The Beginning of an Exciting Era

Mississippi State head coach Sylvester Croom believes this year's recruiting class may be the best in his short history at MSU. There are highly recruited prospects that turned down the likes of Florida, Notre Dame, LSU, Alabama and Arkansas as well as players that were lightly recruited despite what the MSU coaches felt was their obvious talent.

Although there are several players that stand out among all the signees, four high schoolers that could, and probably will play next year are Caledonia High School offensive tackle Derek Sherrod (6-6.75, 310), Kemper County High School running back Marcus Green (6-2, 215), Okolona High School running back Robert Elliott (6-1, 200) and Fayette Ware High School cornerback Wade Bonner (5-10.5, 180).

Sherrod, a mountain of a man, is the kind of offensive lineman you can easily build an offensive line around.

"Derek Sherrod is one of the best offensive linemen in the country," said Coach Croom. "(Florida head coach) Urban Meyer said they evaluated them all because they were looking for offensive tackles, and they felt like he was the best in the country. Notre Dame wanted him very much. Alabama tried to come in on him at the end."

While his size and talent were the things coaches noticed first, the thing that is just as important is his mental and emotional foundation. You can attribute that to his family.

"The way he and his parents handled the entire recruiting process was simply outstanding," said Croom of the honor roll student. "His brother, Dezmond, is here (at MSU) and he is a fantastic human being. They just have a great family. And we are very fortunate to have them come here and be a part of our program."

Derek will be blocking for two running backs that have as much potential as any State running back since James 'JJ' Johnson.

"Robert is, potentially, an outstanding player. He is about 195 to 200 pounds now, but will be a 210 to 215 pound guy very easily when he gets into our weight program," said Croom. "He has excellent speed, change of direction, vision, instincts and he's a tough guy physically. And the way he's handled this recruiting process, he's shown that he's a mentally tough individual as well."

Coach Croom is just as high on his other running back signee, Marcus Green.

"We feel like we got an outstanding player in Marcus," he said. "He can deal with the ball out of the quarterback position for us. He can do some of the same things like Arkansas did in their wildcat package. And like we did at the latter part of the year with Anthony Dixon. He is just an outstanding athlete. His running style reminds me of Marcus Allen to a degree. He is also a guy that, if he ever wanted to, could go to the other side of the ball. But we have every intention of playing him and Robert at the running back spot because I really believe you have to have two guys to be really good at the running game."

If the MSU coaches hadn't signed those two players, then Wade Bonner would have come in as a running back candidate. But now he'll play at his natural position, cornerback. And Coach Croom couldn't be happier.

"Wade Bonner is one of the best athletes in the class. He can play corner or safety," said Croom. "Had we not gotten Marcus or Robert he would have been our running back. But now we can definitely put him at corner where he can be an outstanding player."

All four were described as outstanding by Coach Croom. Are they talented enough to play on the NFL level once their MSU careers are over?

"I hate to put that on these guys at this point, but when I look at them, if the Good Lord keeps them healthy and they do what they are supposed to do, they have already been blessed with a solid foundation to move to that level in due time," said Croom with a note of caution in his voice.

While all four of those athletes were heavily recruited, there were other signees that Coach Croom felt were overlooked - Independence High School lineman Quentin Saulsberry (6-3, 275) and Susan Moore High School quarterback/defensive back Zach Smith (6-0, 180).

"If there is a guy that I think people missed on, then Quentin Saulsberry's that guy," said Croom. "The thing that surprised me is nobody was recruiting Quentin when we got on him early. He has great, I don't mean just good but great quickness. He uses his hands very well. He is a guy that we started out recruiting as an offensive lineman, but the more I watch him the more I believe that he can play defense. And he will probably start out as a defensive lineman because of our current needs. But this guy can pull as good as (any offensive lineman) that I have ever seen. I think he has a chance to be a great offensive guard.

"Zach is another guy. I'm still amazed that more people weren't recruiting him. Zach played quarterback, but I really believe he is going to be a great safety. He is one of those few guys that we recruited specially to play the safety spot. He has great intelligence and a great understanding of the game. The guy can run and he is a bonafide killer. He is a hitter, a head-hunter type."

If all six of these youngsters live up their immense potential, the next four years should be an exciting time for Mississippi State fans.

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the sports network. You can contact him by email at

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