"That's why I'm excited, the character that these young guys all have in seeing the character, seeing the hard work that our guys have to do here on campus. The expectations that we have of our young men in the classroom to graduate. The standard that we've set for them, to come into a program with extremely high expectations that is going to be based on hard work, commitment, and sacrifice; that these have that character. That that is something they embraced, that they wanted."
"I think there's a lot of people out there that are going to get up and preach about what their program is. And when they get there guys all of a sudden realize it's something that is very different. A lot of people view themselves that way, they get up and preach and then don't live it. These young men have the opportunity not just hear us preach about our program but see that we actually live it. A lot of people go to church on Sundays and tell you one thing, walk out the door and live their life very differently. We don't do that here at Mississippi State. We live our lives in the same way we preach in our program of the values that we have in our young men. And these young guys got to see that and every aspect of it."
"You're very excited obviously when guys look, and when you talk about wanting to be the best you can be and working hard, wanting to make commitments and sacrifice. You know, we've had a tough week of work with our guys on the team now these guys who got to know guys on our team now they know how hard we work and the standards we set and the expectations to graduate. And they've all embraced that and been very excited to come join this football program."
"So I couldn't be more excited to have this group of young men."
"I know four years ao I said we wanted to make an emphasis on the state of Mississippi. And again I think we've signed more players from Mississippi than any other Division I school in the state. And I think over the last four years we've signed more than all the other Division schools combined in the state of Mississippi players. So I'm glad 13 more today from the state of Mississippi joining our program today so we can keep that foundation alive."
"You also look at the quality of the players from the surrounding states that are coming here now. It's a tribute to what we've been able to build, what our fans have been able to build, the excitement they've created around this program that we are becoming more prevalent on the national stage winning back-to-back bowl games."
"I think our staff did a fantastic job with recruiting all these guys, some of them for two or three years now. They've done a great job working with all of them and will continue to work with them right now as we wrap things up with them as they finish up their high school careers and hopefully on very strong notes and come in here with a lot of momentum and live their lives like champions every day."
"It is a very balanced class with potentially11 guys on offense, 11 guys on defense, and a specialist. But as they come obviously there is a lot of flexibility in that, as we see them develop and as they continue to grow. When we get them here on campus and get to work with them within our program how the development will lead them and and what positions it ends up leading them to. So I guess it's a lot of excitement still ahead for us. The hardest part is it now will be several months before we actually get to have these guys on campus, and an even longer time until our assistant coaches get to work with them on the football field."
"But it's been a good day, I'm excited about a lot of these quality players. I know somebody was showing me different recruiting rankings and how you can be all over the place. I think everybody knows my feeling on that, we'll evaluate this recruiting class three years from now and see where we are. But if you look back at my first recruiting class you might give John Banks a couple more stars or points. I don't know, he probably wasn't even a must-have or ranked player in all these things. But he turned out to be pretty good. I don't even think Fletcher Cox was the best player in the state but he turned out to be pretty good."
"So we evaluate these guys as their careers continue to move on. I think it's fortunate, I've had people tell me we're ranked in the top 20 on different web sites or whatever they may have. But as coaches now it's our job, it's our obligation if that is the case; we've been given this beautiful piece of marble, now we have to go sculpt a masterpiece out of it with these young men."
"You don't win any championships today, you're just given a bunch of material. And it's our job as coaches to sculpt these young men's lives on and off the field for the next four years. And we look forward to that opportunity to work with them, and are excited to get these young men on campus and get going."
Q: Talking about preaching one way and living another, did you have anybody specific in mind? "No. You just see a lot of people, and you talk to parents a lot of times and they say hey, you know…some schools say different things about you or say this. We really spend our time talking about ourselves to the recruits."
"I just think there's a lot, that is not indicative of certain schools all the time, that's indicative of a lot in life of how they live their lives on daily basis. But we try to make sure our kids understand you need to live your life a certain way. That's a responsibility to the coaches in our program I think when all these young men and their parents see that we do demand that our guys go to class, we don't just talk about it; that we do demand that they work hard; that we will not settle for anything but their best, that we want to develop them beyond the football field."
"And then they come on campus and get to meet our players and see we live it. And that's important to me."
Q: You signed a lot of defensive linemen, do you see them all staying there? "We'll see. One of the things we do when everybody gets on campus, our first practice we have freshmen come out and we kind of do, maybe a ‘county fair' is the best way to describe it. We put them through drills at multiple position drills, everybody goes to a running back drill, everybody goes to a receiver drill, everybody goes to a defensive back drill. What you get to see is a lot of guys that have a special ability someplace that you thought maybe would be somewhere else. When we do that with all those guys, we'll see when they get on campus. A lot can depend on them and them and their bodies."
"But right now we expect those guys to be defensive linemen for us. And there's two guys in our defensive line that enrolled early, one being a junior college player in Denico Autry and Quay Evans behing here early they get the opportunity to go through spring ball so they have the opportunity to be a little bit ahead of the other guys when they get here within the program. So that can make a lot of differences, too, for the guys on the field."
Q: Is it fair to say it is the strongest and deepest group? "It's obviously the deepest group. And that's something that is really important to us. We have players that are leaving early to go to the NFL right now, that's a good problem to have, it means we have some really good football players and we're doing a great job developing them with our coaches. With Fletcher leaving early it's going to open up more opportunities for guys to step in and play right away on that defensive line. I think that group as a whole is probably the strength of this class."
Q: You also signed versatile defensive backs, could some play on either side of the ball? "One of the things you want to see, and Will Redmond is a great example, when you turn on high school film or go to watch them play it shouldn't take you real long to see ability to play in the Southeastern Conference. And Will is one of those players, when you turn on the film he's going to jump off immediately. And does so all over the field. Whether it be at quarterback, receiver, running back, safety, corner, everywhere on the field. And I think he's a guy that has the physicality to play safety, the athletic ability to play corner, dnd the skill set to move over to the offensive side of the ball. So I'm really excited with him."
"But a lot of players, I do like when we recruit a player that he is really the do-everything guy on their team. I know then that their coach trusts, that their coach looks to to lead their team, their coach wants to put the ball in their hand with the game on the line even if it's a defensive player. Those are guys I like to have in the program, because those guys are winners."
Q: Comment on Cole Carter? "Cole is a good kid. Coming from a very small high school, he has big shoes I guess to fill. The last guy to come from Caledonia over here had a very successful career, Derek Sherrod. Cole is a guy that played a lot of tight end, he plays basketball. He moves around a lot in high school, and you can just see in his physique as he grows and completely fills out his body we expect him to play on the offensive line for us as a very athletic guy. He's also a tremendous student, and a great young man from a great family."
Q: What do you like about Nick Schuessler? "It's tricky because I'm very picky in quarterback. Because what I look for in a quarterback you can't see on film. That's always the hardest thing to evaluate these guys. Go look at the NFL and see there's a lot of guys that probably weren't five-stars coming out of high school that still play. It's because they have kind of an ‘it' factor about them."
"When you get to Nick, the first thing everyone at his high school described him as was the ultimate winner. He's going to do whatever it takes to win. And as a coach that's what you want in the quarterback. If he has to throw the ball bunch he'll throw the ball a bunch, if he has to run it he'll run it. If he has to lead and hand the ball off and manage the game, he'll manage the game. That is what you want. And when you get to the high school and they're talking about him winning, they're talking about him as a leader, how the kids on the team respond to him, how when they needed to make a play he made a play. And I think he was named the Georgia offensive player of the year. So he has all those characteristics about him. And physically reminds me of a guy I coached a long time ago, Alex Smith, a guy that didn't put up huge stats, led his team to state championships, was a little bit tall and skinny as a younger guy and filled out his body. I see a lot of similar characteristics in Nick."
Q: You kept the philosophy of signing a lot of small town Mississippi kids? "Not just Cole but a lot of the guys on our team. I think that's a tribute to our coaches. It's pretty easy to wait and see how many stars someone gets or who they've all been offered to go out and start recruiting guys. But our guys do a great job getting out. And a lot of guys we're the first offer they've had."
"I trust our coaching staff, they're doing a great job of getting in every high school in Mississippi and having great relationships with the coaches here. And a great working relationship with coaches that we trust what they tell us and we know what we're looking for in the type of character and athlete and player we're looking for in this program. That you don't have to play at just the big schools to come play for us, that we're going to get out and look at every single school in the state and evaluate the players at every single school in the state."
"And we've been very fortunate to get a bunch of good players. Gus Walley, Adarrius Perkins, Xavier Grindle, Cole Carter, there's a lot of these guys and I'm sure I'm skipping a couple that played not at the big high schools that you hear about or have their scores on TV all the time. They're from smaller towns and our coaches did a great job getting out to go recruit them."
Q: How important is it to get linebackers Beniquez and Richie Brown, and who do you see having a shot at getting on the field next year? "That was huge for us. On Signing day obviously you want to close well. Both those young men handled their recruiting fantastic, in how they did things and the process they went through and communications with us and other schools as well, I think really doing things the right way."
"When you look at this class, anyone that enrolls early always has an opportunity to play. But Richie Brown that has the physical abilities. I think he was a little over 230 pounds when he came on his visit, at 6-2, 230 he has some physical stature already that that will give him the opportunity to get on the field right away."
"I guess if you look at some other guys, a Will Redmond who has that athletic ability and size to get on the field right away. Beniquez Brown has the ability and the size to get on the field right away. Some of the defensive linemen. Nick James, I guess if you're 6-4 and a generous 330—on the light end generous!--he has the physical stature to get on the field right away."
"But it is very difficult. I mean, I have no problems with all 23 of them playing right away as freshmen. We want to make sure we put them in position to be successful when we feel they're ready to step on the field and can significantly contribute, we go play them."
"I think probably the first guy that I would imagine will get on the field Devon Bell. He has just phenomenal leg strength, that we've been excited about getting here for over two-and-a-half years now since we first had him in camp. He has special leg strength, so even as a specialist he's going to have the opportunity to play right away."
Q: As a kicker or punter? "Yes! When his foot touches the ball it goes and it goes a long way whether he's kicking it or punting it, he can do both. But he's a special talent."
Q: Unlike past years there is no one listed as ‘ATH'? "You probably could put ATH next to all of them. Devon Bell will even tell me he's an athlete, and he can run and pitch."
Q: Do you have a plan for all these kids then? "I think we have a plan, and as we discussed with the guys what we expect them to be. When you look at a Beniquez Brown who we expect to be an outside linebacker, that's what we kind of talked about. But he also put up huge numbers as a running back in high school that we haven't counted that out as we move forward. So those are kind of the projected positions that we see everybody playing at right now. And maybe there are some guys that are more defined. In the years past when you have some guys that were high school quarterbacks that we have no idea which direction they're going to go, that you can put down as Athletes."
"But we have a thought of what direction everyone is going to go. But there are still guys like Deonte Evans, he could go any number of positions whether it be defensive back, running back, he catches the ball extremely well. So we just kind of put them in that category now and we'll sort it all out when they get on campus."
Q: Have you talked any about multi-year scholarships? "It came up at the very front end when they were going to pass that rule with the early signing guys. To me, when I talk to these young men, when I'm in their home, I mean I'm committed to them graduating, that's what I told all the parents. So it never really came up. But I have no problem whatever direction that rule goes in in the future. Because we're committed to these guys until they graduate. Even a Fletcher Cox, I said hopefully you'll make millions and millions and millions of dollars, I'll fight to keep you on scholarship until you have that degree."
Q: How did it help having the staff stay intact? "I think it helps an awful lot for us in stability as our group, that there is not new guys trying to learn a new way to do things. In recruiting it helps obviously because there's no change-over in the middle of the whole process, which can hurt sometimes."
"But I also think a lot of these guys know that eventually, I imagine, there will be change-over within the staff at some point during their careers. I hope there isn't, it would be a great thing to say that all these guys' four years through here they had the exact same coaching staff. But the important thing that they understood is I'm going to be there as their head coach, and the program will not change. Our philosophy of how we hire coaches, the standards of how we run our program will not change during their career. And that to me is always the most important thing. But it helps when you don't have to deal with the distraction of new coaches and having to learn a new position coach."
Q: You said Nick Schuessler was #1 on your board? "What happened is there were a lot of issues. One was whether we were even going to take a quarterback this year, we potentially would have had three younger guys coming back with no senior in next year's class. You get yourself in trouble that way, I guess that golden rule that you take a quarterback in every signing class. But we had a lot of discussion. We had a little bit of a turnover at the quarterback position in December and it kind of really refocused us. We had offered a quarterback. Nick understood. We had offered a guy, we were going to give to a certain time to make a decision. And we actually allowed him to extend his time a little bit longer. As soon as we knew about the decision we said, hey…"
"And the great thing with Nick is he understood that honesty and appreciated it. That we didn't feel right if we offered him and he committed and then somebody else wanted to come and I said you no longer have your scholarship; even though I promised you one thing I'm going back on my promise."
"But he was always the top guy sitting right there on the board for us at quarterback. Well, I guess the second guy because we thought we had another guy we thought we had the opportunity as well. It's always tough because they were right there, the guys we evaluated, and very different players that you look at in that situation. And I told Nick I always err to the in-state guys first as a loyalty to the kids in Mississippi. That's why we gave one guy the first opportunity, then we jumped all over Nick. It was actually funny, during that whole weekend when we're sitting there with Nick I kind of came to the conclusion Nick was the better quarterback. Then it kind of came real heavy that he was the much better quarterback in our minds! The more time we spent with him, it became tough. I just think he's a kid and great family and really understood everything that went on during recruiting. The fact that we were up-front with him from day-one allowed that great open communication with us."
Q: With the signing limit rule how tough was the numbers game? "I think it's scary. Because one of the things you look at on signing day is you can't go over any more. Even if there is a guy that's questionable academically, we don't want to send out letters; you're not going to send out ‘over' letters because of the severity of the punishment for oversigning. So as you go through this whole process it does make it difficult in balancing. You say hey, there's three kids you don't know about and you only have two spots, and if all three of them sign you're going to get punished severely. So if you send out two and send the wrong two and they don't decide to come, then you're way under."
"So I think it's made it a little more tricky balancing the numbers and trying to be exact. I think our staff, and especially the quality of the young men that we went after, we really didn't end up with those issues on signing day."
Q: Is there an issue with Gus Walley's knee? "He met with our doctors on his knee. He also had a shoulder issue. One of the things we talked about was the potential of grayshirting with him, really for health reasons. With what happened with his knee and his shoulder after the season he lost about 20 pounds and not being able to train and doing some stuff. But we spent some time, we did some research, talked to the doctors. Within his rehab that we felt he was ahead of schedule, he felt he was ahead of schedule. It really kind of was an open discussion with him and his option of which road he wanted to take. He talked to the doctors and they said he was ahead of schedule and that he will be 100% healthy way before he reports; that he'll be able to get his health get his weight back on and report at a good weight and come in on a positive note."
"So again just the relationships our coaches have that allows you to have open discussions with young men like that, they can really look at their future and understand why we talk about and even discuss that. I think some people look at grayshirts because they're going to oversign a lot of people. As we discussed the potential with a couple of guys this year there were factors involved in each one of those, whether it be academically and athletically."
Q: With numbers tight you were able to sign Artimas Samuel late? "He was a guy really liked all along. For us, I like those kind of crossover players that are tough to defend and he certainly is that. Is he a little bit smaller tight end, a big wide receiver, what is he? A mismatch guy. And he's a guy that academically we had some concerns about and weren't sure. The more we discussed it with everybody at school, Geoff Collins and everybody talking to the counselor, they did a good job recruiting him and staying with him. And felt he has a great opportunity to qualify, so that's why we decided to go in that direction and sign him and get him on board, and hope to have him on board."
Q:What do you think of Quadry Antoine? "We have to make sure he doesn't get a lot fo fines or penalties or suspensions! If you've watched his highlight film the first six plays you'd be ‘wow' with the hit and see flags come a-flying! I love contact, I love how he plays, the reckless abandon he plays the game with. I mean, he just loves the game of football, loves to hit, loves to play. And that attitude is always great to have, because he's a great young man. He's not a bad guy, he just loves the game hard. To me that brings a little attitude and I think he will bring a little attitude to the secondary."
Q: How big a ‘get' is A.J. Jefferson? "It was huge. A.J. is a guy who kind of went through the process, I thought he might commit to us early on and he kind of let the whole deal play out through the whole recruitment, and never wavered. But he's a great kid. The thing that really impressed me with A.J. was how guys spoke of him, not just coaches at his team but he went down to play in the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Game. And guys that were already committed to us how highly they spoke of his work ethic, the effort that he gave every single day and everything he did at practice."
"Those are things that really excite me. In the end getting somebody that is not just a really good player but somebody other guys coming into the program really respect because of his work ethic is something that really puts him up a notch in my book."
Q: Will there be any changes in the coaching staff for spring? "Yeah. We have a position open in recruiting for kind of a recruiting specialist. We're going to start interviewing people here in coming weeks for that position. But I don't expect any changes within our staff with our on-the-field coaches. We might have some grad assistant turnover, I think some of them are about to graduate and have served their time."
Q: Are you expecting any academic issues with signees? "You know our staff, we worked tirelessly to make sure all our kids qualify as we have done in the past. But there are some guys that still have some work to do. But we've been pretty successful in the past monitoring that, working very closely in making sure. The one great thing about it, when guys know that they're coming here to work; when you talk about hard work, commitment, sacrifice, you see a lot of our guys get great grades their last semester in high school. Because that mindset has kind of overtaken them already by the time the come in. So they do really well, and hopefully all these guys do and finish up strongly in the classroom."
Q: Some people will take your preaching comments as a shot at Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss? "I don't know. No. Because I have people e-mail me all the time ‘what is your background?' I go to church all the time, but to me it's more important you live that life than you just talk about that life. So I just see it every day. I see it every day and I preach it to our guys that you don't talk about one thing and tell me one thing, and live your life a different way."
"And I think in recruiting a lot of times I have guys call me and tell me all kinds of stuff. I've had guys call me and tell me they've reported we've had coaches already leave the staff, and no one has left the staff. That it's going to turn out this way and it's not that way. For our guys we try to be up-front with these kids from day-one."
Q: Thoughts on spring practice with only two quarterbacks? "Yeah, we'll protect those two guys. You might not see them get hit as often this spring as you might do in others."
Q: Are you concerned about the pace of practice? "No, we'll keep doing some things. Honestly, everybody has been wondering for the last couple of years when are we going to snap it to Chad Bumphis or are you going to snap it to Jameon Lewis. One of the hard parts is you go through practice, you script things and have to make sure you get a certain number of reps. I think this might give us the opportunity to really force us to have to develop that package that we want to develop. Jameon, I think everybody saw when he gets the ball in his hands he can do some exciting things. As he keeps taking those steps forward he can do some neat things with him in the future."
Q: Will there be some walk-on quarterbacks? "Rockey (Felker) and I have talked, I think there are going to be a couple of guys that are quarterbacks that want to walk on this spring. We'll see, I guess, as that goes. A lot of walk-ons show up for one day and get through stretch, and…!"