The 2012 football season marks what would be Nick Bell’s senior year. Tragically, Nick lost a battle to a rare form of cancer during the 2010 season, however, he will forever be a Bulldog. At Maroon and White Nation we thought we should honor Nick (#36) on his birthday with a list of 36 people and things to be on the lookout for this year.
36. By the time we reach Senior Day, we will have seen two seasons go by with the 36 yard line painted in black, in memory of Nick Bell. It’s still surreal that one week he was laying the lumber to Cam Newton and just a few weeks later, he was having major surgery. If nothing else, Nick taught us that life is precious and you should enjoy every minute of it.
35. John Hevesy – John probably needed a drink or two after injuries decimated his already thin offensive line in 2011. After losing starters Derek Sherrod to the Packers and fellow senior J.C. Brignone in 2010, Hev saw senior James Carmon miss time and junior Tobias Smith go down with injuries early in the 2011 season. Outstanding seniors Quention Saulsbury and Addison Lawrence plus a couple new guys is what Hev had to work with, and he did an admirable job under extreme duress. With healthy and talented bodies around, the offensive line could make great strides this year, and that will start with John Hevesy.
34. Les Koenning – In the SEC, the defensive coordinator is the guy that gets the most attention. Lets not forget that you still have to score points to win the game, and sometimes a lot of them. Les has done a great job in his first three years in Starkville. He’s starting to get some guys mature enough in the system to make the plays he needs made for the offense to be successful. 2012 should be a solid year for the offense, and Les is a big part of that.
33. Charles Siddoway – A JUCO transfer, Siddoway has the size, speed and skill to play tackle in the SEC. Siddoway, ranked the #1 high school player in Oregon his senior season, signed with Cal out of high school but transferred to Butte CC, where he earned first team All-American honors. There is a chance he can unseat Damien Robinson for the starting RT position. Last year, after seeing what a couple of injuries on the offensive line can do to our team, we need to have Siddoway ready to play either the left or right tackle position. Siddoway can make immediate contributions to the progress of this team.
32. Louis Watson/Dee Arrington/Will Redmond – Senior Louis Watson and true sophomore Dee Arrington are both hard hitting safties. Anyone remember the last play of the 2011 Egg Bowl? Yeah, that was Louis Watson that just about decapitated Mississippi’s Barry Brunetti. Arrington will be battling with Watson for the starting position left open when Charles Mitchell became an Atlanta Falcon. Watson probably gets the start, but Arrington will see a lot of playing time as well. The wildcard here is true freshman Will Redmond, who has the skills to play immediately. He will push for significant playing time during his freshman year, he is that good. I should also mention Quadry Antoine, another extremely talented freshman who will push for playing time as well.
31. Reed Gordon – Who, you ask? Reed is the deep snapper for special teams, so the ball is in his hands for every punt, PAT and field goal attempt. Considering that the kicking game often determines the outcome of a game, it is paramount that Gordon has a mistake-free year. One special teams mistake, such as a bad snap, can have major ramifications. State needs Gordon to play as close to perfect as possible.
30. Joe Morrow – A player that has not been on the field makes this list? Why of course! Morrow has size and speed that are rare, particularly for a wide receiver. Morrow can stretch the field with his speed and can go up and get the jump ball in traffic. Morrow can make a huge impact on the 2012 season by making some big plays. As Jackie Sherrill always said, you can go back to any game, and there are usually 4-5 plays that were made that are the difference in the game. Morrow might be the man to make some of those plays.
29. Damien Robinson – Yes, most of State’s starting offensive line is on this list, and for good reason. It wouldn’t matter if Joe Montana was playing QB and we had Eric Dickerson at RB and Jerry Rice at WR, your offense is only going to go as far as the offensive line carries it. In fact, Robinson won the “filling in for three year starter Addison Lawrence” contest. Lawrence is now a Baltimore Raven, so that’s pretty big shoes to fill. Robinson, an Army All-American in high school, gets his chance to show what he is capable of.
28. Dak Prescott – What? A guy that has never taken a snap makes this list? Well yeah! Prescott is one injury to Tyler Russell away from being a starting quarterback in the SEC, so his progress will be very important to this team. Prescott has all the physical tools to be a solid QB, he just needs experience on the field. Prescott is a dual threat QB, and given that Mullen likes to play two QB’s, I expect to see the redshirt freshman on the field this year.
27. Devin Jones – The lucky winner of the “filling the void left by Fletcher Cox” contest, Jones is no slouch. Devin has made many plays on the D-line during his career at State and he will do very well this year. Jones is another guy that incoming players Quay Evans and Nick James can look to and learn from. The bonus here is that Devin has played positions all over the defensive line, so he will be able to play at any spot we need him to.
26. Kaleb Eulls – If Denico Autry does wreak havoc on one end, then logically, opponents will tend to run towards the other end. Enter Kaleb Eulls, an amazing physical specimen. Eulls is a hard worker that gives relentless effort, something Dan Mullen demands out of his players. Given how much Eulls bulked up from his true freshman year, I would not be surprised to see him get some snaps at the defensive tackle position. Matt Balis strikes again!
25. Corey Broomfield – A three year starter at cornerback, Broomfield brings a wealth of experience to the secondary. The only problem, and this is a good problem to have, is that there are three starting caliber cornerbacks on the roster. Johnthan Banks has one corner locked down and in the spring, Darius Slay made a strong push to earn the other corner slot. Broomfield has made a lot of plays during his career and he is a heady player.
24. Geoff Collins – Co-Defensive Coordinator and linebacker coach Geoff Collins came to State last season and inherited no returning starters at any linebacker position. An impossible situation for a new coach? Absolutely not! Collins took what was perceived to be a huge liability and turned it into a strength on the team. Based on what we saw out of the younger players in the Spring, he is doing a bang up job. Collins is also a fantastic recruiter, so we need to keep him in Starkville. Your Bulldog Club donations can help make sure that happens!
23. Nick Griffin – A beast, a freak of nature, a faster Vick Ballard. There are plenty of things that people say about Nick, who suffered an ACL tear as a true freshman. Griffin is getting his wheels back under him now and RB coach Greg Knox will be calling his number sooner than later. With this being his third year in the program, Griffin knows the playbook, and he has exceptional physical skills. With Vick Ballard gone to the NFL, now is Nick’s chance to seize the opportunity.
22. Matt Balis – Here is perhaps the single most important individual to the Mississippi State football program. Balis, the Bulldogs strength and conditioning coach, has nearly a cult status with the players. Chad Bumphis became @ImSo_BalisMade1 on Twitter – that speaks volumes for what Balis is doing for the program. He doesn’t teach them about A gaps, pad levels or how their hips should be positioned, but he makes sure that each player is in absolutely the optimal physical condition that their frame can handle. That hard work, dedication and devotion by the players carries over into football season.
21. Chris Wilson – Manny who? That’s what a lot of State fans are saying after the defense put up a strong effort last season. Wilson is the heart and soul of State’s defense, and in the SEC, defense is what wins games and championships. Wilson also does a tremendous job recruiting for State. Your Bulldog Club donations will go a long way in making sure that Chris Wilson never leaves Starkville.
20. A SIGNIFICANT home field advantage – This probably should have been ranked higher. Dan Mullen brought energy and enthusiasm back to Starkville, and he’s kept Davis Wade full with three straight years of sellouts. Mullen is delivering on the field and the fans have got to take it up a notch to make Davis Wade the hardest place to play in the SEC. Just remember, ring responsibly. When you are not ringing, you ought to be screaming! Make it a goal to force the opposing QB to burn timeouts because he cannot get an audible off. That’s what a home field advantage is all about. After the SEC warned State that the new cowbell rules were not being adhered to, the crowd made Davis Wade incredibly loud during the 2010 Arkansas game without cowbells. We need to be that loud for every game!
19. Ferlando Bohanna – Hands down, the SEC’s coolest name. When I wrote the Two Daves, I always thought that Auburn’s Junior Rosegreen had the coolest name in the SEC. Ferlando came on really strong during bowl preparations and that carried over into the spring. Between Bohanna and Bernardrick McKinney, State looks to have a bright future at the LB position.
18. Jameon Lewis – The speedster put on a clinic in the season opener at Memphis, but his productivity dropped off in conference play. Now that he has a year of experience under his belt, Lewis can put his tremendous speed to better use. Hopefully he’s worked to get the jitters out on his special teams play as well. Lewis is a guy that can take a kick all the way back with his speed and moves, and if he is able to hang on to the ball, he will make game changing plays.
17. Darius Slay – The JUCO transfer made a lot of noise in spring camp, enough to where speculation is that he might unseat fellow senior Corey Broomfield for the corner opposite Johnthan Banks. Slay showed signs of what he is capable of last year, including a pick 6 at Georgia. With Banks locking down one corner, the other will be pressed a lot by opponents. Slay being ready for that challenge will be critical.
16. Chad Bumphis – @ImSo_BalisMade1 has been a solid player for State since he set foot on campus. During his freshman campaign, Bumphis showed signs of what he can do on the field, capped with highlight reel leap, catch and run for a touchdown in the 2009 Egg Bowl. Perhaps the best downfield blocker in the receiving corps, Bumphis has good hands and is a smart player that is not afraid to go across the middle. With Tyler Russell throwing the ball to him, Bumphis can make major contributions to the 2012 offense. Bumphis has also played a major role on specials teams and he is capable of making game-changing plays.
15. Dillon Day – Another freshman forced into playing last year because of injuries on the line, Day made the most of his opportunity to start. Much like Quentin Saulsbury, Day can play the center or guard position, and play both well. Day is a fierce competitor and will continue to get better.
14. Chris Smith – QB Tyler Russell and Smith have been playing football together for years, dating back to their days at Meridian High, where the Wildcats knocked South Panola off of its 89 consecutive win perch. Quietly, Smith has been playing the receiver position very well. The sure-handed Smith has become somewhat of the go-to guy on third down and has dramatically improved his blocking downfield. Don’t be surprised if he is playing on Sundays next year.
13. Special Teams – Jackie Sherrill always talked about the three critical phases of the game: Offense, Defense and Special Teams. Sherrill’s best teams at State always featured exceptional special teams play. Like Sherrill, Dan Mullen personally coaches special teams. With PK Derek DePasquale graduating, Mullen will look to junior Brian Egan and true freshman Evan Sobiesk to handle placekicking and Baker Swedenberg will handle the punting duties. Special Teams is much more than the kickers, it is all about field position. There will be one or two games this year decided by special teams either making the big play or not.
12. Denico Autry – An all-world JUCO player at East Mississippi Community College, Denico was highly recruited by everyone. Autry chose Starkville, and he will fit right in with an extremely talented and experienced defensive line. Autry will fill the void left two years ago by current Baltimore Raven DE Pernell McPhee. If Autry comes in and lives up to the hype, Mississippi State will have one of the best defensive lines in the SEC.
11. Tobias Smith – After suffering a season ending knee injury, Tobias has been rehabilitating and is expected to make a full recovery and be ready to play in Fall camp. Smith has all of the skills and experience to make a dominant offensive lineman. As long as he can stay healthy, he can have a solid senior campaign, making significant contributions to the overall play of the o-line.
10. Gabe Jackson – I probably should have rated Gabe higher. We have been spoiled at the left guard position with Gabe’s outstanding play for the last two years. This is another guy that will likely play on Sundays. Jackson was recently named to Phil Steele’s preseason All-SEC team.
9. Blaine Clausell – as a redshirt freshman, Clausell was thrust into starting at left tackle as injuries mounted up early on the offensive line. Clausell made rookie mistakes, but he also showed what he is capable of. For 2012 to be an offensive success, solid play from the entire offensive line is crucial. With a passing QB taking the reigns, the LT position becomes even more critical for success. Clausell will play a huge role in determining the offensive success this year.
8. Malcolm Johnson – Dan Mullen quietly went out and found himself another Aaron Hernandez when he recruited Malcolm Johnson. The similarities are amazing. Both present great mismatches that will give defenders fits. Johnson began to show what he can do last year, and improved significantly this spring. Expect great things from Malcolm. The best part? He’s only going to be a sophomore.
7. LaDarius Perkins – Perkins has been tagged as a back that cannot handle being an every down, 20-25 carries a game type of player. I think that is wrong, I have no doubt that Perk can carry it as much as we need him to do. Perkins has speed that you simply cannot coach, and he’s got great hands. I think we will see Perkins on the field more often this year, but you will see him in the slot several plays a game. Dan Mullen is all about getting his skill players in individual matchups where they can be successful, and Perkins is one of those guys that will present opponents with matchup problems.
6. Tyler Russell – When Tyler signed with State, Dan Mullen said he expected that Tyler would need 2-3 years to come into his own and be ready to take the reigns of the offense. That time has come, and Tyler looked every bit of the part in the spring. State has always been able to run the football, but has lacked the skill at the QB and WR positions to burn teams for loading up the box. Tyler is primed to make teams pay dearly for stacking up for the run.
5. Nickoe Whitley – One of the best playmaking safties in recent memory, Nickoe has all of the physical skills and intangibles of an All-American safety. Of course, his return from a season ending ruptured achillies will have a lot to say about what he is able to do in his return this year, but just his potential warrants Nickoe being up high on this list. Nickoe is one of the most intense, hardest hitting safties I’ve ever seen in Starkville.
4. Cam Lawrence – In his sophomore year, Lawrence, a high school quarterback, looked lost at times as he learned the linebacker position. Maybe it was the experience, maybe it was new LB coach and co-Defensive Coordinator Geoff Collins, but Cam Lawrence became an all-SEC linebacker in his junior year. His play was dramatically better in 2011 and I expect great things from him in 2012. Lawrence should have an all-SEC senior year and should get a chance to play on Sunday. Lawrence also recently earned preseason All-SEC honors from Phil Steele.
3. Josh Boyd – Senior Josh Boyd didn’t get the spotlight that teammate Fletcher Cox did, however Boyd is a solid defensive lineman with an NFL future in front of him. Boyd can push himself into the first two or three rounds of the NFL draft with a solid year. More importantly, Boyd can teach the extremely talented but inexperienced linemen coming in. Guys like Quay Evans and Nick James can learn a lot from a senior leader like Boyd. Like Banks, Boyd was recently named preseason All-SEC by Phil Steele.
2. Johnthan Banks – Banks was considering the NFL draft after his junior year, but after getting feedback that he would be a mid to late round pick, Banks opted to return for his senior season. This will be one of the smartest decisions Banks will have made in his young life. Banks is already projected by many to be a late first round pick in the 2013 draft. Another year with Matt Balis and a strong senior campaign will only help push him up to a top ten pick. That will equate to several million dollars next April. Banks has recently been recognized with preseason All-SEC and All-American honors by Phil Steele. There was only one collegiate player that had two pick-sixes of Tim Tebow in one game, we’re looking at you #13.
1. November 17, 2012, Senior Day.
Back in 2010, in the first home game after Nick passed away, the passionate crowd honored Nick Bell with a moment of silence. Several seconds later, one individual broke that silence by ringing a cowbell. Who would do this, you ask? None other than Nick’s mother, Linda Bell. Despite having tragically lost her son, Linda Bell was there to support her son’s school and her son’s team. The Bulldogs gave it everything they had that night, but came up just short in an overtime thriller against Arkansas.
With this game being Nick’s senior day game, I hope that Linda Bell is on the field again, and an all-time record crowd of Bulldog fans will be there to salute Nick and his mother Linda. Coincidentally, this game will be played against Arkansas. We need to send Nick and his fellow senior class off with a win. Just so you know, that attendance record is 58,103, set against Alabama in 2009, a game in which Nick Bell played.