[Premium article] Since last Wednesday was signing day, I am going to devote my entire Monday Morning Coffee Break to how MSU did in the recruiting wars.

Mississippi State fans continue to talk with great enthusiasm about the absolutely fabulous class (four Parade All-Americans were signed) that the Mississippi State coaches have signed this year."> [Premium article] Since last Wednesday was signing day, I am going to devote my entire Monday Morning Coffee Break to how MSU did in the recruiting wars.

Mississippi State fans continue to talk with great enthusiasm about the absolutely fabulous class (four Parade All-Americans were signed) that the Mississippi State coaches have signed this year.">


<img src="http://www.genespage.com/images/01columnists/gswindoll.jpg" align="left" width="120" height="161"> [Premium article] Since last Wednesday was signing day, I am going to devote my entire Monday Morning Coffee Break to how MSU did in the recruiting wars.<P> Mississippi State fans continue to talk with great enthusiasm about the absolutely fabulous class (four Parade All-Americans were signed) that the Mississippi State coaches have signed this year.

And there is a legitimate reason for that enthusiasm, since most recruiting services also believe it is a great class. A couple of the recruiting services have even put out early rankings which have MSU ranked 7th (CBS Sportsline.com/PrepStar) and 10th (Max Emfinger).

While rankings are mostly for the fans, what really determines how well a team recruited is the talent level and the signings based on needs. Here is a position by position analysis of those two items.


Mississippi State, under Coach Sherrill, has always had a solid to great kicker. Last year was an exception. While last year's kicker, freshman John Michael Marlin, has exhibited a strong leg at times, he was very inconsistent with his accuracy and very rarely kicked his kickoffs into the end zone. He may very well become a great kicker, but it was obvious the Mississippi State coaching staff had some concern. Because of that, they made signing a placekicker a high priority this recruiting season.

Very early on, they received a commitment from Neshoba Central (MS) High School kicker Scott Shurden. Scott, who played for Noxapater High School prior to his senior season, had an inconsistent year his senior year, primarily due to the inconsistency of his snappers and holders. That, possibly, caused a little concern among the coaches at MSU, because they continued to look for another kicker.

They looked seriously at two, David Jordan, a kicker from Georgia who signed elsewhere, and Keith Andrews, a kicker from Louisiana. State signed Andrews.

Shurden was ranked the third best place-kicker in the southeast by PrepStar magazine. He made 10-of-19 field goals his junior season and set a state of Mississippi high school record with 18 field goals his sophomore season. During his junior season, he kicked 59 of his 71 kickoffs into the end zone.

Andrews, who was rated the 4th best place-kicker in the southeast by PrepStar magazine, had an outstanding senior season, hitting 13-of-21 field goal attempts (12-of-14 from 53 yards in) and putting 50 of his 55 kickoffs into the end zone (the five that didn't go into the end zone were either squib or sky kicks). Exhibiting a very strong leg, he also kicked quite a few of his kickoffs out of the end zone. He set a record for the longest field goal (59 yards) in Louisiana High School history.

Both kickers were also punters in high school.

A sidenote is both kickers are straight-A students and are valedictorians of their classes.

Need filled?
Mississippi State was looking for a place-kicker who made his field goals on a consistent basis and has a strong enough leg to put the ball into the end zone on a consistent basis. It looks like they got that in Keith Andrews and maybe even Scott Shurden.

Ones that got away.
David Jordan to Georgia Tech. With the signing of Andrews, losing Jordan was not that much of a loss.


With senior quarterback Wayne Madkin graduating, Mississippi State's coaches searched long and hard for a top-notch junior college quarterback to replace him. While you would think it would be imperative that MSU sign a quarterback who could come in and play immediately, the play of junior-to-be Kevin Fant the last few games, after he replaced Madkin in the starting lineup, proved to the coaches that that wasn't necessary. Because of his play, two junior college quarterbacks that MSU was recruiting, were either not offered or decided to sign elsewhere.

Truthfully, that was probably best for MSU because it allowed them to sign three high school quarterback that were probably better than those two. The three are Justin Tyler, Aries Nelson and Ken Topps.

Of those three, one, Ken Topps, very likely will wind up at receiver or defensive back. Ken has very quick feet, great hands and outstanding speed. That spells wide receiver to me.

Aries Nelson is the next guy on the list. Aries has been high on Mississippi State's list since his junior year. He is tall (6-2 to 6-3), has a strong arm (has thrown the ball 65 yards during a game according to MSU football administrative assistant Wes Slay), quick feet (4.55 forty) and great leadership ability. There have been rumors that he might move to wide receiver eventually, but I look for the MSU coaches to give him a very, very hard look at quarterback before doing something like that.

The third member of the quarterback group is Justin Tyler. Justin is a pure quarterback. He is tall (6-4), has a very strong arm, good feet (4.7 forty), and great leadership ability. Justin is also a major league baseball prospect because he is a power-hitting (34 home runs the last two seasons) third baseman. He is projected as the 142nd best high school baseball prospect in the nation by Prospects Plus, a publication put out by Baseball America and Perfect Game USA. You add in the college players that will probably be rated higher than Justin and I figure he will be in the 175 to 250 ranking of all prospects unless he has a great senior season. Based on his signability and the season he has this year, he could go anywhere from the 3rd to 10th round or the scouts might even think he is not signable and not draft him at all. I have talked to his dad a couple of times and he wants him to go to college (he is a Yale graduate), but if the money is right, he will sign a pro contract. In case you are wondering, the bonuses for the 3rd through the 10th rounds draft picks of the 2001 draft average out to be as follows (source: Prospects Plus):

3rd (75 to 100 picks) - $450,000 to 500,000 (High 2,000,000; Low 160,000)
4th (101 to 130) - 250,000 to 300,000 (High 1,250,000; Low 185,000)
5th (131 to 160) - 175,000 to 250,000 (High 500,000; Low 40,000):
6th (161 to 190) - 150,000 to 175,000 (High 375,000; Low 7,500)
7th (191 to 220) - 75,000 to 100,000 (High 175,000; Low 27,500)
8th (221 to 250) - 60,000 to 80,000 (High 200,000; Low 10,000)
9th (251 to 280) - 50,000 to 75,000 (High 190,000; Low 10,000)
10th (281 to 310) - 50,000 to 75,000 (High 85,000; Low 2,500)

Need filled?

Mississippi State's coaches, after seeing Kevin Fant perform the last few games, went from a team looking for a junior college quarterback to come in and play immediately to a team looking for a top-notch high school quarterback who could come in and redshirt and then backup Kevin Fant for a year. They got that in Aries Nelson and Justin Tyler. This is the first year in recent memory that MSU got the QBs that they wanted the most.

Ones that got away.

Bryan Brown to Mississippi and Nathan Chandler to Iowa. Brown is a great athlete who would have been moved to another position. With the play of Fant, Chandler would have sat on the bench unless Fant was injured.


With senior running back Dicenzo Miller graduating, MSU's coaches went looking for a running back that could measure up to Miller and would allow them to continue to run a two running back system. Whomever they signed would have to come in and play immediately. MSU never waivered from the ones that they wanted the most: Jerious Norwood and, to a lesser extent, Nick Turner. I say lesser extent because Turner is from Georgia and would be a more difficult guy to sign, while Norwood was already an MSU fan and had been an MSU lean for over a year.

The bottom line is MSU signed two absolutely phenomenal talents in these two Parade All-Americans. Both have solid size, are extremely fast (Turner runs a 10.47 100 meters while Norwood has run it in 10.5 seconds), have quick feet (both can turn on a dime), and were wanted by every school in the nation.

The only question mark: Will Turner make his grades? He will have to work very hard, but it is doable.

Need filled?

Add these two in the backfield with senior Dontae Walker and you have three Parade All-Americans on the same college team. Suffice it to say, MSU filled their need.

Ones that got away.



Mississippi State is always looking for a big fullback who can block. Even though they have quite a bit of depth at the fullback position, that didn't stop them from looking for a high school fullback. They initially wanted Jamaal Pittman, but Mississippi got to him early, probably because he did not want to go to the same school that Norwood signed with.

MSU kept looking and found two others, Bryson Davis and Willie Evans, who could turn out to be better than Pittman, at least as a blocking fullback. Both are tall and big (6-2 to 6-3 and 260 to 277). One, Evans, is a tremendous physical specimen who has very little body fat, while the other one, Davis, has great hands and is a great athlete (scored 44 points in a basketball game recently and was dunking in the 9th grade). Evans committed to Southern Miss early (as a defensive lineman), but was very interested in State prior to that. When MSU first contacted him in mid-December, he let them know that he was interested. He then officially visited MSU and knew from then on that was where he wanted to go.

Need filled?

While MSU has depth at fullback, the coaches are still not sure if they have a fullback that can be a big-time blocking fullback like the fullbacks MSU has had in the past. Both of the players that they signed definitely have the size. Now, the only question is can they block?

Ones that got away.

Jamaal Pittman to Mississippi. I know most folks consider him a running back, but I strongly suspect he would have been moved to fullback if he had signed with State because of the depth at running back.


MSU has three excellent tight ends on their team. However, one, Donald Lee, is a senior. With a junior, Aaron Lumpkin, and a redshirt freshman, Keith Walker (now up to 255 pounds), backing him up, this was not a high priority position. However, MSU looked at two, John Hall and Blake Pettit.

Both players visited and both were offered. MSU seem to really like Hall, but it wouldn't have surprised me if he would have eventually been moved to offensive line due to his size and speed (6-5, 275, 5.1).

Pettit, who played several positions in high school, is more of a project. However, he has the frame to add much more weight (6-6, 225). With the depth at tight end, he will have plenty of time to develop.

Need filled?

MSU was looking for a guy that could develop into a solid tight end. They liked Hall, but he chose South Carolina. They also liked Pettit, although he was more of a project. They will have to wait a little longer on him to develop, but he has more speed than Hall.

Ones that got away.

John Hall to South Carolina. There is a chance he would have wound up at offensive line.


Mississippi State has a lot of young wide receivers but went looking for a few more. It wasn't an immediate need, so they looked in the high school ranks.

From the get-go, the MSU coaches liked Brandon Wright of Memphis. However, he was being courted by the likes of Tennessee and Florida and thought he would wind up at one of those two schools. Both schools liked him, but backed off after getting commitments from other receivers. That let MSU get back into the picture. However, at the end, they had to fight off hometown school Memphis, a team that he committed to near the end of the recruiting process. Thanks to MSU assistant coach Terry Lewis' persistence, MSU finally won Wright over at the 11th hour. Wright is considered the fastest player in Tennessee (10.4 100 meters, 4.27 forty) and is a real gem.

MSU also came in late with Starkville's Tee Milons and signed him, as they did Starkville Academy's Will Prosser during the early December signing period. Neither player was highly recruited but Tee could be a real find due to his combination of speed and catching ability, while Will is a big, raw talent at wide receiver (he played QB in school) who is a very hard worker.

Need filled?

This was not a high priority position, but MSU still signed a great one in Wright and two others who could develop into very good receivers.

Ones that got away.



With three starters graduating on the offensive line, MSU looked throughout the junior college ranks for offensive linemen who could not only play immediately, but would also be able to sign during the December signing period. They looked at several - they even brought two in for official visits - but found just one that fit their needs: Manuel Dickson.

Dickson is a 6-4, 285-pounder who may have the best feet of the current MSU offensive linemen. He is also very athletic. He will play either center or guard.

MSU also wanted to hit the high school ranks this year to fill a depth void. They won a few and lost a few.

They signed the best high school offensive lineman in the state of Mississippi in Richard Burch. They also signed two players that are considered projects: Monte Collins and James Cochran.

Collins is a big youngster who is about 6-7 and 360 pounds. He will need time to work on his footspeed. Cochran is a player that is very intriguing because he developed late. His junior year, he was about 6-4 and weighed in the 230 to 245 range. Coming into his senior year, he sprouted up to 6-6 to 6-7 and 285 pounds. He has very good footspeed and strength. He will play either center or tackle in college.

Need filled?

This is one position that the need was probably not filled. MSU, instead of relying on junior college players to come in and take over the starting spots, will have to rely on several sophomores and redshirt freshmen to compete for starting positions. Center will be manned by juco transfer Dickson, returning starter Blake Jones or redshirt freshman Chris McNeil. Sophomores Brad Weathers, David Stewart and Will Rogers (moving from DL to OL) and senior Michael Allen will have to be counted on heavily to replace the departed Courtney Lee and Tommy Watson.

Ones that got away.

Antonio Sanders and Jay Kirkland to Mississippi. Nathan Bennett to Clemson. And to a lessor extent, Jared McGowan to Kentucky. MSU offered McGowan the night before signing day. MSU would also liked to have signed juco John Hawk (possibly the top-rated juco OL in the nation), but because he did not graduate in December, they backed off.


With the departure of starting defensive ends Conner Stephens and Dwayne Robertson, it would have probably been nice if MSU could have found a couple of juco defensive ends to come in and play immediately, but, as far as I can tell, the coaches decided not to go that route. Instead, they went after high school players. That makes me believe they have confidence in the likes of Robert Spivey and redshirt juco Corey Brown to play next season.

Mississippi State signed one of the top combo linebacker/defensive ends in the country in Deljuan Robinson. Robinson, a top 25 pick by The Sporting News, has the talent, size and speed (6-4, 270, 4.8) to play next year. He may be needed. MSU also signed three other players, Markell McKinley, Roosevelt Tate and Corvelli Haynes, who are great pass-rushers. McKinley, as the year wore on, attracted more and more attention. MSU had to fight Mississippi hard for this youngster. Tate and Haynes were not highly highly recruited, but have solid talent. They will just need time to develop.

Sidenote: Haynes, McKinley and Robinson will need to work on their grades, but it is doable for all three, especially McKinley and Robinson.

Need filled?

While MSU signed some talented high schoolers, I don't see anyone coming in and contributing immediately except for Robinson. Based on that, I really don't think the need was filled in this area. With the current depth at DE and who they signed, MSU will be a little thin in this area next season. They sure don't want to sustain an injury to one of their starters. The good news is it appears MSU is doing very, very well with a couple of great Mississippi high school defensive end prospects that will be able to come in and play immediately in 2003, but that's a story for another time.

Ones that got away.

Willie Henderson to Memphis and Brandon Jenkins to Mississippi. Henderson could have come in and, possibly, played immediately. The loss of Jenkins, a player who has the talent to play immediately, did not hurt as much since he will have to go the juco or prep school route first.


MSU did not really need much immediate help at this position because of the players coming back. While the MSU coaches looked at a few juco linemen, basically, what they were looking for were a few talented high school linemen that they could bring in and develop. When the current juco players graduated, then the high schoolers would be ready to either take over starting positions or add depth.

With that in mind, they recruited high schoolers Otis Riddley, LaRon Harris, Jayme Mitchell and Timmy Duckworth. All four are talented players and would have been ready to play in a couple of years. However, State was in hard-fought battles for Harris, Mitchell and Duckworth and lost all three.

Need filled?

Although this was not a high, high priority need, especially for immediate help, it would have still been great if MSU had been able to sign a couple of more high schoolers. Now, the heat will be on the State coaches to sign a couple of juco defensive linemen and a couple of highly-thought of high school defensive linemen next season. If they don't, then this could become an real area of concern in two years.

Ones that got away.

LaRon Harris to Tennessee. Jayme Mitchell to Mississippi and Timmy Duckworth to Auburn. MSU never really got in the picture with Duckworth. There were rumors that State did, but they turned out to be nothing more than rumors. MSU made solid inroads with Harris early, but lost out when Tennessee offered a scholarship. State made inroads with Mitchell late, but Mississippi, the team he committed to early on, was able to convince him to stick with them.


MSU is fairly solid at the linebacker spot, but still wanted to sign at least one great linebacker. With that in mind, they went after three very good ones, Marvin Byrdsong, Chris Herring and Kenny Kern. Kenny, early on, committed to MSU. Byrdsong and Herring were battles.

Byrdsong, senior Shawn Byrdsong's younger brother, is a Parade All-American who could very well be the top linebacker in the nation. On film, he is not only one of the fastest linebackers that I have seen seen, but he is also one of the hardest hitters. He absolutely destroys the ball-carrier. It is like watching a bullet flying through the air when watching him run to a ball carrier. MSU's Craig Stump persistently stuck with Byrdsong and received his commitment less than a week prior to signing day. Everybody in the nation wanted him, but it wound up being an MSU - Arkansas battle.

Herring was a different story. He committed to Mississippi fairly early, but always seem to show some interest in MSU - he even took an official visit to State. Because of this interest, MSU assistant coach Melvin Smith never stopped recruiting him and, according to rumors, felt like he had a chance to get him to sign with State. Even to the end, there were rumors that Herring would sign with State on signing day. However, when it was all said and done, Herring honored his commitment to Mississippi and signed with them.

Sidenote: Byrdsong will need to work on his academics, but it is doable.

Need filled?

With MSU's depth at linebacker, this was not a high priority area, but when you can sign a player of Byrdsong's talent, you work your hardest to sign him. And Mississippi State did. Plus, they also signed another very good Clarksdale High School linebacker, a school where they have great success signing players, in Kenny Kern.

Ones that got away.

Chris Herring to Mississippi. He would have really helped at the defensive end spot this season if the coaches felt that they needed depth there.


Although MSU graduated both of their starting DOG safeties, the coaches seem to not be that concerned about that position. You have to think that they feel they have the necessary talent already on the roster in the likes of Walter Burdett, Gabe Wallace, Bryan Shumaker and Clarence McDougal (if he is healthy).

For the most part, it looks like the coaches signed defensive secondary players that they could bring in and redshirt and develop. The two exceptions are juco cornerback Odell Bradley and safety/wide receiver Darren Williams. Bradley is the kind of talent that could come in and beat out either starting cornerback if they don't play up to the standards that they are capable of. Williams, MSU's fourth Parade All-American signee, is a tremendous talent who is perfect for free safety, but could, in my opinion, play DOG safety if necessary. He also has the talent to play wide receiver. He has a chance to be an All-American while at State.

The other three signees, David Heard, Kevin Dockery and Brett Morgan, will benefit from redshirt years. Heard and Dockery will start out at cornerback, while Morgan has safety written all over him.

Need filled?

Even though they graduated their two DOG safeties, Mississippi State's coaches seem to feel that they have players to replace them. With that thought in mind, the coaches went out and recruited for the future with the exception of Bradley and Williams. Both will come in and compete for starting jobs immediately.

Ones that got away.

Sam Olajubutu signed with Arkansas after committing to MSU. He would have played DOG safety, but a redshirt was probably in his future.

Well, that wraps up this week's edition of the Monday Morning Bulldog Coffee Break.

Have a great Bulldog week!

Gene Swindoll

Archived Monday Morning Coffee Break Articles:
Feb. 4, 2002
Jan. 28, 2002
Jan. 21, 2002
Jan. 14, 2002
Jan. 7, 2002
Dec. 31, 2001
Dec. 24, 2001
Dec. 17, 2001
Dec. 10, 2001
Dec. 3, 2001
Nov. 26, 2001
Nov. 19, 2001
Nov. 12, 2001
Nov. 7, 2001

Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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