me say I'm pleased he came because I think I was about to make a huge mistake in not offering him as a quarterback. My philosophy on that is I don't like to offer guys who think they are quarterbacks scholarships without telling them my absolute opinion. I don't like to bring in guys that play quarterback if I don't think they can play quarterback. The quarterback deserves the right to have his head coach totally believe in him at that position, and I did not early in the season. I didn't feel it was fair to offer him a scholarship when he wanted to be a quarterback unless he was willing to play another position. But he believed he was a quarterback, and after we got more game film on him I'm a believer, too. And I'm so glad I saw that last film on him.