"Why haven't we offered Antwon Dixon" was a common question on message boards in the early going.
Dixon was expected to be one of the most highly sought after prospects in the state, much like older brother Anthony. It seemed that State should have the upper hand. Any questions about Antwon's intentions were erased shortly after he committed and brother Anthony began to thrive in Starkville.
Dixon was part of a trio of "must have" players that also included Co-Eric Riley and Derek Sherrod. All three had close ties to the program through friends or family. The signing of all three were crucial to the class.
The battle for Co-Eric, despite some reports, was never really a back and forth affair until the very end. Riley's younger brother told me that Co-Eric had decided to sign with Oklahoma State while on his visit there. While Co-Eric never admitted this, it was certainly cause for concern. Within a couple of days, Riley was back to normal. OSU made a push for Co-Eric up until the very end, but being close to home and reuniting with Tony Burks helped put the Bulldogs over the top.
A popular negative recruiting tactic used against the Bulldogs early in the process was that Dixon and Sherrod had not committed. It was said, "That things must not be too good in Starkville if State can't get those two to commit when they already have brothers on the team." A creative comment, but one that was rendered useless by the end of August when both "little" brothers were added to the commitment list.
Derek was solid throughout. In the end State offered something no one else could and that was the chance to play with older brother Desmond. Those two may be as close as any two brothers on the planet.
D.J. Looney was always a good interview. He knew how to handle himself and was always very gregarious. D.J. is the type of person who is at home in a crowd. He made fast friends with many of the commitments at the home football games. Looney only seemed to second guess himself one time and that was once coaches could start calling routinely. Once he adjusted he settled in and was one of State's most solid commitments.
Once Lawrence committed to State he let all other schools know he was done. Addison grew up an Ole Miss fan, but boasts that the red and blue in his closet has been replaced by some maroon and white.
Dakota Merritt was a difficult person to get a hold of. He was not big on interviews or the lime light. He was always cordial, but never called in on his own. Once he committed he was also done with recruiting. Merritt impressed me when he told me he wanted to spend the rest of his senior year hanging out with his friends and not worrying about where he was going to college.
Shortly after Chris Relf committed, he was closing the door on another school every time I talked to him. Chris told Texas A&M, Memphis and Southen Miss he was solid and by the fall they all moved on to greener pastures.
Colton Jenkins was being pursued by Southern Miss up until the end. Memphis was another school that stayed after him a good bit. At one time Jenkins thought me might visit Southern Miss, but his visit to Starkville removed any possibilities of that.
Damein Anderson was a player Southern Miss really put the blitz on. They told him they wanted him to come in for a visit and to bring Jazzmen Guy with him. The coach from Southern called Damein the Thursday before the visit to see if he was going to come and Damein told him that he nor Jazzmen were coming. Shortly after this USM backed off.
Some of the most excited commitments for State were out of state players.
Josh Riddell was ready to commit before he even got on the plane. Josh told his dad that unless he just hated it, he was going to commit on his visit. If Josh had not committed, JuCo QB Drew Branch had a tenative mid week visit set up with State. Had Riddell not committed, Branch most likely would have been the guy. Drew signed with Northwestern State.
Terrell Johnson said he felt that his family was convinced MSU was the place for him when they came in on an unofficial visit. Terrell was leaning to State for a while and once he committed he was solid. During his official visit interview he started to get a little choked up when he called the other commitments his brothers.
Zach Smith's name was passed on to me by one of our subscribers that saw him play. Once I saw his stats, I had to call to see what his situation was. State had just started getting in the picture with him at that time. Zach said then that if State offered he was going to commit. Zach was always a good interview and always made time to talk. The first time Zach had ever been to MSU was on his official visit. He committed to State sight unseen.
Wes Carroll always had a good poker face, but it was clear that he liked State a lot throughout the process. His coach thought they had great chance to win state, so he wanted no distractions. There was some speculation that Riddell may have taken Wes' offer, but those notions were quickly dismissed when Carroll committed. Wes was another who called the other schools and told them he was done. Wes says the team is very close, but that the thing that impressed him the most was the respect all of the players had for Michael Henig.
O'Neal Wilder made it seem like Miami was in a good position to sign him. Once Wilder got off the plane and into the hustle and bustle of the city, Starkville seemed a lot more attractive. O'Neal's roommate at the basketball state All-Star game was Marcus Green. The two have been friends ever since.
Things with Jessie Bowman were always up and down all the way to signing day. Sources close to Bowman always made it seem that Jessie was Starkville bound all along. Bowman was less forthcoming with that information. It was a fight for Jessie all the way up until the end. If he had not been able to enroll at midterm he would have been able to sign with another school in February.
There was really not a lot of concern about Wade Bonner. His dad said all along that he wanted Wade to go to State. Wade Bonner Sr. is a very big fan of Coach Croom. The visit to Arkansas was Wade's first trip on an airplane and the visit to Memphis was a courtesy visit. Wade's dad always wanted Wade closer to home and Bonner wanted to play in the SEC, both criteria were met by State.
Chris Nance told us that it took him about three seconds to commit. He said that as soon as Coach Stringer told him he was offering, Nance told Stringer he was committing.
Jasper O'Quinn was a bit of a roller coaster in some respects. He kept adding offers up until the very end. Louisville wanted him to come in for a visit last weekend, but after his visit to Starkville he told Louisville to not make any arrangements for him. Jasper said afterwards that had his visit in Starkville not gone well he would have visited Louisville.
K.J. Wright was another commitment that was being pressured to visit another school. Auburn really stayed after him to come in, but in the end Wright passed. K.J. was close to committing State before his visit to South Carolina, but he wanted to take a trip to see what it was like. Within a few days of returning home, K.J. sat down with his family and decided on State. The ability to play close to home made a big difference in the end. He and his father are very close and he wanted his family to be able to see him play.
Quentin Saulsberry's decision to sign with State gained more strength every time an in state player committed. "Q" really kept up with things and worked the phones himself to find out where everyone was going. Memphis was never really a serious contender. Coach Croom and Brick Haley made a huge impression on the Saulsberrys. When he committed his family was with him and he says that Coach Croom grabbed him and hugged him.
Another surprise was Dominic Douglas of Hinds. The Clarion Ledger can claim the scoop on this one. Once Douglas was on board it made me really start to wonder about Archie Sims. Douglas took an official visit to Memphis after his commitment. He said once he got up there and looked around, he was certain he wanted to go to State.
In my opinion, pound for pound the best football player in the state of Mississippi is Marcus Green. I was impressed with Marcus and his story from the very beginning. Once we got film of him I was blown away. Green was high on Coach Croom and State for most of his recruitment. He started leaning to Southern Miss once because they were offering him a chance at running back. Once State gave him the same opportunity it was over. His visit to Alabama made some people upset on the message boards, but Green was done.
Jamie Jones is a prime example of the adage steady wins the race. Jones had several schools on him this summer, but things slowed down a good bit in the fall. Once he got his academics in order most schools were full or had moved on. Jamie was ready to commit to State before he made the trip, but wanted to see how things would have worked out numbers wise. Jamie was willing to grey shirt, but was unsure how it all may work out. He didn't know if his family would be able to do it. I am sure he is a pretty big Lee Chambers fan now.
Eric Richards story didn't have a lot of ups and downs. He was really humbled by it all in the beginning. His ability to put the ball out of the back of the end zone will be very big addition.
Karlin Brown is wild. He is a lot of fun to talk to. He has a bit of a swagger about him. Once he made his mind up that he was going to State he let his parents take the calls from other coaches. Teammates Tim and Xavier Lamb both agreed that Karlin was the biggest hitter on the Lincoln High team.
Mike Hunt talked early on about the high drama of a signing day announcement, but jumped on his first offer. Mike played a role in State signing his cousin Jasper O'Quinn. Mike is very easy going, but carries himself with a quiet confidence. Of all of the commitments, Mike may have been the most wide-eyed about it all.
Ethan Stockett was another rock. I think we have him underrated a bit and I sent in my thoughts along with a clip to his video, but to no avail. Fullbacks don't get a lot of respect, but Stockett is a good one. He was always very positive even when the team was struggling. He committed lock, stock and barrell.
Antonio White is a rather interesting kid. He has trouble saying no to people by his own admission. He told several schools he was going to visit, but just never got around to going. He told Bama three times he was coming in, but never went. He confessed once that he told some of the other schools what he thought they wanted to hear just to get them off the phone. He is one of Marcus Green's biggest fans.
Maurice Crutison is a deeply competitive young man. He only played in three games as a senior and it killed him. His team had a difficult season and there he was on the sidelines. He is ready to get out there. Once his knee injury was made public everyone backed off. Now he is coming back, but is not 100% yet. As you can see in his junior video he has big time speed.
Korentheus Bailey provided some drama in the fall. I got the e-mail from his Dad that said Bailey was no longer an MSU commitment, I wanted some type of confirmation because frankly you just never know who is sending you an e-mail. The next day when I spoke to Korentheus and his mother things had calmed down. One of the big sticking points with the Baileys was that Korentheus didn't get to do a lot of the things his friends did because he committed early. He didn't go to other camps and other schools' games on unofficial visits. He thought he may be missing something and his mother wasn't so sure she wanted him going far from home. Once everyone had a chance to sit down and talk, things were okay again. Kevin Bailey, Korentheus's dad, is one of the nicest guys you could ever talk to.
We thought something may be in the works with LaMarcus Williams shortly after the coaching changes at Alabama. State needed a DT and Harbison was now at State, so it made sense that MSU would recruit him. Throw in the fact that Alabama was making some adjustments to their class and it seemed like a situation ripe for the picking. Ole Miss beat State to the punch and to their credit pulled the rug out from under Saban's plans for LaMarcus. State got in on him late and he came in to visit last weekend. We could not get LaMarcus on the phone to confirm anything until after he signed. I am still a bit surprised that State was able to land him.
As rumored for some time Robert Elliot made the switch to State on signing day. The truth be told I wasn't certain it was going to happen until the morning of signing day. Elliot made a lot of comments throughout the year that didn't add up.
He attended a home football game of State's and then I read in an interview that he claimed he never attended the game.
It was reported that he was going to take visits and then in the next report he wasn't going to take visits.
It was back and forth all year in a lot of respects. One thing Robert requested was that he visit MSU last. He never wavered on that. A lot of folks wondered why Robert was not scheduled for the big recruiting weekend of the 19th. It was his choice to come in the following weekend just a week before the dead period began.
Once the season ended the rumors about Robert making the switch picked up. Then Robert himself began to be more open about things.
Despite all signs pointing towards Robert signing with State, there were still some doubt that it would happen. Once Lee Chambers' scholarship was revoked a lot of people felt that was a sign Elliot was locked up. I do not see the two situations directly connected, but it certainly did nothing to hurt State's chances.
A look back would not be complete without mentioning some of the ones who got away.
One of the things that I get amused by sometimes is that some people forget these young men are often 17 years old making the best decision they can.
Jamariey Atterberry is a good example. He probably committed before he was truly ready. I think he really wanted to go to Ole Miss and when he got the chance he was not sure how to handle things. I believe he handled things the best way he knew how and if he had it to do over again he probably would have waited to commit.
Lee Chambers was all over the place. Most of the time things were fine. He talked about decommiting at times, but he did not want it reported. Then a day or two later he would call and be back to normal. I am not sure if Lee was simply enjoying the spotlight a little too much, but when the call was made to pull his scholarship he was rather conflicted. He admitted to me that State pulled out, but part of him wanted to get back in. Then in the next sentence he would say he was ready to move on.
Ellis Lankster was a surprise. In the beginning State was not showing Lankster a lot of attention, but as the fall went on Melvin Smith had him convinced he could be the next Smoot. Ellis committed and was on fire for State. He said he would have signed on his visit if he could. His high school coach talked him into taking the WVU visit just to go see the sights. That Sunday Ellis called me and told me he was signing with WVU. He was still on fire, but now for the Mountaineers. Ironically, Rashad Roussell was the player who convinced Ellis to even consider WVU, got dropped just before signing day.
Chaz Ramsey was a lot closer to committing to MSU than a lot of people realize. It was MSU and Auburn in the final two. When Chaz made his visit to Auburn and hung out with the players it was over. He just felt at home. He told us the hardest phone call he had to make was to Coach Croom to tell him he was heading to Auburn. The next day State reeled in D.J. Looney.
Jonathan Williams was committed, but still flirting with South Carolina. MSU played up the friends angle and SC the family angle. Once Jonathan had to deal with loss of a loved one he wanted to be closer to his family to help take care of things if he was needed. I guess you could just say it was not meant to be.
One of the kids I really thought State would get was Darren Evans from Indianapolis. He said many times he was just days away from committing to MSU, but it soon became apparent that the Bulldogs were a back up plan. He said that MSU was so far from home, but then he ended up committing to Virgnia Tech which is no closer.
All in all it was good year. State did not use all of it's official visits this year, but no one seemed to notice. State signed more of the Dandy Dozen than any other State school despite the earlier perceptions they were being left behind in state.
The class on paper is the best in the Sylvester Croom era, but it is still just on paper. In the end it is all about wins and losses on the scoreboard, but if these young men can realize their potential those wins should come too.