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Monday, January 23, 2006
Dan Mullen hits the ground running in Starkville


AP

As he did during his tenure as Florida's offensive coordinator, Dan Mullen will place a premium on getting his playmakers the ball at Mississippi State.

Mullen Making an Early Statement on the Trail

By Billy Tucker

Honest, genuine, motivated.

Those were the adjectives spoken by recent Mississippi State commits this week when describing new Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen.

The former offensive coordinator at Florida made quite an impression in Starkville last weekend hosting his first official recruiting visit. Mullen impressively came away with commitments from three of the top-rated athletes in the Magnolia State while also plucking Darius Slay (Brunswick, Ga.), the No. 7 safety in the state of Georgia.

The 36-year-old had been splitting time between two schools since his hiring in December, but if last weekend was any indication of his future success on the recruiting trail, Bulldog fans have to be excited about where this national-championship-winning coordinator is headed with the program.

Mullens' biggest recruiting triumph on the job thus far was landing Chad Bumphis (Tupelo, Miss.), the state's top-rated athlete and the No. 120 prospect nationally in the ESPNU 150. With offers from almost every major Southeast program under his belt, this electrifying skill player was attracted to Mullen's non-football approach.

"I sat in on most of their meetings, and coach Mullen sold Chad by genuinely caring for him as a person first -- not just an athlete," Tupelo head coach Eric Collins said.

Fellow top-10 Mississippi athletes LaDarius Perkins (Greenville, Miss./St. Joseph) and Dennis Thames (Louisville, Miss.) joined Bumphis with pledges this past weekend and offered similar sentiments about the vibe they got from Mullen and his strong vision.

"He's kind of laid-back but an honest guy who is going to come in and do what he says," Thames said. "He said he plans on getting great coaches, recruits and is going to turn this program around real quick."

Perkins was committed to play at Auburn before his visit, but he was instantly sold on Mullen's personality and goals for the future of the Mississippi State program.

"He's for real; he's not going to sugarcoat anything," Perkins said. "He's honest and is a guy I can trust. Basically I was sold by how motivated coach Mullen was about getting the whole program turned around."

To accomplish that, Mullen told recruits, his philosophy is to "keep it like a family," surround his players with good people, make sure everyone gets a degree and leaves Mississippi State as a better person.

All three prospects were also drawn to MSU for a chance to represent their home state at the next level, and it appears Mullen has intentions of making that one of his main recruiting priorities.

"(Mullen) seems to be putting a focus on that," said Collins, whose Tupelo program has emerged as one of the better ones in the state. "He has come in and done a fantastic job holding on to some talent (in-state)."

Thames passed over more traditional powers like Michigan to stay home to play his college ball.

"It made a big difference," Thames said. "My mom and family can watch me play and I can represent my home state."

While Perkins also stated that Mullen's goal of keeping the good Mississippi players home helped in his decision, the coach rooted in New Hampshire's tradition of lighting up scoreboards and employing first-round draft picks in his scheme was the icing on the cake.

Thames may start out on defense in Starkville, but it's likely Bumphis and Perkins will see early playing time on offense. Both are ideal fits for the open spread offense Mullen will be implementing. Like Percy Harvin, the versatile Bumphis is one of those rare prospects who could project high as a back, slot receiver or returner. He blends great speed and quickness with the ball in his hands, and like the Gators' former No. 1 weapon, Bumphis can reach top-speed extremely quick making him a very dangerous space player in the spread.

If Bumphis is Mullen's next Harvin, Perkins could be his next Jeffrey Demps or Chris Rainey. We still feel the 5-foot-8 speedster has floated under the national radar despite his excellent speed, quickness, vision and versatility. He certainly didn't slip by the new Bulldogs coach, who seems to have followed the motto of his former boss in Gainesville: "Recruit the fastest team in America."

"They want to use me like Percy Harvin," Perkins said. "Get outside pitches at running back, motion to the slot and make plays in the return game. We have a tough defense, and (coach Mullen) knows how to put points on the board. With me, Chad and Tyler (Russell) coming in -- we can make it happen."

It sounds simple, but recruiting and competing on Saturdays in the SEC is anything but. At least Mullen has hit the ground running in Starkville, and the Bulldog faithful have jumped on board, actually assisting in the process.

The highlight of the recruits' weekend, from all accounts, was being introduced at the Mississippi State basketball game against Vanderbilt and receiving a warm ovation from the crowd.

"We walked in and the crowd went wild; it was really exciting," Thames said. "People were holding up signs with our names and stuff. I was already feeling (MSU), but that just made it happen for me."

The faithful may not remain optimistic and upbeat for long, and Mullen does not appear to be looking for a grace period. He might be doing more recruiting and selling at Mississippi State than he had to do at Florida, but he is off to a good start.

North Carolina Surging Toward Signing Day

Butch Davis certainly knows a thing or two about turning around a program with in-state kids -- and closing down the stretch. Although North Carolina signed a disappointing class outside the top 25 a year ago, the Tar Heels currently sit at No. 11, a ranking that doesn't reflect the recent pickups of the state's No. 2 offensive tackle, Travis Bond (Windsor, N.C/Bertie), and top-20 safety Gene Robinson (Memphis, Tenn./Whitehaven).

Heading into signing day, this class is strong and deep and fills most needs. We thought the Tar Heels really needed to sign an upper-tier edge player on both sides of the ball and have done so with instate ESPNU 150 end Donte Moss (Jacksonville, N.C./Northside).

Bond is also a key recruit for Davis. The North Carolina native has a long wingspan, which makes him a very solid pass protector. He uses his long arms and hands to deliver a good initial punch both in the pass and run game. Bond will need work on his leverage but comes off the ball with power and keeps his legs driving after contact. He should develop into a very good college tackle once he grows into his body.

Aside from his great physical traits, his coach at Bertie High School says he thinks Bonds has all the other intangibles needed to make him successful at the next level.

"He has an outstanding work ethic, is hungry and very coachable," said coach Tony Hoggard.

As far as his recruitment, Hoggard said that Davis and the entire Tar Heel program did a great job making Bonds feel wanted in Chapel Hill. Playing close to home was also a factor.

"They recruited him like he was a son, and Travis was sold on the family atmosphere," Hoggard said. "He really enjoyed being around the players and thought they were people he could depend on when he was away from home.

Coach Hoggard also chuckled that being "close to his mama" didn't hurt.

Recruiting Buzz

By the time the initial ESPNU 150 is released, most of the nation's top prospects have been identified and evaluated. From that point on, the evaluation process continues. Occasionally in the fall, we discover prospects who are worthy of cracking the rankings. It is even rarer that a ESPNU 150-caliber prospect is found just weeks before signing day, but Zaccheus Mason (Nashville, Tenn./Christ Presbyterian) has defied all those factors to make a late debut in our player rankings.

This athletic tight end is a true sleeper in the 2009 class; he has quickly established himself as one of the most promising tight end prospects. He is a young man with a strong basketball background (nationally ranked power forward) and possesses excellent size, in both height and bulk. Although Mason's a big kid, he runs well and possesses the tools to be a weapon in the passing game. Still raw, he has a wonderful upside. With a long reach and big hands, he flashes the ability to pluck the ball out of the air. He needs to build speed but exhibits excellent speed once he gets going. He is athletic enough to maintain balance as he avoids and runs through tacklers who try to dive at his legs. He can go up and grab the jump ball and can be a weapon in the red zone. He needs to keep developing, especially as a route-runner, and will need to prove himself as an in-line blocker, but in a class that lacks many tight ends with difference-making ability, Mason is an exciting prospect.

Interest in him is limited at this time, but someone is poised to make one of the big steals of the 2009 class. If this basketball prospect turns his attention solely to football at the college level, he could quickly develop and be an excellent college player. It is a big statement, but with his size, athleticism and basketball background, it is hard not to make some comparisons to former Cal and current Kansas City Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez. Mason is proof that it's never too late to find talent.


-- Craig Haubert

Big 12 Recruiting Breakdowns

The national success and exposure is definitely reflected in this Red Raiders class, arguably one of the better ones in Mike Leach's tenure. The class still lacks an elite prospect -- currently no ESPNU 150 prospects are committed -- but it has its fair share of difference-makers; this group is very solid top to bottom, particularly in the middle range. Plucking Oklahoma receiver Ward down the stretch was possibly one of this recruiting year's biggest surprises. Ward will have ESPN's No. 17-rated signal-caller, Jacob Karam (Friendswood, Texas), throwing him balls in quick release. The Red Raiders added some needed youth up front with a pair of top-20 tackles in LaAdrian Waddle (Columbus, Texas) and Kyle Clark (Denton, Texas/John H. Guyer). The majority of this class still comes from the Longhorn State, but Tech is not just picking up residual talent passed over by Texas and Oklahoma anymore.

Top prospect: The Graham Harrell era is over, and junior Taylor Potts appears to be the heir apparent. The Red Raiders lack young talent behind center, which makes the commitment from Karam very significant. His size may not be ideal, but Karam is a gunslinger with a quick delivery, great feet, solid athleticism and a knack for making things happen. He reminds us of Kansas' Todd Reesing -- Karam is a scrappy, tough player with some playmaking skills both as a runner and passer.

Don't be surprised if … Texas Tech snags another big-name prospect down the stretch and is right on the cusp of its first top-25 class on signing day.

• Click here for full coverage of the Big 12 South

Mississippi State Commit Chad Bumphis

On The Trail

Athlete Moore decommits from USC
ESPNU 150 prospect Byron Moore of Narbonne (Harbor City, Calif.) has decommitted from the USC Trojans.

Moore is ranked No. 4 nationally among athletes and is the No. 71 prospect overall. He was recruited as a safety, and he now favors Notre Dame and LSU. Among his other offers are UCLA, California, Arizona State, Arizona, Minnesota and Colorado.

"Yeah, I went ahead and decommitted today," Moore told ESPN affilliate WeAreUSC.Com. "I just felt USC wasn't the place I wanted to be and I want to look at some other options out of state. Right now it's pretty much Notre Dame and LSU, with Notre Dame in the lead. I'll probably take a trip down to LSU next week.

"I kind of feel like I want to go to school out of state, see something new on my own, go somewhere I will get a good education and have an opportunity to play early."

• Moore's On the Trail archive


Corner Wallace picks Penn State

After making an official visit to Penn State over the weekend, defensive back Mike Wallace committed to the Nittany Lions on Wednesday night, NittanyNetwork.com's Bill Kurelic reports.

Wallace had previous scholarship offers from New Mexico, Stanford, Army, Maine, New Hampshire and Towson. However, after landing a scholarship offer from Penn State over the weekend, Wallace didn't wait long to accept.

"The recruiting process is pretty hard," Wallace said. "But I just felt comfortable at Penn State. God just told me it's the right decision."

Wallace's cousin Terry Killens played linebacker for Penn State in the 1990s.

• Wallace's On the Trail archive
• Complete On The Trail updates

Tom Luginbill Breaks Down the Big Ten Classes