STARKVILLE — Martinas Rankin stepped on the Mississippi State campus in the spring of 2015 with a chance to win a starting spot.
Coming out of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in Perkinston, Rankin was the top-ranked junior college
offensive lineman in the Class of 2015. When MSU signed him, making an immediate impact seemed inevitable.
But it was evident he wasn’t ready as he went through spring drills, workouts in the summer, and the early part of fall camp.
“I wasn’t where I needed to be,” Rankin said. “I didn’t go and earn a starting spot. I took advantage the best I could.”
As a result, Rankin redshirted last season and watched from the sideline. This season, Rankin is competing for a starting position, most likely at left tackle.
MSU coach Dan Mullen and co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach John Hevesy informed Rankin of their plans so he wasn’t blindsided.
Mullen said Rankin probably could have helped the Bulldogs deal with injuries at the position later in the season because he had improved, but Mullen wanted to preserve Rankin’s future.
“He has a chance to be a two-year starter, which is really what he wanted,” Mullen said. “You’re coming out of junior college, you want to be a two-year starter. … He’s got to compete and win that job this camp, but he’s headed in that direction.”
The year away from football humbled and motivated Rankin. He also had a chance to see how the team prepared for road games and to learn how to mentally and physically prepare for a game.
More than anything, he learned a life lesson.
“I learned every play in the SEC counts, every rep and every step you take,” Rankin said. “Everything matters. You can’t take any play for granted, nothing for granted. You never know when that big moment is going to be.”
Hevesy said Rankin was slated to be the starter at left tackle, but he wants Rankin to earn the job. He played left tackle at MGCCC, where he was the recipient of the 2014 Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) Most Valuable Lineman award, and Mendenhall High School, so he is comfortable at the position.
In the spring, Rankin played a lot of right tackle. Moving offensive lineman is something Hevesy does often to enhance the depth at the position.
Rankin took to the changes and believes he is ready to play any position.
“I’m way more versatile than I was when I first came here,” Rankin said. “I feel very versatile, so if I do make it to the next level, I know how it feels to go from left to right, from right to left. It really doesn’t matter. You just have to handle your business.
“I just want to be on the field. It doesn’t matter. If you put me at guard or center, I just want to play. It’s not too fun being on the sidelines.”
MSU’s offensive line allowed 32 sacks last season and opened the door for 1,873 yards rushing (144.1 per game) last season. Rankin might be the boost the Bulldogs need to improve in those areas.
Now that he is in his second preseason camp, Rankin still feels like he needs to be a leader. His plan is to take what he learned in his first season and make it work for the best.
“It was some ups and downs to it, but I appreciated it in the end,” Rankin said. “It all worked out for the good.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Ben Wait on Twitter @bcwait
Ben Wait reports on Mississippi State University sports for The Dispatch.