STARKVILLE - Head football coach Joe Moorhead and his Mississippi State program entered Wednesday morning with 21 commitments for the 2020 early signing period and finished the day with 22 signees as he and the Bulldogs landed their third-consecutive top-25 class.
State's #MoorDawgs20 class is ranked as high as No. 21 by ESPN and No. 25 by both 247Sports and Rivals. The complete class was unveiled on HailState.com/MoorDawgs20 throughout the day.
"I think that's important that we dominate our state, and I think we've done a very good job making sure that the message that we sent - that we want to keep the top talent at home where it's not like a place where a kid's born in the state and he has a talent, but the expectation level is that he goes out-of-state and goes somewhere else," Moorhead said. "That's been part of my philosophy here, that we have to do whatever we can to keep the best players in the state of Mississippi home and turn this into a place where kids don't have to go other places."
#MoorDawgs20 Hometown Breakdown
South Carolina: 1
#MoorDawgs20 Position Breakdown
Special Teams: 1
DL: 5 – DE Jevon Banks (Olive Branch, Miss./Olive Branch), DE Jordan Davis (Memphis, Tenn./Copiah-Lincoln [Miss.] CC), DE Tre Lawson (North Augusta, S.C./Mississippi Gulf Coast CC), DT Armondous Cooley (Shubuta, Miss./Wayne County), DT Ben Key (Cranbourne, Australia/East Los Angeles College)
DB: 4 – CB Emmanuel Forbes (Grenada, Miss./Grenada), CB Javorrius Selmon (Jackson, Miss./Provine), S Janari Dean (Batesville, Miss./South Panola), S Cam Threatt (Lewisburg, Miss./Lewisburg)
OL: 2 – OT Grant Jackson (Brookhaven, Miss./West Lincoln), OT Calvin McMillian (Houston, Miss./Houston)
LB: 2 – LB Rodney Groce Jr. (Pleasant Grove, Ala./Pleasant Grove), LB Tyrus Wheat (Amite, La./Copiah-Lincoln [Miss.] CC)
WR: 4 – WR Caleb Ducking (Rolling Fork, Miss./Holmes [Miss.] CC), WR Lideatrick Griffin (Philadelphia, Miss./Philadelphia), WR Malik Heath (Jackson, Miss./Copiah-Lincoln [Miss.] CC), WR Jaden Walley (D'Iberville, Miss./D'Iberville)
RB: 2 – RB Dillon Johnson (Greenville, Miss./Saint Joseph), RB Jo'quavious Marks (Atlanta, Ga./Carver)
QB: 1 – QB Will Rogers (Brandon, Miss./Brandon)
ATH: 1 – ATH Decamerion Richardson (Bossier City, La./Bossier)
K: 1 – K Brandon Ruiz (Tempe, Ariz./Arizona State)
The Bulldogs' class is highlighted by four-star prospects Marks, Forbes, Griffin, Davis and Heath.
Marks is a top-15 running back nationally. He, Forbes and Griffin are among ESPN's top 300 prospects overall for 2020, while Davis and Heath are considered two of the best junior college prospects in the country.
Forbes, Griffin, Johnson, Threatt, Walley, Dean, Cooley, Selmon, Banks, Rogers and McMillian are 11 of the top-30 players in Mississippi according to 247Sports.
With the early signing period in the rearview mirror, the Bulldogs will continue their preparation for their 10th straight bowl game in Nashville at the Music City Bowl against Louisville. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m., on Dec. 30. Tickets can be purchased at HailState.com/BowlTickets.
National Signing Day – Dec. 19, 2018
JM: "Awesome day. We couldn't be more excited, and it's a great day for celebration not only for our program and the 22 young men we're bringing in, but most importantly for the young men – the student-athletes who are fulfilling a lifelong dream of playing at the collegiate level, specifically in the SEC and their families. It's a culmination of sometimes two- and three-years' worth of work and a lifetime worth of hard work for the kids so that is absolutely fantastic, and we couldn't be more excited. Certainly, there are a lot of people to thank in this process. First and foremost, our administrators and leadership here that allow us to do the things that are necessary to be successful from a resource standpoint for recruiting. Certainly, our recruiting staff – I know you guys may have written a little bit about them or kind of delved into what they do but, led by Mike Villagrana, and going down the line, our recruiting staff has done a phenomenal job formulating a plan in terms of evaluation, getting us out on the road, seeing all the kids and I think from a relationship-building standpoint, we've done an unbelievable job there. Certainly, our recruiting staff deserves a lot of credit and a lot of thanks. Our assistant coaches, the way we work, the head coach obviously has an incredibly integral part in this and the thing you're looking to do to differentiate yourself from other people who have more winning tradition or more resources is that I feel like head coach involvement has to play a huge part in that and these young men have heard from me every single day for two years when it was permissible. Our assistant coaches and the way we do it is we have the area coach and the position coach both involved, so they're hearing from three different people and certainly our recruiting communications staff. Our assistants have done an unbelievable job. Certainly, I want to thank the high school coaches in the great state of Mississippi and the surrounding areas for their belief in us, belief in our program and trusting us to carry on the work they have done for the parents and the young men and to their families. It's very humbling and very rewarding that you have the type of players. Hayden Fry, he just passed away. He had an old saying that 'you recruit your own problems' and I look at that a little bit differently. I think you recruit your own solutions. Something in terms of checking off boxes, first and foremost, the kid has to have the athletic and football ability to help you win at this level – to win in the SEC and to compete for national championships, so all of guys check off that box. The next biggest thing for me is do they check off the boxes of being great people and great communicators. I think the thing that we've added with this class that excites me the most is you talk about winning with culture, discipline, accountability, work ethic, attention to detail and selflessness. You see all those kids on that screen – big smiles, great families and espousing the things that are necessary that when they come in here and you talk about doing the little things right, it's not just a thing on the back of a t-shirt, it's what these kids actually believe. Now, for three straight years having top-25 [recruiting] classes, building on the momentum of two Egg Bowl wins, building on the momentum of 10 straight bowl games - two under this staff and I think Coach [Jackie] Sherrill was the last one to have two [bowl appearances] in his first two years. The momentum and the positivity, it's all very exciting. Certainly, our fans play a huge role in this too and when you talk about the fan support here at Mississippi State, not just out in the state but here in this building. The number of kids and fans we had at the Egg Bowl, and they talk about the atmosphere in this game, our fans play a huge part in that. I love our Mississippi State fans and we use the term family a lot here at Mississippi State and I believe that's true. I'm one of three [children] and my dad is one of eight [children] and here's the thing with family – everything's not always going to be peaches-and-cream and it's not going to be sunshine and unicorns. There are going to be disagreements. Sometimes, I'm going to disagree with what my brother says, sometimes he's going to disagree with what I have to say, but at the end of the day when someone tries to come between you, you're going to get back-to-back and you're going to fight your way out. That's one thing that I appreciate – the passion of Mississippi State fans, but at the end of the day they're going to defend their school and they're going to support their kids and coaches, so they play a huge role in that. You look at 17 of the 22 kids [in this class] being from in-state. I think that's important that we dominate our state, and I think we've done a very good job making sure that the message that we sent that we want to keep the top talent at home where it's not like a place where a kid's born in the state and he has a talent, but the expectation level is that he goes out-of-state and goes somewhere else. That's been part of my philosophy here, that we have to do whatever we can to keep the best players in the state of Mississippi home and turn this into a place where kids don't have to go other places. Where they can be Jeffery Simmons, Kylin Hill or where they can be the type of kids that can achieve all their dreams – athletically, academically and socially at their state university and turn this into a championship program that we win the SEC and compete for a national championship. It was a huge day, great job by Bill [Martin] and his staff as well and our marketing and social media [creative team]. Great day to be a Dawg and great to add 22 tremendous kids and their families to our program."
Q: What is the impact of getting all 22 recruits during early signing period?
JM: "This is year 21 that I've done this – I've done it at different levels of football but just at the BCS level and I cannot recall a year when you have 21 commitments going into signing day and you get all 21 of those kids signed and there's not a defection. We got a good surprise today, but no bad surprises, and I think once again, that's a testament to the coaches in this state and the surrounding states. It's a testament to the parents and the players and their belief in us and the direction of where this program is going. Quite frankly, it's a testament to our blue-collar, hard-nosed work ethic. You might do a lot of things better than us, but one thing you aren't going to do better than me and this staff in recruiting is that you're not going to out-work us. It's just not going to happen. Talking to my wife this morning, she said, 'You've always been a tenacious recruiter, you've always gotten after it, but for the last two years, I've never seen you work as hard as you have at recruiting' and the staff as well because attitude reflects leadership. To have 21 kids committed and to have 21 kids sign on Signing Day, that's a credit to our staff, a credit to our kids and a credit to the parents."
Q: A lot of junior college players at defensive end and receiver in this class, is that to bridge a gap at those two positions?
JM: "Yep. I think what you really have to look at from a broad strokes perspective is a needs by number analysis and as you go through the roster, you have a certain number per position, based on 85 [total roster spots]. When we walked in here, in two classes, there was one offensive lineman that made it to campus and so, you're looking at the places at defensive tackle, coming out of last year. The two starters graduate and then the three guys behind them, so I think more than anything, that the kids for junior college are that talented and stressing more of a specific need. That's what I'm getting used to – the fact that you have the junior college system at your disposal here and you can come find kids that have played at the college level and are ready to step in and contribute immediately. I think that's been a great benefit to us. I think you've seen a good balance because I don't think you can take only junior college players, there's a part of building a program that you need to have a certain amount of high school players and junior college players – I think there has to be a good balance between high school and junior college players."
Q: What stood out to you about Will Rogers while recruiting him?
JM: "One thing I believe is that when the quarterback walks into the room, you shouldn't have to ask if he's the quarterback and Will composes himself that way. Obviously, Wyatt has done a great job with Brandon [high school] as the offensive coordinator and you can tell he's been brought up around the game. When you're talking to Will about preparation and the things that are necessary for a quarterback to have success, not just at the high school level, but at the college level and not just the college level, but in the SEC. You aren't going to have to ask Will to come in and watch extra film. You aren't going to have to ask him to come to the field and throw extra routes. You're going to have to say 'woah' rather than 'sick 'em'. That's what I love about him. Big, athletic, strong arm and we'll continue to work and get better. You just saw what he did during the season for Brandon and certainly what he did at the [Mississippi-Alabama All-Star game] was pretty dang impressive to me at the end of that game."
Q: What do you like about the two running backs you signed in this class?
JM: "To have Kareem [Walker] last year as a junior college guy with Aeris [Williams] graduating and now Kylin and Nick [graduating this year]. So, you have Kareem who is an older guy, Lee Witherspoon – I think all of us agree that kid is going to be pretty special and now to add Jo'Quavious [Marks] and Dillon [Johnson] into the fold – one a 4-star guy and the other a 3-star guy who should be a 4-star guy. I think those guys are a great mix and the one thing in the system we've had over the years is a tremendous amount of success from the tailback position and kind of the ingredients that you look for. The tangibles and the intangibles, I think both of those guys can come in and have an opportunity to contribute early and historically speaking, that is a spot in this offense where true freshmen, like you saw from Lee Witherspoon this year, can come in and play right away."
Q: What's left to do between now and February?
JM: "We're going to have a certain amount to give going forward. Talk to Mike Villagrana, Matt Wilson and Rod [Gibson] and them. On my desk tomorrow, I want the top available players out of junior college, grad transfer and at the high school level at certain positions that we're going to target. We're going to find out who they are, and we're going to go like hell after them to try and fill those remaining spots and I'm on to 2021. I've been recruiting those kids, so they've been identified, and they're being recruited very hard, so this thing's going to end and we're going to get going on the remaining 2020's and we're going to recruit the heck out of the 2021's."
Q: Did you know you were signing two running backs before Kylin Hill declared for the draft?
JM: "This had been the plan. We were going to take two in this class. As you mentioned, needs by number, at tailback is always four to five and we're always going to carry four or five on the roster."
Q: How important is it for Malik Heath or Caleb Ducking to make an impact as junior college receivers this year?
JM: "Both of those guys in the terms, you look at other teams in the SEC and what they play with and the physical attributes and the size and the speed and the skill level of outside receivers who had a ton of success in this league, and I think both Malik and Caleb both check off all of those boxes. I think you look at them – Caleb is 6-5, 200 pounds and runs a sub-4.5 [40-yard dash]. He may need a little bit more development and seasoning. At South Delta, I think he was a 1,200-yard receiver coming out of high school, had a ton of touchdowns, a little bit lower level of football then he went to Holmes Community College where they run the triple [option]. So, we're excited to get him in to develop him. I think he can definitely play one of the outside receiver positions, and Malik is a guy who has all the tools and talent. He's just going to have to come in, compete, work and learn the system. Certainly, two guys when you talk about continuing to work on the improvement, explosiveness and the efficiency of the passing game that can come in and make an immediate impact."
Q: How do you decide where to play certain defensive backs on the field?
JM: "I think you get a pretty good gauge based on their high school film and their body type and skillset. The way that football is going now, most teams play with five DBs on the field anyways – very rarely do you see 21 or 12 personnel, or you have true base personnel where there's three linebackers. Brian Cole and [Johnathan] Abram, for example, playing the star position, that guy has to be as much of a cornerback than he is a safety because most of the time you get matched on a [Jerry] Jeudy, or [Henry] Ruggs or a [Jaylen] Waddle. If it's a man call, you have to be able to dude them up and cover. To me, you're playing defensive back, you're starting as a cornerback and then the evolution really depends on the development and the need."
Q: Do you feel like you've lived up to the expectation of in-state recruiting so far?
JM: "I think we've done a very good job. Obviously, when we got here year one, Signing Day wasn't that far away – as much as that was management, rather than evaluation and relationship building because that's something you had to do very quickly. If you look at last year's class and this year's class on top of it and you go through the rankings to see who the top players in the state were and maybe some developmental guys. I think that's part of the beauty of this state – that you're going to have guys who are highly ranked and justifiably so and you have to do a great job of keeping those guys at home. But this is one of the most unique states that I've seen where it isn't oversaturated or over-recruited from a national standpoint, and you can go and find a guy like Caleb Ducking, who has no offers, and he comes to your camp with no one knowing about him and he walks out of here with an SEC offer. So, to answer your question, I think we've done a very, very good job of recruiting in-state. I know that you aren't going to get all of them but if we can make a concerted effort between the coaches, players, families and our staff to keep the best at home, then we can be like everyone else and do what everyone else is doing. I know it gets frustrating at times because you want to offer them all, but you can't. There are some that are good enough, but you just can't offer them because of needs or numbers like that, but I promise that we're doing our darnedest to make sure this thing starts inside out. We're evaluating, developing relationships and doing our best to keep all the kids in-state at home."
Q: How important have guys like Dillon Johnson and Jarrian Jones been in keeping the chemistry right with the team?
JM: "I don't know if there will ever be another Jarrian in terms of that, but there was probably a lot more keeping together last year than there was this year because we've been recruiting this class for a lot longer, so I think the relationships were there between the coaches and the families, between the coaches and the players and quite frankly, between the players and the players. One of the things I remarked on the official visit weekend were that almost all of the kids in this class were here. When this year's class was interacting with Jarrian and [Nathan] Pick's class, it almost seemed like it was one class. Something special is brewing when it almost seems like it's one class that's been recruited so that's definitely a solid foundation. Some of the other guys – Dillon, Will, you could go on across the board, but it seems like all these kids were all in their mind determined that they were going to come and play at State for a very long time."