MSU, Moorhead haul in top 20 class during new early signing period

The Bulldogs finished the early period with nine signees on offense and six on defense.

Posted: Dec. 20, 2017 8:55 PM

STARKVILLE, Miss. (WTVA/MSU Athletics) – Joe Moorhead was named Mississippi State’s 33rd head football coach less than a month ago. The 44-year-old didn’t waste any time making an impact in Starkville as he and the Bulldog staff received 15 National Letters of Intent to solidify a Top 20 ranked recruiting class on the first day of the new early signing period on Wednesday.


MSU’s #StateTeam18 was ranked as high as No. 17 by Rivals.com, No. 20 by ESPN.com and No. 21 by 247Sports.com. Based on ESPN.com’s rankings, MSU had the second-highest ranked recruiting class among those teams who hired new head coaches this fall behind only Oregon (13). The complete class was unveiled on HailState.com/StateTeam18.

“I’d like to thank the high school coaches and fans that we met on the road, particularly in the great state of Mississippi,” Moorhead said. “The people were incredibly accommodating and welcomed this Pittsburgh boy with open arms. Southern hospitality is a real thing, as is a passion for Mississippi State football.

“The recruiting process in its simplest form to me is about relationships and about decision-making criteria. I would like to personally thank all the parents and family members who believed in our culture and vision enough to allow their sons to play for this coaching staff and for this football program. It is our promise to be great mentors to our players and help guide them to exceed their potential as students, as players and as people.”

Moorhead signed the top five players in the state of Mississippi according to the 247Sports’ overall rankings. MSU inked three four-star receivers, including the state’s top wideout in 6-foot-3 Malik Heath (Jackson), 6-foot-3 Devonta Jason (New Orleans) and the No. 1 junior college receiver in 6-foot-4 Stephen Guidry (Hinds Community College).

The Bulldogs finished the early period with nine signees on offense and six on defense. The state of Mississippi’s arguably most athletic and top defensive player became a Bulldog with the addition of West Point’s Marcus Murphy, who dazzled fans at last week’s Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Game.

Moorhead will turn his attention to hiring the remainder of the staff and filling its remaining scholarship spots when the regular signing period begins on Feb. 7.

Head Coach Joe Moorhead
December 20, 2017

Opening statement…

“Good afternoon. How y’all doing? Did you see how I said ‘y’all’? In three short weeks, I’ve successfully transitioned. In Pittsburgh, we say, ‘yins,’ if y’all have ever heard that word. That means ‘y’all.’ So in a couple weeks now, I’ve successfully translated ‘yins’ to ‘y’all,’ so I’m happy to be here and get going. I’m extremely excited to officially add 15 new players and families to the Mississippi State football program. The road to signing day is a long and winding journey with lots of twists and turns. With that being said, there’s been a tremendous amount of time and effort put forth by our school, our coaching staff and our support staff to successfully assemble a recruiting class of this caliber.

“I’d like to personally thank the people who deserve recognition for the commitment to build #StateTeam18. No. 1, our University, President Dr. Keenum, Mr. Cohen and our athletic administration for providing our coaching staff with the resources necessary to sign a top-ranked recruiting class. We’re certainly very appreciative of them. The people behind the scenes who assist and play an integral role in our recruiting efforts. Certainly our university flight department, with us zig-zagging across the country for the past two or three weeks, when I sometimes didn’t know what state or city I was in. Those guys always made sure that we got up and got down safe and got there in an expeditious manner. Our professors and our academic advisors, who did a great job during our recruiting weekends assisting our young men and their families about the classes they’ll be taking and how they’ll be supported academically. The people who work in the hotels and the restaurants, for putting our guys up and feeding them during the weekends. Our equipment staff, our video staff, sports medicine, compliance, and certainly Bill [Martin] and his sports information staff. All these people unselfishly devote their time and resources with very little credit or fanfare, and I’d like to say how much our staff certainly appreciates everything that they do.

“Next, I’d like to thank the high school coaches and fans that we met on the road, particularly in the great state of Mississippi. The people were incredibly accommodating and welcomed this Pittsburgh boy with open arms. Southern hospitality is a real thing, as is a passion for Mississippi State football. The number of pictures, autographs, handshakes – there were just too many to count. So, I really certainly appreciate everything this great state has done to welcome myself, our new coaches and my family down here.

“Next I’d like to thank our coaching staff and recruiting department. Obviously, I know that the change is difficult. I get that part. The staff I’ve retained in addition to our new hires have done an unbelievable job in the transition, and I think it’s a testament to the relationships that we’ve built and cultivated over the past two years, as well as the past two weeks. With players, their families, and with high school coaches, I feel like it says a lot about the direction of and the belief in our football program and our coaching staff.

“Lastly, I’d like to thank the 2018 commits and their family members. The recruiting process in its simplest form to me is about relationships and about decision-making criteria. I would like to personally thank all the parents and family members who believed in our culture and vision enough to allow their sons to play for this coaching staff and for this football program. It is our promise to be great mentors to our players; help guide them to exceed their potential as students, as players and as people.

“Most importantly, I would like to thank the members of #StateTeam18 for their unwavering loyalty and for deciding to join a football program on the rise. We will help them achieve their goals in the classroom, on the field and in the community. We want our incoming class to exhaust their eligibility and cross the stage at graduation in four years with a world-class degree in one hand and four championship rings on the other. I’m certainly grateful for them and excited to add them into our football program.

“Just a recruiting class overview, what we were looking for in this class. From a physical standpoint, we wanted to bring in players with a football ability to help us win an SEC championship and compete for a national championship. From an intangible perspective, we wanted guys that were smart, tough and disciplined, have great work ethic and care more about team success than individual recognition. You have the handout in terms of the players, the positions, the states, the accolades and all those things. Those are my thoughts on the process, how it’s gone down. I’d call it a whirlwind if I had time to stop and think that it was a whirlwind.”

On the number of remaining scholarships available…

“It’s fluid. We’re going to be in the four to five range moving forward.”

On the impact of the new early signing period…

“I’m really kind of trying to digest it. This is our first time through it. Obviously, moving the date back into December allows kids time to make the decision earlier, get signed earlier and get the process finished with. There are people probably a lot smarter than me that sit in a room that come to the decision-making of when and where and things like that. To me, I’m going to look at it and see how it goes from the first year, gather some information and digest. The thing that made it difficult from a personal perspective is you get hired, you need to secure your current commitments, you need to add additional guys, and you’re trying to hire a full-time staff and bring your own coaches in. You’re having recruiting weekends, and kids are sitting there and you may or may not have a position coach because they’re either coaching the bowls or coaching in the NFL. From a certain standpoint, I like it because it allows kids to get the decision over with and allow them to move forward with their high school career. At the same time, from a coaching perspective, it does present some challenges, from a systematic and strategic standpoint.”

On the priority of signing wide receivers…

“I think it’s huge. If you guys have seen what we’ve done offensively at Penn State and even at Fordham before that, we were a three-wide receiver team. We’re going to play with mostly 11 personnel. I think Mississippi State, looking at the film, we’ve had the opportunity as a staff to devote some time to sit back and look at the games from last year. We’ve gone out to practice and watched the guys. We certainly had a lot of success running the ball here, and I think an area we can improve a little bit is the pass game. Certainly, with three playmakers like [Stephen] Guidry, [Devonta Jason] and Malik [Heath], that’s going to help us in that regard. I’m very excited about those guys.”

On which signees will make an early impact…

“From an offensive standpoint, just looking at it, obviously Stephen (Guidry) is an older kid. He’s a junior college player and has a lot of experience. I think when you look at it from an offensive, defensive and special teams standpoint, we want an opportunity to evaluate our guys in our winter program and see what they can do in spring ball before we make any sweeping generalizations. The good thing for the young guys coming in is they’re going to start essentially from the same base foundation. Experience is one thing from playing in games, but none of the guys will have played in our systems. They’ll get spring ball under their belts. I think it’s a great opportunity for our older guys to come in and earn their stripes and their playing time during spring ball. Our young guys will come in during fall camp and compete.”

On signees choosing Mississippi State…

“Just like we’ve talked all workouts about, it’s our goal and mission to make sure that, as coaches and educators, that we’re going to develop them academically, athletically and socially. With our culture and our vision, we want to make sure that we’re doing the right things in the classroom, make sure they get their degree, putting them in a position to be successful with our schemes – number one, to ensure that team success comes before individual recognition. Lastly, through our culture and things that we want to do as people. Ultimately, that’s what I think it is. Recruiting is decision-making criteria and is about relationships. The schools that have offered you, relative to the things you want out of the experience. I think that the kids have seen through the staff we’ve retained and our new coaches the things that we’re going to do as a football program. That’s what they want to be part of.”

On the positions still to be filled…

“That’s to be determined. We’ve gotten through today, and we’ve done a good job putting this class together. We’re going to take a little time tonight and when we get together tomorrow and January and put out a clear plan of where we’re going to go, because it is a fluid situation.”

On what he sees in Texan quarterback Jalen Mayden…

“First thing is, he’s left-handed. So am I, so it’ll be the first time I’ve had the opportunity to coach a left-handed quarterback. I won’t have to flip everything around in my head and get it all turned around and twisted. You talk about the composition of a great quarterback and the things that those guys do that allow them to be successful and very successful at this level: number one, intelligence; number two, the ability to beat you with his arm; and three, the ability to beat you with his legs. He was a winner in high school. He’s a very smart, intelligent kid. He’s very articulate. He loves to study the game. He likes the preparation part as much as he likes the playing part. He can throw the ball and with how we’re going to ask the quarterback to be involved, he can really orchestrate the pass game, short game, and intermediate play-action pass. I’m sure you guys know how much I, or we, like to throw the ball down the field. He certainly can do that. His ability as a runner is well-documented. That’ll fit well with what we’re going in the run game as well.”

On the geographical span of his short recruiting period…

“A lot of credit goes to Brad Peterson, Pat Austin and Rob Gibson, guys that I retained who really have a great feel for the state and for the area. A lot of it more than anything was me getting in front of the kids who were already committed. It was Mississippi, it was Louisiana, it was Florida, it was Texas and seemed like everywhere in between. Sometimes you come back to the hotel and forget what room you’re in because you’ve been to two in two nights. They did a great job, and we went to and will continue to go where the players are. Like I said, I think those guys did a really good job and were instrumental.”

On the signing class overall…

“Overall, I think it’s good in a sense that it’s a bunch of young men who possess the athletic skill and football ability to help us win an SEC championship and compete for a national championship. They’re good kids off the field as well. Like anything, you want to continue to address your positional needs, where you maybe have a number where you’re a little low or a little high. I think we did a good job with that. Obviously, you want to always improve your athleticism, improve your size, improve your speed, improve your skill. I think it’s possible we did that. I’m very, very pleased with this class.”

On when he expects additional assistant coach hires…

“A lot of it right now is predicated on when their seasons end. That’s what it is right now. From an on-the-field perspective, January 9 is the time when you’re allowed to hire the 10th. The remaining positions are really predicated on when two particular guys’ seasons end, and then those people will join us. We have the people identified; it’s just a season thing right now.”

On watching practices and evaluating the current team…

“I wish I was coaching, to be honest with you, but I also understand the difficulty of trying to get both things done. I think there’s great size, and they’re very athletic. They’ve been very energetic, flying around the field. I think Coach Knox and staff have done a very good job in getting the guys ready to play a great opponent in Louisville. More than anything, I have to take a roster with numbers out there to make sure who I was evaluating and what they were doing. For the most part, I try to be very respectful of the seniors and respectful of this team. I wasn’t part of this journey, and this is a culmination of their season. I’ve tried to just sit in the back, make my observations and make my notes. I’ve been very pleased with what I’ve seen. I think the coaches have done a great job, and I think the kids have done a great job practicing as well.”

On the early signing period and finishing out this recruiting class before looking to the 2019 class…

“My thoughts, like I mentioned earlier, it’s good in a sense that it allows kids who are confident in their decision to sign and then move forward with their high school careers. It’s the trickle-down or ripple effect of the other things like moves and things like that are things I think need to be evaluated or to be determined. It’s going to be a balance. We’ve got to evaluate our remaining needs and fill in the numbers with guys in those spots. At the same time, we have our recruiting staff here in addition to the people I brought along who have been recruiting my teams all along. The recruiting cycle prior to the second signing day will be a balance of filling out the ’18 class and getting a jumpstart on the ’19.”

On junior-college transfer Sh’mar Kilby-Lane…

“He’s a guy that our recruiting staff knew. Pat, Rod and Brad had a relationship with him. We talk about looking at the needs by number, and things were maybe a little heavy and a little thin. Linebacker was an area of need and one where we needed to build our depth a little bit. He’s a dynamic playmaker. He flies around on film, both his high school and his college film. He’s a guy with some experience at the college level who will have an opportunity to come in and compete for repetitions.”

On junior defensive lineman Montez Sweat’s impending decision to declare for the NFL Draft…

“Coach [Bob] Shoop and I have both spoken with Montez. We want this to be a time where he’s concentrating on this team and this bowl game. Bob and I have both sat down and talked with him. We’ve reiterated our stance that we’d love for him to come back because he’s a very good football player, and I’d like to see him get his degree. I think those are things as we move on and when the bowl game concludes that we’ll talk about in greater detail.”

On Alabama native running back La’Damian Webb…

“He possesses a lot of the positional attributes and skills that we’ve had with our running backs in the system. He’s comparable to a lot of the other guys we had on the Penn State roster. He’s a back with good size, excellent vision, tremendous change in direction and breakaway speed. He can catch the ball well, too. With how we operate in inside zones, he can do some things on the perimeter. I think he’s a good fit for what we’re going to do.”

On what offensive position Starkville native Cameron Gardner can play…

“I think he’s a hybrid. When you look at our offenses at Penn State and at Fordham and even before that, the majority of the guys who’ve had the opportunity to play in our system have moved on to the next level and played in the NFL. The thing that we like about Cameron is he’s big, he’s physical, he’s athletic and possesses an ability to block. What we look for in a tight end position is a guy who when you have him lined up, he can block like a tight end and be able to outrun linebackers, and when you split him out, he’s a size matchup for safeties. With him playing mostly receiver in high school, he’s physical enough and can provide us with that flexibility.”

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