By JOEL COLEMAN
Turn on the television. Open up a magazine. Browse the web.
No matter which outlet you get your sports news from, a common theme seems to blanket the Mississippi State football team and their hopes for 2015 – they’ve just lost too many starters.
Projected starting cornerback Will Redmond has heard those rumblings. To put it mildly, the Memphis, Tennessee native begs to differ.
“They’re making a big deal out of it,” Redmond said. “Let them. I hope they keep doing it.”
If Redmond seems a little testy, the senior has the credentials to give him reason. No, Redmond has never been a starter before, but he has played in 20 career games and totaled 74 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, seven pass breakups and three interceptions. Two of those picks sealed wins for Mississippi State last season in the closing seconds of games at LSU and at home against Arkansas.
MSU head coach Dan Mullen says those are the moments that preseason prognosticators are seemingly forgetting.
“You might not play in the first play of the game or might not be in the spotlight of being a starter, but on the field you have that experience,” Mullen said. “I look at Will Redmond as a returning starter. He might not have played the first game of every game, but he played the last plays in a lot of games with the game on the line. There’s a lot to that, in my mind.”
Seasoned by performing in the Bulldogs’ biggest moments, Redmond seems primed now to not only close out games on the field for Mississippi State, but begin them too. He, along with fellow senior Taveze Calhoun would combine to be one of the most experienced and potentially elite cornerback duos in all of the Southeastern Conference.
Both were named preseason All-SEC selections by different outlets. Redmond is projected to be an early-round selection in the 2016 National Football League Draft. Calhoun is beginning his third season as a Bulldog starter, racking up 122 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and four interceptions.
The credentials are impressive. Still, not everyone is convinced it’s all enough to improve a Bulldog defense that allowed more than 3,500 yards passing a year ago.
Like Redmond, Calhoun is familiar with the preseason perception of MSU, but he isn’t paying it much attention either and is similarly using it all as fuel.
“We definitely have a chip on our shoulder,” Calhoun said. “But we try to stay out of the media and away from things that we can’t control. People talk, but we’re just going to control what we can control.”
Count star quarterback Dak Prescott as one that has already experienced firsthand the determination Redmond and Calhoun are displaying. Going against them in practice, Prescott says the duo is impressive, having already been victimized by Redmond.
“They run the routes for the receivers,” Prescott said. “I already (threw an interception) to Will Redmond. The receiver didn’t come out of the break and I said it really didn’t matter regardless. Whether he came out of the break or not, Will probably would have gotten it. He runs the routes right there in their hip pocket and sometimes beats them out of their cuts.”
Calhoun also continues to catch Prescott’s eye.
“Calhoun is a big body,” Prescott said. “He’s got nice size as a cornerback and he’s going to work hard and make it rough for receivers to get off the line. With (Redmond and Calhoun), if I can complete passes against them, I know (the offense) has got some good work going.”
The talent Redmond and Calhoun display makes Prescott feel like a lucky man. He’s glad they’re on his team where they can all improve off of each other.
“We’re going to push each other each and every day,” Prescott said. “They’re going to be right there in receivers’ pockets and make lanes and windows hard to throw in and we’re all going to get better.”
No matter how good Redmond and Calhoun prove to be, they can’t go to battle all alone. The twosome will be backed up at corner by a pair of experienced Bulldogs. Junior Cedric Jiles has battled injuries throughout his career, most recently being sidelined for the entire 2014 season with a hamstring injury, but has played in 14 games and started three.
Junior Tolando Cleveland has taken part in 25 of the 26 games MSU has played since he has been on campus.
Additionally, sophomore Jamoral Graham supplies depth after converting from wide receiver to the secondary.
Calhoun says that Graham could soon play a big role on the Bulldog defense as his skills develop.
“I think he’s a natural at the position,” Calhoun said. “There’s a lot of raw talent. The more he gets coached up and learns the techniques and learns what defense is all about, he’s going to be a great player for MSU. Right now, he’s still learning, but he’s a pure natural at corner.”
If Calhoun has his way though, Graham and the other reserves won’t be forced into a bigger role than they’re ready for just yet. Along with Redmond, Calhoun is ready to prove all the early predictions wrong.
To do that, they’ll rely on their close bond to sharpen themselves for the challenge ahead.
“It’s definitely a brotherhood,” Calhoun said. “We expect the best from each other every day. He pushes me and I push him. So I think our comfort level with each other is just like two brothers who grew up together our whole lives. So I’m very comfortable with Will. I know what he expects of me and he knows what I expect from him.”