A Q&A With Steve Dudley

Mississippi State Associate Head Track and Field Coach Steve Dudley talks about this year's recruiting class, the teams he beat out, his recruiting philosophy, and competing in the SEC and the NCAA.

Talk about the athletes men's track signed this year - things like their accomplishments and who recruited them.
"First would be D'Angelo Cherry, who is from Atlanta, Georgia and the high school national champion in 60 meters and also the 55 meters record holder for high school. He was recruited by everybody - Tennessee, Georgia, LSU, Florida State, pretty much everybody.

"We also signed Trey Charles out of Atlanta who is a top-5 long jumper as well the top-3 400 hurdles. Again, he was recruited by LSU, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida State and anybody else you want to mention.

"Another one is Garren Hendricks out of St. Louis. He's a 100 meter, 200 meter kid who visited Tennessee, us, Kansas and maybe Wisconsin as well. He was runner-up to one of the best kids (in the nation) who signed with Florida State. The reason I signed him is because I liked him as a kid and felt like he was real hungry after finishing second so many times behind the other kid. I felt like that hunger would carryover the next four years.

"Another kid from Atlanta is Woodrow Randall. He is the 100 and 200 meters state champion. He was recruited by Middle Tennessee State toward the in. Also Georgia, Tennessee and LSU were in the mix.

"Switching over to the junior college kids, Dwight Mullings is the first one. He is (former MSU sprinter) Steve Mullings brother. He's from Essex College in Newark, New Jersey. He's a multi-time champion in junior college as well as a multi-time junior college All-American in the 400 and all the relays. Dwight has a very good chance of representing the Jamaica Olympic team in the 4x4 and the 400. Dwight visited us, Baylor, Texas A&M, LSU and I think Tennessee.

"Another kid at Essex College is Kevin Bowen who was a junior college national champion on the 4x4 team. He's also a multi-time junior college All-American. Kevin visited us, Baylor. Kevin is from the island of Grenada and will be on their Olympic team as well.

"Then we have Darryl Jenkins from Rend Lake College who is originally from Chicago, Illinois. He is a junior college All-American as well as a Junior Olympic national champion last year as a freshman in the 200 meters. Darryl visited us, Southern California, and Kansas as well.

"He has a teammate, Justin Terry, who is originally from Tallahassee, Florida and had actually signed with LSU out of high school. He's a multi-time junior college All-American. He was once again recruited by LSU and us. We were the top two.

"We also signed a high jumper from Tupelo, Josh Tucker. I feel like he is going to be a little bit of a steal for us. Some of the in-state schools recruited him, but his family is Mississippi State people.

"This is a good class. Hopefully, they will all get into school. If they do, then we will have a nice team next year because we only lose three guys off of this squad that can score in nationals. And we should have enough guys coming in to offset their points."

You out-recruited some other top programs. How did you do that?
"They had good visits here. And I stuck with them every single week and didn't miss a week. I went to see them the first day I could actually go see them. Some of the other programs who have kind of had their way over the past 20 to 25 years or longer can kind of internet recruit. They don't get quite as personable as they probably should. I still try to do it the way I did before cell phones. And once I know we are one of the finalists I recruit every single one of them. As a coach, you hate to lose anybody in recruiting, but it's easier to take if you know you did every single thing you could do to get the kid to come.

"I always try to get them to initially do something for us. When you go see them in person for the first time, you ask them to fax me the test score and their high school transcript. If they don't get it done in the next couple of days, you call them the next week and ask them if they can fax it to you again. If they can't do that, there's no way they will pull the trigger and come here. I'm not going to waste a whole lot of time on someone who won't make that first step to do something for you. Once you start getting them to do things for you and you for them, then your relationship goes a lot further. It also makes it hard for them to tell you no."

How did you beat Georgia for some of the high school kids from Atlanta, Georgia considering they have the Hope Scholarship.
"We have a great recruiting tool academically at Mississippi State in the fact that if you have a 24 ACT and a 3.0 grade point average in your core you can get all of you out-of-state tuition waived and also get $500 a semester." (In Georgia, the Hope Scholarship averages about $2,200 dollars per academic year if you have a 3.0 grade point average in high school.-Gene)

Your teams do well at the NCAA Championships but not as well at the SEC Championships? Why is that?
"The type kid I recruit is at a different level. How you get points at the national championship is by getting the best recruits in the world. They have to be Olympic caliber athletes to score at the national championships. Those are the ones you recruit. And kids of that caliber you don't nickel and dime. Those kind of kids you want them to come to your school and not have to pay anything. And we have 12.6 scholarships and 21 track and field events, plus cross country. We can't even have a quality athlete in every event.

"When someone asks us why we can't score 100 points in the SEC championships, that's why. We've spent big scholarship on Alpha guys who, when we go to the nationals, we have the kids who can score there. There's years at nationals where 40 to 45 points can win the national championship. There's never a time when 40 to 45 points wins the SEC championship. You have to have 120 to 130 points to do that.

"In the SEC there are 21 track events and they score 1 through 8. It's 10 points for first place, 8 points for second, 6 for third and on down. That's 39 points in each track event. If you multiply that out that's 819 points. There are 11 schools that do track in the SEC. So, you have 11 schools going for those 819 points. But when you go to nationals there are almost 400 schools in track and field going for those 819 points. The points get diluted big-time. If you are scoring 20 to 25 points at nationals you are top-10 in the country every year. And on average, 40 to 45 points wins the nationals. There are some years when we've gone in with a chance to win it all, but if you get a couple of your alpha kids hurt, you go from being ranked second with a chance to win it all to being 15th in the nation, like we were three or four years ago, because you not only lose them in individual events but relays as well.

"And because we don't have 20-deep alpha type kids, so there are sometimes when we go into the SEC meet where the kid has been run down a little bit, so I don't compete them. I get them ready for the NCAA regionals and nationals. I know that's not what some people want to hear, but I would rather win a national championship than an SEC championship. Nobody realizes that in 6 out of the last 7 years we have been top-26 in the country and top-10 twice.

"When I walk into the house of one of these alpha kids, they don't want to know if we were 6th in the conference. They want to know how we did at the national championship. They want to know how deep you went into the NCAA tournament. It's not like I don't want us to win an SEC championship. I do because it would be nice to win one, but it's not the platform that you use when you go into those houses. You use that we were 15th, 8th or 9th in the nation. We then can say to them that we can bring home a top-5 if you come with us."

How does Tennessee, LSU, Arkansas and Florida win at the SEC?
"They chop their scholarships up like crazy. But Arkansas can spend their 12.6 scholarships on alpha type athletes and the other kids, who get 6th, 7th and 8th place in the SEC, will go there free. 75% of their points in the SEC don't even get on the bus for nationals. When you have a 50-million dollar track facility that has skyboxes, top of the line in everything training-wise, and you have 42 national championship trophies, kids who can score on the conference level are more willing to take out 80,000 dollars in student loans and try to earn a scholarship down the road.

"Unfortunately, I can't do that in any sport yet. We are going to have to do that over time. In the meantime, we have to get kids who want to come here for less money. But we are starting to get that; the kids who will take small scholarships and do well for us. 50% of our 4x1 and 4x4 are those type kids. But it started with the Pierre Browns, the Steve Mullings, the Jamel Ashleys, kids that came in on full rides."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by email at swindoll@genespage.com.

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