It was good news, bad news, for Mississippi State Tuesday.
Junior defensive back Johnthan Banks tested the waters and decided to return to school he announced Tuesday afternoon, while junior defensive tackle Fletcher Cox opted to enter the 2012 National Football League Draft.
Cox, a Yazoo City native, capped the 2011 season with 56 tackles, including 14.5 tackles for a loss and five sacks. The defensive standout was also tabbed Southeastern Conference Defensive Lineman of the Week four times last season, and was picked first-team all-SEC by the Associated Press.
"This is a chance for me to do what I've always dreamed of, play in the NFL," Cox said. "I appreciate everything Mississippi State has done for me to help me get to this point. The coaches, fans, staff and everyone there have been amazing during my three years in Starkville."
While MSU head coach Dan Mullen would obviously like to have another year of Cox on the roster, he understands that developing players is what the Mississippi State program is about.
"Our goal is to develop young men to put them in a position to achieve their goals," Mullen said. "Fletcher bought in to our program and matured during his time here. I've always said that we'll support our players in their efforts to reach their dreams, and Fletcher has a chance to reach his. We wish him nothing but the best and look forward to him representing Mississippi State on Sundays."
For his career, Cox totaled 114 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. He started 27 of the 36 games in which he saw action. He also helped the Bulldogs win their second consecutive bowl game 23–17 over Wake Forest when he blocked his fifth kick of his career.
“From the UAB game forward, he would go in at points and just take over games,” said MSU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson. “I enjoyed watching him go those four or five games and just play at such a high level. It was as impressive of a thing as I’ve ever been around.”
Banks, like Cox, filed his paperwork to receive feedback from the NFL, a common occurrence among rising seniors. However, unlike Cox, Banks decided another year with Mississippi State was in his best interest.
"I feel like a weight is lifted off my shoulders by making this announcement," Banks said. "I'm coming back to Mississippi State to continue my development as a player and a person. I've always wanted to play football here and I love the university, my coaches and teammates.
"I would love to play football for as long as I can, and my career goal of becoming a State Highway patrolman following my football career will be helped by getting my degree before I leave."
Banks, a former East Webster player, returns to MSU with 12 career interceptions, tied for sixth nationally among active players. He also has three interception returns for scores which is tied for the nation lead.
“He positions us to have one of our best defenses we’ve had in the going on three years I’ve been here,” said Wilson. “It also gives us a veteran group at the corner position, and it makes us very multiple on the back end. One more thing it does is it puts him that much closer to getting his degree. I think he made this decision for all the right reasons and I think he made a great decision."
Banks and the Bulldog will return to class next Monday for the first day of the spring semester with spring football just around the corner.