By JOEL COLEMAN
National Signing Day wasn’t going so well for Mississippi State. Then a hometown hero and the state’s top-rated player inked with the Bulldogs and turned it all around.
Starkville High defensive lineman Kobe Jones and 247Sports composite five-star defensive lineman Jeffrey Simmons from Noxubee County headlined MSU’s 2016 signing class on Wednesday, putting salve in the Bulldogs’ wounds after several of Mississippi State’s top targets joined other programs.
Counting five early enrollees, Mississippi State announced 18 new Bulldogs in all to put together a class ranked 31st in the country by 247Sports.
“It was a good day for us,” Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said. “We’re excited about the guys.”
Multiple instate prospects spurned MSU early in the day. Germantown High defensive back Nigel Knott and West Point offensive lineman Scott Lashley, both once Mississippi State targets, upheld their verbal commitments to Alabama. Starkville High wide receiver A.J. Brown joined Ole Miss.
By the afternoon though, Mississippi State was smiling when the school landed its crown jewel of the class in Simmons.
“He was a guy that we had up at number one for us all along,” Mullen said. “He fits so well into our program and what we believe in here. To me, it’s really exciting to have a young man of that talent coming to play for us but, more importantly, the character. I truly believe in my heart this is where he belonged. He belonged in our family, around our players and it’s where he will be the best developed for his future and for his career.”
Earlier in the day, Jones was capturing headlines for MSU. Just moments before his teammate, Brown, donned the red and blue of Ole Miss, Jones made the decision to continue playing football in Starkville.
“It’s my hometown,” Jones said. “I’m going to feel like a king around here. I’m all about Mississippi and I want Mississippi to shine, too. I was very blessed to have the options I did, but I made the right decision. That’s why I took every official visit that I had.
“It was hard to choose Mississippi because you feel like you’re missing out on something big, but the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.”
Mullen was thrilled to welcome in Jones.
“He’s representing everybody here in Starkville and I know that makes everybody proud here in town and over at Starkville High School,” Mullen said. “Kobe is what our program is all about with his effort, the character and doing things the right way all the time.”
Outside of Simmons and Jones, Mississippi State added further talent to its defensive line with Marquiss Spencer from Greenwood.
Though the MSU offensive line was hurt by the decisions to sign elsewhere by Lashley and Lloyd Cushenberry of Louisiana, the Bulldogs added beef up front with the additions of Philadelphia’s Greg Eiland, Dareuan Parker from DeSoto Central and Stewart Reese from Fort Pierce, Florida.
Other Mississippi State signees included linebacker Erroll Thompson from Florence, Alabama, tight end Jordan Thomas out of East Central Community College and safety John Michael Hankerson from South Bend, Indiana.
Four MSU signees are classified as athletes. Jamal Couch of Phenix City, Alabama, Nero Nelson from Hollandale, Korey Charles from Tallahassee, Florida and Cameron Dantzler from Hammond, Louisiana all joined the Bulldog fold.
Mullen said he already has an idea where most of his multi-positional guys will fit in, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that decision is final.
“When we go to evaluate players, it’s hard to put them in a box,” Mullen said. “When guys play every position for their high school team, it’s hard to say ‘You’re definitely going to do this.’ We have a vision in our mind though which is always our starting point. Through the years though, we’ve had starting points where I envisioned one thing and it turns out completely different from what I envisioned, but extremely well for everybody.”
As a whole, Mullen is excited to see where this year’s signing class takes the Bulldogs. Regardless of how Wednesday began, Mullen chalks up signing day as a win for MSU.
“I think we got a great group of young men and I think it was a very, very successful day,” Mullen said.