STARKVILLE — A National Signing Day surge saw the Mississippi State University football team land the state”s top offensive lineman and snag two more from other programs.
Olive Branch High School offensive tackle Damien Robinson will step in as a possible replacement for rising senior Derek Sherrod, who has anchored the left tackle position for the past two seasons.
Easily the highest-rated player in MSU”s 26-player recruiting class, Robinson is 6-foot-8 and weighs 330 pounds.
He brought help from the Conquistadors” massive offensive line, as guard Eric Lawson dropped former Auburn University coach Tommy Tuberville and Texas Tech for the Bulldogs.
Louisiana Tech commitment Dillon Day also opted for Starkville instead of Ruston, La.
The offensive line was a point of emphasis for MSU football coach Dan Mullen and his staff, as four MSU linemen will be seniors in 2010.
“That”s been a priority from the beginning,” Mullen said. “We were down five offensive linemen from what we want to carry. With our two seniors from last year and four seniors next year, we have nine offensive linemen to replace in a two-year span, and we only had four freshmen-sophomore offensive linemen on scholarship, so it was a huge deal for us to go out and get the offensive linemen.”
A high-profile hole to fill heading into next season is running back, where record-setter Anthony Dixon, Christian Ducre, and Arnil Stallworth are gone.
MSU has Robert Elliott waiting for his first shot to be MSU”s feature back, while redshirt freshman Montrell Conner is cut in the Dixon mold. The Bulldogs got stronger at running back with the signings of junior college All-American Vick Ballard (Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College), Perry Central High”s Nick Griffin and Lawrence County High back Matthew Wells.
Mullen has high hopes for Wells.
“I see him being a player we can put in the backfield, we can put out in the slot, we can move him everywhere, and, hopefully, he can cause some matchup issues,” Mullen said.
Along with hauling in his second consecutive Parade All-American quarterback — St. Stanislaus” Dylan Favre — Mullen and his staff attracted a number of athletes who could play multiple positions. Six signees are listed as athletes, including West Point High standout Michael Carr and MSU”s first 2010 commitment, West Lowndes High”s Brandon Hill.
Much like Mullen”s first recruiting class, which saw the likes of Ladarius Perkins, Dennis Thames, Brandon Heavens, and Ricco Sanders join the program, the options have Mullen excited for the future of the program.
“With Chris Hughes and Brandon Hill, you”re taking two very, very big athletes that may grow into being linebackers to give us a lot of speed and athleticism at that position,” Mullen said. “I think it”s a real solid group with also a lot of flexibility. Some guys can grow into another position, or if they don”t are already athletic enough to play the one they”re at.”
As with every recruiting class, some players end up contributing in their first season. This was true last season, as Egg Bowl-hero Chad Bumphis and safety Johnthan Banks became impact players as freshmen.
With a void at middle linebacker left by Senior Bowl Defensive MVP Jamar Chaney, Mullen foresees Memphis, Tenn., linebacker Ferlando Bohanna challenging for Chaney”s vacated anchor spot.
“Bohanna is a young man we think can possibly contribute or get a significant amount of playing time for us next year,” Mullen said. “He comes in with college size and college speed already.”
Mullen said two or more players could gray shirt or head to junior college should they not qualify, but as of Wednesday he didn”t identify anyone who would go either route.
The Bulldogs added strength to their defensive front with massive junior college defensive tackles James Carmon (MGCCC) and Jeffrey Howie (Itawamba C.C.), West Point High”s Curtis Virges, and Yazoo County”s Kaleb Eulls.
Of the 26 players added Wednesday, 18 are from Mississippi. Last season, 19 of MSU”s 27 signees were in-state products.