By MATTHEW STEVENS
In the case of Mississippi State’s program, success on the field in the fall did not translate into the kind of recognized recruiting success they were hoping for in the winter.
After winning the Gator Bowl 52-14 over Michigan on New Year’s Day, the Bulldogs 2011 recruiting class will go down as the lowest-rated ranking in Dan Mullen’s three-year tenure and the first time it was placed outside the national Top 40 list.
Scout.com lists the Bulldogs class as 43rd in the country and only ahead of Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference. Rivals.com puts the MSU class at 42nd ahead of Kentucky and Vanderbilt in the SEC.
Or course, Mississippi State’s head coach conveniently said Wednesday he doesn’t pay attention to internet rankings.
“I don’t pay much attention to that because a program is about development,” Mullen said. “If not, then four years ago whoever was ranked number one and two in recruiting should have played for the BCS championship. I have no idea how good of a recruiting class this is, I’ll tell you that in a couple years.”
Mississippi State had six decommitments throughout the previous month including some of the state’s top prospects in Philadelphia, Miss., linebacker C.J. Johnson and South Panola wide receiver Nickolas Brassell, who signed with Ole Miss.
Mullen countered that idea with trying to come up with a new definition for what is considered a commitment – reservation.
“I guess a commitment in my mind is different than maybe in the media’s mind,” Mullen said. “A commitment in my mind is somebody that is coming to Mississippi State and not taking a visit. If you’re taking visits to other places, I never really considered you committed in the first place. So I really didn’t have any decommits.”
More disappointment came in the form of losing out on a pair of defensive lineman prospects as Hinds Community College recruit Leon Mackey signed with Texas Tech and Washington D.C. defensive tackle Kevin McReynolds signed with UCLA Wednesday morning.
Wednesday’s recruiting class represents the lowest number of four-star signees since the 2006 when Anthony Dixon signed out of Terry High School and became the school’s all-time leading rusher.
“I don’t put a whole lot of weight into the rankings,” Mullen said. “I want to make sure we’re getting players that we can develop into the stars not just in February coming out of high school. You don’t get an extra first down because you had stars next to your name.”
The Bulldogs 22-man recruiting class was highlighted by Wednesday’s final inking of Ocean Springs wide receiver Joe Morrow as the 6-foot-5 prospect showed up to his ceremony on the high school grounds wearing a maroon tie and MSU hat.
Marrow, a four-star receiver prospect by the scouting services, caught 44 passes for 618 yards and five touchdowns this past season and was selected to play in the Mississippi/Alabama All-Star Classic
"They need big receivers like me and they actually like to throw the ball," Morrow said when he committed to MSU in July. "I feel me and (fellow MSU signee) Devin Fosselman can be an unstoppable duo when we get there.”
Morrow joins safety Darion Arrington from Wiggins as the only other four-star recruits in the haul. Arrington, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound Parade All-American selection, verbally committed to MSU a day after Morrow and was listed by the services as the top defensive back prospect in the Magnolia State. Arrington chose State over Alabama.
“You look at a guy like a Dee Arrington who runs the ball, plays quarterback, plays receiver, plays safety (and) plays all over the field, those are the type of guys we’re looking for," Mullen said.
Mullen threw out the name of two-star athlete Kendrick Market, who was the high school teammate of Brassell, as “easily the M.V.P.” at South Panola High School this past season and “possibly the best football player in the state of Mississippi."
“Might not put up the measurables I guess that a lot of people in the internet like to write up upon but when you turn on the film and watch them play, he makes a ton of plays,” Mullen said.
Local fans saw 5-foot-10, 180-pound Market showcase the ability to run or throw the football for the national champion Tigers program when taking snaps directly from the center against Starkville High on October 31. Market completed a 3-yard touchdown pass, completed a pass for a two-point conversion, had five carries for 42 yards and started in the South Panola defensive secondary during a 47-13 victory over the Yellowjackets.
"Market plays everywhere for us," South Panola coach Lance Pogue said. "He's a starter on defense and this is the second year in a row we've used him so much on offense in the Wildcat (formation). He's a phenomenal athlete with great speed and great agility.”
There were 16 members of the MSU class that came from the state of Mississippi, which validates Mullen’s constant refrain to recruit in-state talent but four of the top five signed with Ole Miss and eight of the top 10 prospects homegrown talents went elsewhere Wednesday.
Mullen used his personal rankings put together with recommendations from high school coaches across the state.
“As I view it, the top three or four DB’s in the state if you talk to the high school coaches were Kendrick Market one, Dee Arrington two, Zach Jackson three and Justin Cox four,” Mullen said. “I go down to the Mississippi/Alabama All-Star Game and the high school coaches tell me the top guys there were Fosselman and Morrow.”
While MSU signed 18 recruits today, Mullen referenced the four early enrollees (defensive end Johnathan Harris, quarterback Dak Prescott and offensive lineman Nick Redmond and junior college offensive lineman Joey Trapp) as a trend he’d like to continue in future seasons.
“We got to work harder to get in-state kids graduated earlier,” Mullen said. “I think we had several have the opportunity to do that and the different school systems are getting adjusted for them to be able to do those things.”
Local product Justin Cox mixed the green and white colors of his West Point High School lettermen’s jacket with a maroon MSU cap as he became the third Green Wave player to wear the maroon and white in the last two years following Michael Carr and Curtis Virges.
“When you look at Justin Cox, we had him at camp – lightning fast,” Mullen said. “Any player that plays quarterback and leads his team to two state championships is a pretty good football player.”
Mullen began and ended his media session Wednesday by presenting the “foundation” of the Mississippi State program being the seven offensive and defensive lineman in the 2011 recruiting class headlined by three-star tackles P.J. Jones and James Maiden.
Fans will get their next taste of MSU football when spring practice begins March 4 with the Maroon-White spring game on April 9 at Davis Wade Stadium.