January 11, 2018 10:19:20 AM
Brett Hudson - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Chris Chambless has been preparing players to play college football for several years, but he hasn't had one enroll early until this year.
That's because West Point High School's period system had its seniors earning the credits they needed to graduate until May. That changed just in time for senior Marcus Murphy to enroll at Mississippi State a semester early, and he jumped at the opportunity.
Chambless was all for it.
"Why not? He's going to go over there and get a head start on all the other freshmen coming in in the fall," Chambless said.
On Wednesday, MSU announced Murphy and wide receivers Stephen Guidry and Devonta "Whop" Jason have enrolled MSU and will be eligible to participate in spring practice with new coach Joe Moorhead. Chambless feels the benefits for all three are obvious.
"Look at Alabama winning the national championship. How many freshmen did they have on the field that went through spring with them last year? It's huge," he said.
Murphy, Guidry, and Jason were part of a 15-player class MSU announced on the first day of the early signing period Dec. 20. The class was ranked as high as No. 17 by Rivals.com, No. 20 by ESPN.com, and No. 20 by 247Sports.com. Based on ESPN.com's rankings, MSU had the second-highest ranked recruiting class among those teams who hired new head coaches this fall behind only Oregon (No. 13).
According to 247Sports, MSU signed the top five players in the state of Mississippi.
Chambless said he spoke with Murphy on Tuesday night and he was "doing well." He expects Murphy to use the time to adjust to the speed of the game in college and to learn the schemes and system.
Murphy, a 6-foot-1, 197-pound dual threat, played an integral role in helping West Point record its first 15-0 season in program history and win its second-consecutive Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 5A State title. In the last two years, the Green Wave won 29 of 30 games.
Murphy, who was named The Dispatch's Large School All-Area Offensive Player of the Year, shifted back to quarterback this season after playing there as a sophomore. Murphy rushed for 1,856 yards and 31 touchdowns. He threw for 1,058 yards and nine more scores.
A Dandy Dozen pick by The Clarion-Ledger, All-State performer by the Mississippi Association of Coaches (MAC), MHSAA Class 5A, Region 1 Most Valuable Player, and four-star prospect by 247Sports, Murphy finished his high school career with 5,227 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns. He rushed for more than 1,600 yards in three seasons.
According to a story by SBNation's Morgan Moriarty on Jan. 31, 2017, the number of early enrollees in the top 15 signing classes has gone up every season.
In 2012, there were 67 in those classes. That number ballooned to 81, 85, 94, 97, and 110, an increase of more than 60 percent.
In 2012, eight five-star prospects enrolled early. That number dropped to six in 2013, but it increased to eight in 2014, to 11 in 2015, back to eight in 2016, and rose to 14 in 2017.
For perspective, Alabama has had 50 players enroll early from 2012-17. It had 12 early enrollees in its 2017 signing class.
Murphy could gain more from his extra semester than Guidry or Jason because he likely will be shuttled between positions early in his career to find his best fit. Murphy primarily was used as a running back at West Point High, but he also has been projected as a safety in college, particularly by the coaches on the staff of former MSU coach Dan Mullen.
According to the Associated Press, all but four Power 5 teams had at least one early enrollee in 2016, an average of about four per school. There were more than 250 early enrollees in total.
In addition to Guidry and Jason, MSU signd three four-star receivers, including the state's top wideout Malik Heath, of Jackson Callaway High. Guidry, who is from New Roads, Louisiana, was the nation's No. 1 junior college receiver out of Hinds Community College.
Guidry, a 6-foot-4, 190-pounder, will have two years of eligibility remaining. Ranked the fourth-best prospect among all 2018 junior college recruits by 247Sports, Guidry had 22 catches for 326 yards and four touchdowns. His efforts earned second-team Mississippi Association of Community and Junior College (MACJC) honors.
Jason is a 6-2, 211-pound freshman from Landry-Walker High School in New Orleans. He ranked among the top five in the nation at his position by Rivals, and is considered the No. 2 overall prospect in the state of Louisiana. Jason is the No. 5 overall recruit from Louisiana and the 27th-best receiver of the 2018 class, according to ESPN
All of the receivers figure to have a lot to gain from enrolling early because MSU suffered key graduation losses (Donald Gray, Gabe Myles) at a position that many felt lacked quality depth.
This past season, MSU ranked last in the Southeastern Conference with 166.9 passing yards per game. The Bulldogs also didn't have a receiver with more than 300 yards. Ole Miss had five, while Missouri had four. Georgia, which had the conference's top rushing attack in yards per game, had three.
Enrolling early at MSU should give Murphy, Guidry, and Jason additional time to learn Moorhead's system that prioritizes throwing the football downfield. That time could prove especially beneficial for Guidry and Jason because of their height.
If Murphy, Guidry, or Jason need help transitioning from high school to college, they can look to freshman quarterback Keytaon Thompson. The 6-4, 222-pounder from Landry-Walker High (La.) enrolled at MSU in time to take part in bowl practice before the 2016 St. Petersburg Bowl. He then practiced with the Bulldogs in the spring, earning rave reviews from Nick Fitzgerald, who said, "He's way ahead of where I was when I got here." The preparation played a role in Thompson taking over for Fitzgerald, who suffered a season-ending injury in the regular-season finale against Ole Miss, and leading MSU to a victory against Louisville in the TaxSlayer Bowl last month in Jacksonville.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson