Bulldogs beef up lines on National Signing Day

Joe Moorhead

Staff Writer

Ask most any football coach and they’ll tell you games are won in the trenches.

With that in mind, the offensive and defensive lines were a priority for Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead and the Bulldogs on the first day of the early signing period on Tuesday. Half of MSU’s signing class was made up of either offensive or defensive linemen and Moorhead believes that’s big for the Bulldogs, both literally and figuratively.

“First and foremost philosophically, it is a line of scrimmage football league,” Moorhead said. “I think the mentality of great teams and championship teams are dictated by the offensive and defensive lines. If you can’t run the ball and you can’t protect and you can’t stop the run and pressure the passer in this league, it’s going to be a long day at the office.”

Seven of the 14 players that put pen to paper to sign with MSU on Tuesday play on the line of scrimmage. The group was highlighted by instate four-star offensive lineman Charles Cross. Cross had multiple Power Five offers and at one time was committed to Florida State. In the end though, the Laurel native elected to stay in Mississippi and play for the Bulldogs.

“We just continued to stay in contact with him,” Moorhead said of the recruitment of Cross. “What we had to offer fit his criteria.

“Certainly to get a player of his caliber from inside the state on the offensive line, a four-star guy that could have went just about anywhere in the country, I think that’s a huge feather in our cap.”

The Bulldogs signed three other offensive linemen with all rated as three-star performers. Those were junior college transfer LaQuinston Sharp out of East Mississippi Community College, Nick Pendley out of the state of Georgia and Brevyn Jones out of the state of Alabama.

Mississippi State also beefed up its defensive front. With several of MSU’s current key contributors on the defensive line leaving the program after this season, it was necessary for the Bulldogs to add numbers there. They did so with a pair of four-stars in defensive end Ani Izuchukwu out of the state of Tennessee and defensive end De’Monte Russell out of Jackson. Three-star defensive end Jack Harris out of Sumrall also joined the Bulldogs.

“You look at our senior class on the defensive line and we’re losing a significant number of players, so it’s a combination of philosophy and need," Cunningham said.

Of MSU’s seven other Tuesday signees, three were defensive backs. That group was led by four-star Jarrian Jones out of Northwest Rankin High School. Jones County Junior College transfer and three-star safety Fred Peters, as well as three-star safety Javeious Purvis out of Pelahatchie also inked.

The remaining four signees were skilled players. That bunch was highlighted by dual-threat four-star quarterback Garrett Shrader out of the state of North Carolina.

Moorhead had recruited Shrader dating back to Moorhead’s days as the offensive coordinator at Penn State when Shrader was only a sophomore in high school. On Wednesday, Moorhead got his man and the possible signal caller of the future for the Bulldogs.

“When you look at our offense and what we need from that position – a guy that can beat you with his arm, his legs and his brain – I think Garrett checks off all those boxes,” Moorhead said. “He’s a two-time state champion. I think they lost one or two games in the last three years. He’s a three-year starter. He’s over 60 percent (with his completion percentage). He’s really impressive with his touchdown-interception ratio, then you turn on this year’s highlight tape and it’s 10 minutes and 30 seconds. You look at his junior one and the first clip is him breaking a run and hurdling a guy, then he drops back and throws a post on a dime and scrambles to make plays. I think he’s very representative of our philosophy on offense, to be able to balance the run and the pass and have the quarterback beat you with his arm and his legs. I think he’s an excellent fit for our system.”

State also brought in two potential future targets for Shrader as the Bulldogs signed three-star wide receivers Quinton Torbor out of Louisiana and Kyziah Pruitt out of Noxubee County.

MSU got a running back in the class as well with three-star Lee Witherspoon, who this past season broke the all-time single-season rushing touchdown record in the state of Alabama.

All told, as of late Tuesday, MSU’s signing day haul was the nation’s 19th-ranked class according to 247Sports. The Bulldogs will have a chance to add to their class on the next upcoming signing day in February.

At that time, MSU is hopeful to ink several players including a pair of four-star standouts that are verbally committed to State and would also enhance the defensive line. Those are defensive tackle Nathan Pickering from Seminary and defensive end Charles Moore from Louisville. Moorhead didn’t seem too worried about Pickering, Moore and others choosing to wait until February to sign.

“We have a number of guys committed that are going to wait until February to sign and we feel confident with where we are,” Moorhead said.

The day didn’t go off without a hitch. Three-star Louisiana cornerback Gregory Brooks, Jr., who’d been verbally committed to MSU since June, ultimately flipped and signed with Arkansas on Tuesday.

However, all in all, Moorhead was pleased with how Wednesday went down. At the end of the day, Moorhead believed the Bulldogs got better.

“Every year, you’re looking to add size, speed, strength, athleticism and play-making ability to your roster,” Moorhead said. “Overall, I think we addressed all of those areas and we couldn’t be more happy to have these young men into our program.”