Mississippi State goes big, balanced with football signing class

Published 7:50 am Friday, December 21, 2018

The first half of Mississippi State’s 2019 signing class wasn’t the biggest, or the best in the Southeastern Conference. It didn’t reel in all of Mississippi’s best players.

What it did have, coach Joe Moorhead said, was a nice balance.

Mississippi State signed 14 players on Wednesday, the first day of the NCAA’s early signing period. The list included three of the top 15 in-state players from Mississippi, including four-star offensive tackle Charles Cross of Laurel High School, and two of the state’s top junior college players in Jones defensive back Fred Peters and East Mississippi offensive lineman LaQuinston Sharp.

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Mississippi State’s recruiting class is ranked as high as No. 14 by ESPN.com, and in the top 20 by several other services. Based on ESPN.com’s rankings, the Bulldogs wrapped up the day as the sixth-highest ranked SEC team behind No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Georgia, No. 3 Texas A&M, No. 6 LSU and No. 13 Auburn.

“When you look at it, very good balance in the 14 signees — eight offense, six defense. Eight from the great state of Mississippi, five from our footprint and one from our national area,” Moorhead said at a signing day press conference on Wednesday. “Every year, you’re looking to add size, speed, strength, athleticism and playmaking ability to your roster. Obviously, depth issues play a large part into that, but overall, I think we addressed all of those areas. I couldn’t be more happy to have these young men in our program.”

If there was one imbalance in Mississippi State’s recruiting class, it was an emphasis on the offensive and defensive lines. Seven of the 14 signees were linemen of some variety.

The Bulldogs added defensive linemen De’Monte Russell (Provine), Jack Harris (Oak Grove) and Ani Izuchukwu (Hendersonville, Tenn.).

On the offensive line, Brevyn Jones (Birmingham, Ala.) and Nick Pendley (Canton, Georgia) joined Cross and Sharp.

Moorhead said the large number of linemen in the class came from a combination of “philosophy and need.” The Bulldogs are losing several key players at those positions for next season.

“If you can’t run the ball and you can’t protect and you can’t stop the run and pressure the passer in this league, it’s going to be a long day at the office. I think any time that you have the opportunity to recruit the big guys who really make all the difference in the game that’s the primary area of focus,” Moorhead said. “Secondly — from a pure numbers perspective — in a needs assessment, for a few classes here, we haven’t really signed many offensive linemen that made it to campus. You look at our senior class on the defensive line, we’re losing a significant number of players. I think it’s a combination of philosophy and need.”

Among the skill positions, the Bulldogs signed two wide receivers (Quinton Torbor of Louisiana’s Destrehan High School and Kyziah Pruitt from Noxubee County), one running back (Lee Witherspoon of North Jackson High School in Stevenson, Ala.) and quarterback Garrett Shrader.

Shrader is a four-star prospect from Charlotte Christian School in Charlotte, N.C. The 6-foot-5, 190-pound pro style QB picked Mississippi State over offers from a half-dozen other SEC schools.

Shrader threw for 6,818 yards, 75 touchdowns and only 16 interceptions in three years as a starter for Charlotte Christian. He also ran for 2,205 yards and 32 touchdowns.

Charlotte Christian was 31-3 in Shrader’s three seasons as a quarterback and won the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association Division II state championship twice.

Moorhead said he has been recruiting Shrader since he was the offensive coordinator at Penn State, and felt like Shrader was now Mississippi State’s quarterback of the future.

Shrader will join the Bulldogs for their practices leading up to the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day.

“When you look at our offense and what we need from that position, a guy that can beat you with his arms, his legs and his brain, I think Garrett checks off all those boxes,” Moorhead said. “I think he’s very representative of our philosophy on offense to be able to balance the run and the pass and have the quarterback beat you with his arm and his legs. He’s an excellent fit for our system.”

After signing 14 players, there are still 11 spots for the Bulldogs to fill on the traditional signing day in February. Moorhead said he and his staff will flesh out the rest of the class based on need.

“We’ve got, I don’t want to say all of them, but we have positional needs relative to needs by number. We have a list of guys we’re going to continue to recruit,” Moorhead said. “Really, who we take and ultimately sign is going to depend on how the numbers fall. If we take a certain player at this position and we have a similar player ranked right below him — obviously, you can’t take them both, it falls on the contingency plan.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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