"It's a real big deal," said Bumphis at the Thursday afternoon news. "I'm excited!"
As well he and other thus-honored Bulldog frosh should be. With four picked, Mississippi State tied for the largest representation on the 2009 All-Freshman squad with South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Alabama placed three on the team, while Ole Miss, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Florida each had a pair picked. Auburn put one player on the team and LSU none.
So as excited as he was about receiving individual recognition, Bumphis was happier how his whole freshman roster was respected by SEC coaches. "Oh, that's an honor. I knew when we signed we had a pretty good class, I just didn't know how long it would take to contribute."
In these four cases, not very long at all. Bumphis finished as State's receiving leader for catches (32), yards (376), and touchdowns (4) alike. He was the first freshman to pace a Bulldog team in season receiving yards in over three decades, since Mardye McDole in 1977. And as the year developed Bumphis took on increased duties, particularly the return game where he compiled 454 yards on either kickoffs or returns. Bumphis came in 10th in SEC kickoff return average despite not being the primary man on the job. He even got to rush the ball six times from scrimmage, giving him 876 all-purpose yards.
"I expected to come in and play, but I didn't expect to do as well as I did," said Bumphis today. The Tupelo native could also see some irony in how his rookie season played out…because exactly a year ago he was not absolutely certain of becoming a Bulldog. The all-everything star from Tupelo High was interested in Florida and its hot-shot offensive coordinator…who on December 11 became Mississippi State's new head coach.
That certainly helped seal Bumphis' decision, especially after meeting Mullen in person and affirming what had attracted the Mississippi standout all along. "Just the things he'd done with the offense over the years, I figured it would be a good chance to come here and play. And he brought the offense I wanted to play in, so I figured it would be the best opportunity for me." Safe to say his rookie season's stats showed the wisdom of all their choices.
For his part though Mullen is equally pleased that the Bulldog defense is well-represented on the Freshman team. Redshirt cornerback Broomfield ended the year tied for second among all league defenders of all classes in interceptions after picking six passes in his first varsity campaign. Two of his interceptions became Bulldog touchdowns as he returned picks for six against Jackson State in the season-opener, and against Ole Miss in the season finale.
True freshman safety Banks also had a pair of pick-sixes, his coming in the same game no as he twice snared a throw off first team All-SEC quarterback Tim Tebow and ran it back for touchdown. That set a Mississippi State game record too. By no coincidence then the only two SEC defenders to notch a pair of pick-sixes this season were both Bulldogs, and both freshmen. Broomfield finished 10th in league passes-defended stats, again the only rookie to make the list.
True freshman defensive tackles Fletcher Cox was able to get enough snaps, and ultimately starts, to catch some Coaches eyes as well. Cox started four times in a dozen games played and accumulated 28 tackles, 3.5 for losses with a sack. He was one of the seven true '09 freshmen, and dozen-more redshirted 2008 recruits, who showed they could make early impact on a SEC playing field.
"My first year in college I played against the best competition there is," said Bumphis, speaking aptly for his whole class. "So it did a lot for my confidence, and I know what to expect and what I need to work on this summer." And if their season didn't produce the winning record or post-season experience to make it even more successful, these pups got a great taste of how it feels to finish a season as winners. That is what Bumphis took from State's 41-27 triumph in the Battle for the Golden Egg. "Especially because I'm from Mississippi, it's really big!" he said.
"And next year, it shows us the potential we have and what we could be if we just work hard." Not just those pups who played, either. Because there are 11 members of the 2009 scholarship class who were not activated for this past fall. All will get their chances to move into the lineup and depth chart come spring, and then next season be eligible for…Coaches All-Freshman 2010.
"I think people are going to be surprised," said Bumphis. "We have a lot of guys that redshirted that are real good, that can come in and play. Of course they'll want to get that, and it's possible we'll have some more next year." Not just possible but probable if '09 is any indication of the young talent State is developing for future seasons.
Take it from senior-to-be K.J. Wright, who enjoyed watching the youngsters jump immediately in and make the whole team better. "Yeah, I feel real old!" the linebacker said of those precocious pups. "But it's a great feeling to see those young guys do well."
Four selections makes for the most Bulldogs on a SEC Coaches team since 2005 when four also were picked, and ties for the third-largest group from Mississippi State ever selected. In 2004 there were five MSU players so honored. Way back in 1989 six State players were picked by a variety of conference and media organizations to their All-Freshman teams.
The Freshman Team finishes up the week's annual round of All-SEC honors. Senior running back Anthony Dixon was recognized earlier with selection to both the writers and Coaches All-SEC first teams, and defensive end Pernell McPhee to both of those second teams. Offensive tackle Derek Sherrod was second-team in the Coaches ballot.