Coach Dan Mullen and staff are looking forward to seeing some of their freshman faces, whether true or redshirt rookies, on the league coaches’ listing due out tomorrow. It has already been a good week for the 2009 Mississippi State squad, with senior running back Anthony Dixon earning First Team status on both the sportswriters and Coaches teams announced on Monday and Tuesday respectively. Junior defensive end Pernell McPhee was Second Team on both those ballots as well, and junior offensive tackle Derek Sherrod made the Coaches Second Team offense.
Now a handful of pups hope to join their elders on the ’09 honor rolls. And if the final regular-season SEC stats provide proof the Coaches Freshman secondary should have a maroon-tint to it. Redshirt cornerback Corey Broomfield ended the year tied for second among all league defenders of all classes in interceptions after picking six passes in his first varsity campaign. And no league player had more than Broomfield’s two touchdown returns.
But one Bulldog did have just as many, he being true frosh safety Johnthan Banks with a pair of pick-sixes…in the same game no less as he twice snared a throw off first team All-SEC quarterback Tim Tebow and ran it back for touchdown. That set a Mississippi State game record too. Broomfield got his TD returns separately, in the Jackson State and Ole Miss games.
Thus the only two SEC defenders to notch a pair of pick-sixes this season were both Bulldogs, and both freshmen. Broomfield’s All-Freshman case is strengthened by finishing 10th in league passes-defended stats, again the only rookie to make the cut.
If there is an ‘all-purpose’ category on this year’s Freshman Team, then State’s Chad Bumphis has to be a leading candidate. The receiver/return man not only played in every rookie-year game, he started on opening-day and even threw an option-pass on State’s very first play from ’09 scrimmage. But the true frosh made his real mark catching balls, whether thrown or kicked.
Bumphis finished as State’s receiving leader for catches (32), yards (376), and touchdowns (4) alike. He was the first freshman to pace a Bulldog team in season receiving in over three decades, since Mardye McDole in 1977. And as the year developed Bumphis was worked into more duties, particularly the return game where he compiled 454 yards on either kickoffs or returns. This despite having a teammate, Leon Berry, set a program record of his own for kickoff return yards. Bumphis still came in 10th in SEC kickoff return average despite not being the primary man on the job.
And Bumphis even got to rush the ball six times from scrimmage, giving him 876 all-purpose yards right out of the rookie-box.
True freshman defensive tackles Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd were able to get enough snaps, and ultimately starts, to catch some Coaches eyes as well. Cox started four times in a dozen games played and accumulated 28 tackles, 3.5 for losses with a sack. He also blocked a field goal against Houston. Boyd started three of his 12 games for 16 tackles.
But redshirted defensive linemen had their own impact, most notably tackle Devin Jones with 2.5 sacks out of his 14 tackles as a pass-rush package specialist. Nick Bell started three games, played in all and had 14 tackles too.
In all, Mississippi State put seven true scholarship-signee freshmen out of Mullen’s first recruiting class on the field, while redshirting eleven others. An even-dozen redshirted true scholarship frosh from the 2008 signing class saw their first action also, including starting WR O’Neal Wilder who caught 14 passes with one touchdown.
With such a sizable segment of the total team’s contributions coming from rookies, small wonder State expects the class as a whole to receive respect in the form of individual recognitions. This certainly stands to be one of the better years for State in the Coaches Team consideration, though the bar has been raised lately. In 2004 there were five Bulldogs named All-Freshmen; and a year later six more joined that roll, matching the program record set in 1989 when six State rookies were so tabbed by various outlets.
Though not candidates for this team, Mullen’s junior college newcomers deserve a fair share of credit too. Berry for his part smashed the kickoff return mark set only a year ago by Derek Pegues, himself one of those 2005 All-Freshman team picks. Berry tallied 1,259 all-purpose yards and was 10th in the SEC, along with 3rd in kickoff return average.
McPhee has already been honored with Second Team selections for his first season in the SEC where he led State with 5.0 sacks and five hurries, part of his 56 total tackles. Linebacker Chris White got in on 75 tackles, 23rd-most for the SEC regular season in fact.
And transfers totally revamped State’s specialist jobs too, as Heath Hutchins averaged 39.72 yards punting while Derek DePasquale hit 10 of 12 field goal tries along with all 22 PATs. He took the place of injured transfer-mate Sean Brauchle who was 6-of-9 on his field goals. And between them Brauchle and DePasquale were perfect on PATs.
All these Bulldogs will return to campus for the spring semester and a start on 2010 work, as stage-two of Mullen’s rebuilding job begins. And as some of this first-year number do receive a well-done in the form of Freshman All-SEC, it does more than affirm their own individual efforts. It further reinforces what Mullen has promised prospective talent: that if they can fill a role in his gameplan, they will get the chance to play and make plays from the first day they dress out.