By JOEL COLEMAN
At the close of National Signing Day on Wednesday, Mississippi State fans were glowing. The state’s top-rated player, Noxubee County defensive lineman Jeffrey Simmons, and four-star local standout, Starkville defensive lineman Kobe Jones, were officially Bulldogs.
Even as Simmons and Jones captured the headlines, 11 other players put pen to paper and made Mississippi State their collegiate home last week, too. When MSU head coach Dan Mullen evaluates his entire signing class, he can’t wait to see how each piece fits into the Bulldogs’ puzzle going forward and how they’ll all grow during their upcoming years in maroon and white.
“I’m not just a football-at-all-costs person,” Mullen said. “I love developing young men and when you see a young man make a great decision, which I feel is going to be best for his future, you’re really excited about it.”
The bulk of Mullen’s haul came on the lines. Aside from top recruits Simmons and Jones, Greenwood’s Marquiss Spencer also comes to MSU as a defensive lineman. While Spencer might not have come with the publicity Simmons and Jones brought, Mullen believes Spencer can be just as impactful.
“You can put the athlete tag on him,” Mullen said of Spencer. “He’s kind of an edge player. He’s very explosive and has great size and potential.”
On the offensive front, Mullen quite literally had big additions to his team. The massive bodies of Philadelphia’s Greg Eiland, Desoto Central’s Dareuan Parker and Fort Pierce (Florida) Central’s Stewart Reese all beef up the Bulldog offensive line.
Eiland, Parker and Reese are all listed at 6-foot-5 or taller and their average weight comes in at just under 330 pounds, yet size isn’t all the trio brings to the table says Mullen.
MSU’s eighth-year leader calls Eiland one of the top offensive linemen in Mississippi while praising Parker and Reese’s size and athleticism. Mullen offered a similar evaluation on Jordan Thomas, a 6-foot-6, 275-pound tight end from East Central Community College.
“I think people are going to be impressed when they see Jordan Thomas,” Mullen said. “He came to camp and started moving around and I was like, I don’t know what he’s going to do, but we need him on our football team. In all of our evaluations, he’s more of a wide receiver than a tight end at 6-foot-6. That’s a pretty tough matchup on the outside for a lot of people.”
While Thomas grabs Mullen’s attention offensively, Cameron Dantzler, a defensive back from Hammond, Louisiana, has opened his new coach’s eyes defensively. Mullen says Dantzler reminds him of a certain Thorpe Award winner that used to play in the MSU secondary.
“You look at his size and his length, he is similar to Johnthan Banks when Johnthan was in high school,” Mullen said. “We targeted (Dantzler) very, very early as a top corner for us.”
MSU added another defensive back in Nero Nelson from Hollandale. Nelson played receiver, defensive back and quarterback in high school, but more than his versatility, it was Nelson’s competitiveness that captivated Mullen.
“He was always first in line for every position that we placed him in during camp,” Mullen said. “He wants to keep going and going.”
The only other surefire defensive player the Bulldogs signed was linebacker Erroll Thompson from Florence, Alabama. MSU has gotten used to linebackers out of Florence. Thompson was once a high school teammate of now-former Mississippi State linebacker Beniquez Brown. Just as Brown put together a fantastic Bulldog career, Mullen thinks Thompson has the tools to do the same.
“He’s been great from day one for us,” Mullen said of Thompson. “He is a violent hitter inside. He has size and pop. He can really run the football down.”
Korey Charles and John Michael-Hankerson could ultimately end up playing defense as well for MSU. The dynamic Charles, from Tallahassee, Florida, played at corner when he camped at Mississippi State. Michael-Hankerson, out of South Bend, Indiana, has speed that makes him a threat on either side of the ball.
“We’re looking to start (Charles) on the defensive side of the ball, but we usually find a great place for guys that were great players out of high school out there on the field,” Mullen said. “Not sure yet if (Michael-Hankerson) is going to play receiver or corner for us. I am pretty sure he was the 100-meter champ in both Mississippi and Indiana throughout his high school career. He’s an explosive player on both sides of the football.”
One guy Mullen is confident will begin his collegiate career as a receiver is Phenix City, Alabama’s Jamal Couch. At 6-foot-5 and 222 pounds, Couch provides the Bulldogs with another big-bodied receiver in the mold of former wideout De’Runnya Wilson.
“(Wilson’s) shoes are big shoes to fill this year and (Couch) fits that with his size,” Mullen said. “He is a very similar player. He’s a guy on the offensive side of the ball with great skill.”
Five players already enrolled at Mississippi State were also announced as new Bulldogs on Wednesday. Those include defensive lineman Tre Brown and defensive back Lashard Durr out of Copiah-Lincoln Community College, tight end Dontea Jones who last played at Jireh Prep in North Carolina, defensive back C.J. Morgan-Walker out of Bossier City, Louisiana and Powder Springs, Georgia tight end Christian Roberson.
The 18 total new Bulldogs now begin their quests to help build Mississippi State as Mississippi State builds them.
“What’s most important to me is that you get the guys that are right for you,” Mullen said. “You want the guys that are going to fit your program and for us, that want to be developed, they want to be coached and they want to be much better players when they leave than they were when they came.”