Between 60 and 70 jubilant Bulldog fans attended the football signing day party at Harvey's in Starkville last night to enjoy some of Harvey's great food, film highlights of the signees and the exciting and very informative recruiting talks by MSU football guest speakers Wes Slay and Jim Tompkins (pictured to the left).

"> Between 60 and 70 jubilant Bulldog fans attended the football signing day party at Harvey's in Starkville last night to enjoy some of Harvey's great food, film highlights of the signees and the exciting and very informative recruiting talks by MSU football guest speakers Wes Slay and Jim Tompkins (pictured to the left).

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SIGNING DAY PARTY REPORT FROM STARKVILLE

<img src="http://www.genespage.com/images/alumnievents/2002/020602/tompkins.jpg" align="left" width="220" height="214"> Between 60 and 70 jubilant Bulldog fans attended the football signing day party at Harvey's in Starkville last night to enjoy some of Harvey's great food, film highlights of the signees and the exciting and very informative recruiting talks by MSU football guest speakers Wes Slay and Jim Tompkins (pictured to the left).<P>

Here is what Wes and Jim had to say. First up is Wes Slay.

WES SLAY:

Talking about how the MSU alumni help in recruiting:
"First thing I want to say is that it has been a real pleasure working for MSU. It is my university and, more importantly, it is your university and our university. A lot of folks here told me that I did a great job. That is not exactly the case because we have done a great job because it is our school. I promise you not one assistant coach goes out there and gets a player by himself. You guys help out tremendously because when a recruit sees those MSU sweatshirts and MSU bumper stickers, that helps us."

Talking about the offensive recruits:
"Every year you have to find are offensive linemen. That is the toughest thing to find on offense. You guys know Coach Sherrill, he wants big, strong offensive linemen. We continued that trend.

"Monte Collins (Jackson-Provine HS), the biggest offensive lineman in the state and one of the biggest that I have ever seen. He is 6-8, 365-pounds and will be a computer engineer. He is an honor roll student with a high 3+ gpa.

"Richard Burch (Brandon HS) is the top offensive lineman in the state and possibly the top offensive lineman in the south and one of the top five or ten in the country.

"James Cochran (Memphis-Central HS) is a 6-6 to 6-7, 285-pound tackle/center lineman. Last year at this time, he was 245 pounds.

"The next big need we had was at the fullback position. We signed two big, strong, physical fullbacks. Both of them, Bryson Davis (Plainview HS) and Willie Evans (Wayne County HS), have great hands.

"The next thing we had to sign were quarterbacks. We signed three of the best that I have ever seen.

"Ken Topps (Shannon HS) is very good. He is a small but very athletic.

"Aries Nelson (Cleveland East Side HS) is about 6-2 to 6-2 and is a natural leader. He has been credited with running a 4.55 forty and has a cannon for an arm. I can show him on film throwing a ball 65 yards in the air.

"Justin Tyler (Jones County HS) is the third one. Coach Tompkins, who signed Justin, was talking to Jamie Newberg about him this morning. Newberg, who is one of the recruiting gurus that you guys probably know about, said Justin may have been the best steal in the country. Justin is 6-4, 220-pounds and can run and throw it. He will probably get drafted in the fourth or fifth round of the baseball draft this coming summer.

"The other thing we were looking for, offensively, were players who could score anytime they touched the ball. Last year, the only two players that we had who could score anytime they touch the ball were Justin Jenkins and Ray Ray Bivines. In this signing class, we signed four or five like that.

"Nick Turner (Booker T. Washington HS), you guys saw the highlights, it doesn't matter where he is, he can put it in the end zone. He was their punter this past season. They had two high snaps, both resulted in touchdowns. Turner picked them up and weaved down the field and scored on both of them.

"Jerious Norwood (Brandon HS) is an unbelievable talent.

"Ken Topps, I'm not sure if he will be a great wide receiver or great DB, but I can tell you that he can score anytime he has the football in his hands.

"The other one we signed is Brandon Wright (Memphis-East HS). He is the fastest kid in the state of Tennessee. After he did an indoor meet, he ran a forty -- it was electronically timed -- and was timed in 4.27. It was the fastest time the guy had ever seen and that included NFL players.

"The other offensive signee was a tight end. We signed Keith Walker last year. He is an excellent prospect, but we needed to sign one this year. We signed a kid from Olive Branch, Mississippi, whose name is Blake Pettit. He is an honor roll student. He is 6-5 to 6-6 and weighs around 230 pounds. He is going to have to add some weight. This year, he played quarterback, defensive end, defensive tackle, tight end and outside linebacker. That shows you what kind of athlete he is. We think once he gets a home at tight end that he will really develop.

"Finally, we signed two kickers, Scott Shurden (Neshoba Central HS) and Keith Andrews (Ouachita Christian HS). One of the most intriguing things about both of those youngsters is neither one of them have made anything but an A in high school. Both will be valedictorians of their classes. Both have ACT scores that you dream about having."

Wes then talked about each recruit in greater detail.

"First is Keith Andrews. Keith is a very athletic guy. He will be all-state, all-region in baseball. He is the best kicker you will ever see. He is 6-1 to 6-2, 180 pounds and has a cannon for a leg. This past year, they got to play in Independence Bowl, which is where we played the Snow Bowl. He kicked off six times, five of them didn't touch the ground until they were behind the goal posts. The other one was a sky kick. I believe he hit six all season that weren't touchbacks. Those six were squib kicks or sky kicks. Everytime he wanted to kick the ball in the end zone, he did it. He only missed two field goals under 53 yards all season. He only missed one under 50. He scored 220 points, which is an all-time state record for Louisiana. He also kicked a 59 yarder. That is an all-time record for Louisiana. He attempted three fields from over 60 yards with the longest been 67 yards. I wanted to put that last one on the highlight film because it was long enough but a little wide right.

"The next player on offense is Richard Burch. His step-father is a preacher. He comes from a great family. Richard is the oldest of five children. He has a younger brother and three sisters. He is a very mature young man. Richard plays in the Brandon High School band. One thing we did with Richard that no other school did was, when he got here, we took him to the band hall and got him all lined up with the band. That was very important, because he saw we accepted him for who he was. He was selected Most Talented at Brandon High School. He is in the honor roll and has been inducted in the Brandon High School Hall of Fame. Six boys have been inducted into the Hall of Fame at Brandon High School and two of them have signed National Letter of Intents with Mississippi State University today.

"Next up is James Cochran. James will major in computer science or business here. Last year, James was 6-4 to 6-4 and 230 to 245 at this time. He was really lean. The first contact period our coach visited his school and found out that James was the second fastest player on their football team. Keep in mine that the kid is now 6-6 to 6-7 and 285 pounds and he is the second fastest player at Central High School. He is a player who will be a better college player than he was a high school player, because he physically matured late. He is an honor roll student. His nickname is Lurch.

"The next prospect is Monte Collins. Monte is an honor roll student. He and (MSU signee) Otis Riddley have been nominated for Mr. Provine High School. It looks like both of them will be inducted into the Hall of Fame at Provine. Last year, he came up here to the Mississippi School of Math and Science and won the physics contest. He is going to be a computer engineer.

"Bryson Davis is next. Bryson was one of the least recruited guys in the class, but he might be my favorite signee. He is 6-3 and weighs 266 pounds. The night before he got here on his visit, he scored 44 points playing in the Houston Basketball Tournament, which is the largest basketball tournament in Texas. That shows you what kind of athlete he is. He catches the ball exceptionally well. He averaged over 7 yards per rush, which is unheard of for a fullback.

"The next player is also a fullback. His name is Willie Evans. He is from Waynesboro, Mississippi and plays for Wayne County High School. Willie is listed at 6-2, 255. That is what Willie wants to be listed at. Willie weighed 277 pounds a month ago. He will probably be the best physical specimen on our football team the very first day he steps foot on campus. He has almost no body fat at 277 pounds. That is almost unheard of. He is very physical and just likes to punish people. He is a good person who wants to teach and coach when his football career is over.

"Aries Nelson, the quarterback from Cleveland East Side, is a true athlete. He has been clocked at a 4.55 second forty. He is over 6-2 and is a big kid. The thing I like about him the most is he is a natural leader.

"The next prospect is Jerious Norwood. He is one of the four Parade All-Americans that we signed. He is an unbelievable prospect. He has the quickest feet that you will ever see. He is right at 200 pounds right now. With his frame, he could easily be 220 pounds. He has no body fat on him. He catches the ball extremely well. Last year, he actually got on the track 8 or 9 times on the hurdles and went out and won the 5A state championship in the hurdles. I think he is a player that could step on the field and help us next year.

"Blake Pettit is the next player. The thing is he has played so many different positions. Coach Sherrill was the one who was so strong about him at first. He really feels once he gets set at tight end, which we believe is his natural position, he will be a great ball player for us. He is an honor roll student. He is a starter on the Olive Branch basketball team. He chose us over Arkansas. We are thrilled to death to have him on our team.

"The next player is Scott Shurden. He will be valedictorian of his high school. Scott is the all-time points leader in the state of Mississippi. He had a great career at Noxapater High School. When he transferred to Neshoba Central High School, he lost his long snapper and holder, and that really hurt him this year.

"Ken Topps is out of Shannon, Mississippi. A lot of folks had him listed as the top quarterback prospect in the state of Mississippi prior to the start of the season. He was still rated high at the end of the season, but folks who saw Aries Nelson play this year put him above Ken. Even though they put Aries ahead of him at quarterback, they still left Ken up there as one of the top athletes, if not the top athlete in the state of Mississippi. He has run a sub-4.5 and has great hands. He is a player who will come in as a quarterback, but I see him as possibly a wide receiver or even a corner because he has exceptionally quick feet. He is a very light guy, but he is tough. He was Northeast Player of the Year this year.

"The last guy I am going to talk about is Brandon Wright. He brought his parents with him when he came in for his visit. He is a great kid. He is the fastest player in the state of Tennessee. He is explosive and is the team leader at East High School. Coach Randle, who is a former Mississippi State football player, will tell you that he is probably the best leader that he has ever had at East High School. As a sophomore, he led his team to the 5A state championship in Tennessee. At halftime, he had three touchdowns. Quite a few folks thinks he is the top cornerback in the country, but he wants to play wide receiver. We are going to let him play wide receiver and that is one of the main reasons that he is at Mississippi State.

"That wraps it up for my part of the offense. I now want to introduce Coach Jim Tompkins. Coach Tompkins has just gotten through signing Nick Turner, a Parade All-American and a player rated one of the top five running backs in the country and also rated one of the top five athletes in the country, Justin Tyler, who is as fine of a high school prospect as you will ever see, Markell McKinley, the top defensive lineman in the state of Mississippi, and Tee Milons, the top wide receiver in the state of Mississippi.

JIM TOMPKINS:
"It is great to be able to come here for this get-together because I have been having to travel to a lot of places. I recruit Starkville, Weir and Ackerman, but I also recruit Atlanta and as much of Georgia as I can cover and part of Florida. I get around a little bit.

"We feel like we had a really good day. I know you also feel like excited about it. Our recruits are also excited about the class. We had a few we would have liked to have signed. We had a lot of folks who have really worked hard. Where is Wes? (Coach Tompkins points to Wes). This guy right here, when Dave Wilson left us, kind of took over all of that and stayed in the office and organized the recruiting. He did a wonderful job. I like the kind of guy Wes is, because you may have to hold him back but you don't have to speed him up. He is a workaholic. I can't say enough good things about him.

After complimenting Wes, Coach Tompkins brought out a picture of the recruits that were in for official visits on Jan. 11-13. All of the recruits that visited that weekend eventually signed with MSU. - Gene

"On January 11th we had a great weekend. We took a picture of all 19 kids with their jerseys on. I think this was Wes' idea. We had them all lined up and took this picture. I believe we had 15 sets of parents in for that weekend. Now, how many kids do you think we signed from that weekend? We signed every last one of them. (The crowd cheered. - Gene). Some of them were already committed before they came. We must have done something right that weekend. There were some high profile players in that group.

"We were concerned about some of the players that committed to us prior to the start of the season because of the struggling season we had. I want to say this about you, the fans. Like I said, we had some things that didn't go like we had planned. Naturally, we were concerned, as the season went on, about some of the kids that were committed, but when we got out here on Thanksgiving night and our stadium was packed with people and the excitement was like electricity in the air, that helped us tremendously in recruiting. I want you to know that everytime we play a team in our stadium it is very important how we react. You did a great job and it meant a lot to us.

"I am now going to talk about the defensive guys and the guys that I signed.

"We signed Odell Bradley. He is a juco guy out of Co-Lin. He is a cornerback that we looked at and studied. We really wanted him, but had to fight the school up north (Mississippi) and a lot of other people came in late on him. We wanted this guy. He has said that he would be glad to red-shirt this year because he wants to play two years. His coach at Co-Lin said we will be hard pressed to keep him off the field. We think he will able to play in a hurry. He is a good attitude type guy.

"The next guy is Marvin Byrdsong (Longview HS). I coach the linebackers and I really like this guy. As Wes knows, when we started talking about linebackers, I said this is the best that I have seen anywhere in the country. His brother, Shawn, played for us. We have had a lot of linebacker who might not have been that high-profile and some that have walked on and been great players and even some we have beaten North Alabama on and they made All-American. This guy right here could have gone anywhere in the country. He is 6-3 and about 240. He can play inside or outside. He played in the national all-star game in Texas and he was a star in it. His mother wanted him to come here. That is good because his brother played here and she knows us. Five of us went out there and visited. We went into his home and his momma had a spread of food out. We had a great visit. After we got through there, I thought we were going to get him. We ended up probably having to fight Arkansas for him, but he could have gone anywhere he wanted to.

"The next kid I want to mention is Kevin Dockery (Hernando HS). Kevin is a cornerback/safety type. He is a very athletic type player. More than likely, we expect him to come in and red-shirt and develop. He is a good offensive type player.

"Corvelli Haynes (Cleveland East Side HS) is next up. He is an outside type guy who can come from the outside and rush the quarterback. He can do that. He does a great job of rushing the quarterback. He looks like he is mad when he tackles them. We like that. He is one of the top kids in the state. He has some developing to do.

"David Heard (Vicksburg HS) is a defensive back from Vicksburg High School. We studied him thoroughly and we think he can play corner or may also play safety, but we signed him to play corner. He is an athletic guy who we want to get in here and help him develop.

"The next guy is Kenny Kern (Clarksdale HS). Kenny is a linebacker. He was in our camp last summer and committed early. He is not as big as Byrdsong, but he is big enough. He has great feet and hardly ever gets knocked off of his feet. We have had a lot of good players from Clarksdale.

"The next kid is Markell McKinley (Weir HS). He is a distant relative to Dennis and Alvin McKinley and also Dicenzo Miller. He is a guy who is about 280. He is very athletic and has real quick feet. We think he can play inside or out. But he is a defensive lineman that we wanted. Good defensive linemen are hard to find. We sweated him out about two weeks ago when he made a trip up north (Mississippi). But he couldn't not come to Mississippi State, because he has a grandmother who loves Mississippi State.

"The next kid is Tee Milons (Starkville HS). I recruited his brother Fredie. We didn't get him and he went to Alabama. You know what, Fredie told him to look hard at Mississippi State. The nice thing that I like is Tee's daddy told me early that he wanted him at Mississippi State. He has a sister who teaches there and played basketball up there (Mississippi). She wanted him at Mississippi State. When I was over at their house a few nights ago, she said 'on my, I'm going to have to wear Maroon and White.' He has another sister who also wanted him here. I think Tee is a guy who really matured as the season went on. He set some records catching passes and he will be an exciting player for us.

"Brett Morgan (Warren Central HS) is next. We have seen here for years because he has been to our camps. We have his brothers, Rob and Josh, up here. His family is big Mississippi State fans. Brett played quarterback and defensive back. He really took charge in the secondary. I really liked that and got sold on him because of that. I don't know if we will start him at quarterback. I think he could play safety for us and be a good one. He may even punt for us.

"The next player is Otis Riddley. He is a big defensive lineman out of Provine HS. Otis is a pure inside guy. He is not a guy who can play inside. He is a big, ole tough kid who can play noseguard. We fully expect to red-shirt him.

"The next one is Deljuan Robinson (Hernando HS). I saw him in camp last year and saw that he is very athletic. He is one of the highest recruited players in the country. He has got great ability. He played linebacker, but he could probably play a lot of different things. He is going to be an exciting player for us during his career. You can expect some big-time things out of him. Everybody in the world recruited him.

"Another defensive lineman is Roosevelt Tate (Memphis-Hamilton HS). I didn't know about him until this year. He is going to be an outside type guy. He is 6-4, 255. I think he is going to be a real good player. I think he will red-shirt and develop. I think he will be a guy who can sack the quarterback.

"The next kid is Nick Turner. He is a running back. I have been following him since he was in the 9th grade. He is from Booker T. Washington in Atlanta. He does all kinds of things. He is pretty exciting to watch. We signed two running backs that can do some things. We ended up having to fight off Georgia, Maryland, Auburn and some others. It ended up us and Maryland because he has a teammate there. His daddy loved his visit here and it seemed like his mother, grandmother and coach all kind of wanted him to come here. He is also good friends with Kamau Jackson, who is in school here. They went to the same school.

"The next kid is Justin Tyler (Gray County HS). I went to check on him last May, during May recruiting. I asked his coach about him and he said he would be walking through here soon. When he came out to the weight room, he was 6-4 with broad shoulders. He didn't look like a lot of quarterbacks. We got real interested in him. He is 6-4, about 220 and runs about 4.7. He is not one of those slow-footed guys. He rand for 800 to 900 yards rushing last year. When you see him back there, he is checking off at the line and telling all the other guys what to do. We are very happy about him. We kept our fingers crossed about him. I am glad Georgia has a freshman quarterback and a red-shirt quarterback. We would have really had our work cut out for us if that hadn't been the case. We ended up having to fight South Carolina as hard as any team. We got scared to death the last week because Florida jumped in on him and Stanford tried to get him to visit. He is kind of different, because his dad is a Yale graduate. Then we go to see him and go down a dirt road to see him. They are restoring a house back in there. When he hopped in a pickup truck, I thought maybe we had a chance. They are great people. You are going to like them. They want to get in the middle of this tailgating."

Jim mentioned a few more things about Justin, Aries Nelson and Justin's family.

"One thing that concerned me was when I had he and his parents and we pulled up to the hotel during their official visit to MSU. I looked up and saw Aries Nelson, the other quarterback. He is a big, nice-looking kid too. Justin gets out and Aries looks at him and then they start smiling. Then they ran over and hugged each other. They had been to some camps together, so they knew each other. I wondered if that would affect his decision. However, that didn't seem to bother him.

"His daddy has called over here two or three times today wanting to know if Darren Williams has signed yet. They are really into what we are doing and really into Mississippi State. You are going to see them a lot over here. You will get to know them and see that they are a great family.

"Another person who will be on him is Ron Polk, because this guy is going to play baseball, too. He is ranked by some people as the fifth best football/baseball combination in the nation. He is a power-hitting third baseman. I believe he hit 19 home runs last year. Ron and his coaches really like him. We had a visit with them when he came in for his visit.

"The last kid is Darren Williams (Clarksdale HS). He is ranked as the top prospect in the state of Mississippi. Even though we thought we were going to get him, I was sweating him out until I saw (his papers) come in, because the folks up north continued to make last-ditch efforts on him. You probably heard those things and they were probably true (crowd laughed). I wanted him because he is a guy who has a look in his eye. When he was over here visiting with Mario this past summer, you could just see that look in his eye. I think he can play as a freshman. We were in a meeting today and we started carrying on because the offensive coaches want to play him at wide receiver. But we (the defensive coaches) don't want to think too much about that (crowd laughed). However, he might be the kind of guy who could play both ways. He might be able to play safety and wide receiver. He could be that type athlete. I tell you, he is a great kid. When you see him on tape, he does everything. He also played in that all-star game in Texas and was one of the better players in it.

Jim answered a few questions at the end of the meeting. - Gene

How does this class compare to last year?
"We had a good class last year, but I have been here twelve years and I don't know if we have ever signed a better class than this one."

Do you think we will start recruiting Memphis every year now?
"Yes, I would think so, especially since we have gotten some kids from there now. People have kind of steered away from Memphis recently and I can understand that."

Are all the scholarships used up?
"We are still fooling around with a couple of players, so don't be shocked if you see us sign a couple of more players." (Jim did not mention names because NCAA rules forbid coaches from mentioning players' names. - Gene)

Do the two players that we signed in December count against last year's scholarships or this year's?
"They count on this year's. Don't even let that worry you, because it will all work out."

How about talking about Manuel Dickson, the offensive lineman you signed in December.
"Manuel is the offensive lineman we signed out of Georgia Military. He is about 6-4 and 285. He might have the best feet among our linemen. He is very athletic. The coaches over there were extremely high on him. We are going to play him at either center or guard. He looks good, so far. He is also a good kid. We are very pleased with him."


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