STARKVILLE — Corey Broomfield is ready to make history.
As the Mississippi State freshman defensive back walks through the team room, he observes the photos on the wall of former Bulldog greats Walt Harris, Pig Prather, and Fred Smoot.
Broomfield believes the current secondary that includes freshman Johnthan Banks, of East Webster High School in Maben, and sophomore Charles Mitchell can make names for themselves before their careers are done at MSU.
“We know it”s been done, so we”ve got to take it to the next level and do it again,” Broomfield said.
Broomfield has been putting the pressure on himself, Banks, Mitchell, and the rest of the defensive backs.
“Corey was talking the other day about we”ve got future first-team All-Americans, and that”s what we”re striving to do,” Mitchell said. “We”re trying to reach that status. We”re trying to be the best secondary in the country.”
Broomfield, Banks and Mitchell could earn those individual honors because their play this season has helped keep the Bulldogs (4-5, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) in bowl contention.
The trio has nine of MSU”s 12 interceptions this season. The Bulldogs had eight interceptions last year.
When the secondary struggled to make plays early in the season, MSU defensive coordinator Carl Torbush decided to throw freshmen Broomfield and Banks and junior college transfer Maurice Langston into the mix and has been pleased with the results.
“They got baptized by fire,” Torbush said. “We”ve had quite a few guys playing against some really good football teams. I don”t think there”s any doubt that the addition of Johnthan Banks and Maurice Langston have helped us get better.
“We”re a whole lot better (defensively) than we have been at any time of the year, especially in the secondary. We are making some plays there and intercepting some footballs when we have a chance to intercept them.”
Broomfield, who has three interceptions, knew some players were going to have to emerge with cornerback Marcus Washington as the unit”s only senior.
Broomfield and the other Bulldogs put in extra work in the preseason and developed a bond that is starting to show on the field.
“It”s basically reap what you sow,” Broomfield said. “We put in hard work and we”re seeing the rewards.”
Sophomore cornerback Damian Anderson has one interception, while Mitchell has two and Banks leads the team with four.
“(Banks) does have a nose for the football, and he”s going to do nothing but get better,” Mitchell said. “The secondary as a whole is starting to make plays. The plays we weren”t making earlier in the season, we”re starting to make them.”
The Bulldogs have also had a knack of returning some of those interceptions for touchdowns.
Broomfield returned an interception 43 yards for a score against Jackson State in the season opener. Mitchell had a 71-yard interception return for a touchdown against the University of Houston, and Banks returned interceptions 100 and 20 yards for scores against the University of Florida.
Mitchell enjoyed some friendly ribbing from senior linebacker Jamar Chaney that he hasn”t returned one of his two interceptions for touchdowns.
“We”re trying to get Chaney some footwork so he can run one back,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell, who learned last year from defensive backs Derek Pegues and Keith Fitzhugh, considers himself a veteran even though its only his second year in the program.
Last week, he had to do some coaching himself in practice when redshirt freshman cornerback Louis Watson was having a tough time.
“He was a little down,” Mitchell said. “I had to get his confidence going so he could start making plays.”
Watson responded later in the practice by intercepting a pass from quarterback Chris Relf and returning it for a touchdown.
“You have to have confidence when you play in the secondary,” Mitchell said.
MSU coach Dan Mullen said young players like Watson, Broomfield, and Banks have the potential to make huge jumps every week.
Mullen has been pleased with the Bulldogs” effort, fight and toughness, but he knows there are areas — including technique — for everyone to improve on.
But Mullen isn”t maturation process. He is confident he and his assistant coaches will be able to develop the program into a winner, but he admits it”s tough to hold back sometimes.
“I always put more pressure on myself,” Mullen said. “I want us to be extremely well coached and a fundamentally sound football team. It does take time to develop that.
“I do see improvement with fundamentals and how we are playing. I”m just not the most patient person in the world.”
Mullen has talked about his goals for the program, and the players are ready to deliver.
“When coach Mullen first came in our No. 1 goal was get to the SEC Championship Game and win a big bowl game,” Mitchell said. “We”re working to get there.”
Mullen likes McKenzie
In addition to brushing up on fundamentals with the veterans this week in practice, the younger Bulldogs scrimmaged Tuesday and Wednesday at the end of workouts.
Freshman defensive lineman Johnathan McKenzie, of Starkville Academy, who is redshirting this season, was one player who impressed Mullen the most
“Johnathan McKenzie is almost a one-man wrecking machine out there,” Mullen said. “No one can block him.”
Mullen also praised freshman quarterback Tyler Russell and freshman fullback William Shumpert.
“(Shumpert) brings a thump and we”ve had to hold him out of certain things because he”s a load at the fullback position,” Mullen said.
Finding future backs
Mullen knows there”s no replacing senior running back Anthony Dixon when he graduates after this season.
Losing MSU”s all-time leading rusher is bad enough, but Mullen is equally concerned about having to replace senior running backs Arnil Stallworth and Christian Ducre”.
He”ll start that search with sophomore Robert Elliott.
“We have to do a good job of growing and developing (younger players),” Mullen said. “We might not have another Anthony Dixon, but you expect a player like Robert Elliott to have a great spring and huge offseason. We expect him to get a job in starting lineup.”
Ducre” back next week
Mullen has held Ducre” out of practice this week because of a bone bruise in his knee.
Ducre” landed wrong last week after a catch against the University of Kentucky and suffered the injury.
“It wasn”t as bad as it looked,” Mullen said.
The trainers have told Mullen Ducre” should be ready to return to practice next week.