Nickoe Whitely was the nucleus of the Mississippi State safeties the last few seasons.
He made several big plays, including two big strip fumbles in the last two games of the regular season in 2013 to get the Bulldogs to a bowl game.
He’s not there this year, but safeties coach Tony Hughes is confident someone will fill that void.
“The thing is, the chemistry back there is still strong,” Hughes said. “When Nickoe was with us, those guys all bonded together. With Nickoe not being there, it just carries on with tradition.
“We had Charles Mitchell and he was the leader back there and then Nickoe became the leader. Now Jay (Hughes) and Kendrick Market become the leaders. That’s establishing tradition and you like to see that.”
Hughes’ son Jay was injured in the first game of the 2013 season. He suffered an Achilles injury against Oklahoma State in Houston, Texas, and missed the remainder of the season.
Jay enters his senior season and early on there hasn’t been any setbacks or tentative practices for the Hattiesburg native.
“He’s full go,” Coach Hughes said. “He’s mixing it up, he’s physical, tackling and moving around. We haven’t seen any side effects of it, which makes it good for him because now he doesn’t have to carry the load. He’s got other guys that have played a lot so he can rotate in and out and not have to worry about if he doesn’t make plays, he won’t have any chances.”
One of those guys that proved he could make plays is junior Kendrick Market. The Batesville native was third on last year’s team with 62 total tackles. He also had 1.5 tackles for loss, with a pass break-up and a pass defended. He also forced one fumble.
Market became the starter after Jay Hughes went down and started the final 12 games of the season. He enters fall camp as the front runner at strong safety.
The younger Hughes is listed as Market’s backup, but he enters his final season with the Bulldogs, along with free safety Justin Cox.
“It’s coming along,” Market said of the battle. “We teach each other on different drills, different plays and different footwork. It’s going to be exciting with me and him back there.”
Safeties depth chart*:
SS – Kendrick Market, Jay Hughes, Kivon Coman
FS – Justin Cox, Deontay Evans
*Subject to change as this is the preseason depth chart