Over the next several weeks here on the HailState Beat we’ll be running a new football-related series each week, a series of series’ if you will, and we start this week with Rising Stars: names you need to know before the season starts. Some of these will be more obvious than others, but the goal will be to single out the players you may not have heard of or who have yet to make a big name for themselves on the field, in no particular order, who will be stars by late November.
Today’s Rising Star: senior cornerback Darius Slay
Sure, it’s odd to include a senior in a series on Rising Stars. But Slay was a backup who played sparingly last year, with only one memorable play. Very memorable, of course, as it was a 72-yard interception return for a touchdown. Those tend to stick in the brain. So, to say he’s a rising star might sound funny, but imagine it’s a shooting star and it makes sense. You know days in advance a shower is coming (Slay had committed to MSU in high school before going to junior college), but nearly as soon as you see that first star streak across the sky (or football field), it’s gone and you barely had time to point it out to everyone else (senior year flies by) before it left your local viewing area.
Alright, maybe I took that too far. But you get the point. With the speed of burning rock hurtling through the zero-gravity cosmos, I expect Slay to take the Mississippi State cornerback position by storm in 2012.
Obviously, Chris Wilson’s defense feels pretty good with corners Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield entering their fourth consecutive years as starters, an impressive feat in the SEC. But there will come a point when it’s no longer justifiable to keep Slay off the field. He’s the fastest player MSU has in its secondary (unofficially), and he has a nose for the ball.
Evidence: in MSU’s final spring scrimmage before the Maroon-White game (the less-talked-about, but more-important one), Slay picked off Tyler Russell three times. Afterwards, Slay said it should have been five. And he was right. But you don’t have to take my word for it that Slay is good at playing football.
“I’m really excited about Mr. Slay,” defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said after the scrimmage. “I really am. I’m watching him. He’s really in his element when he can play some man and get in really close to some receivers. He’s also a really good tackler. He’s really making a push to be a starter at that position.”
As hard as it is to keep Slay on the sideline, it’s almost or just as hard to take Broomfield or Banks off the field. But if spring practices are any indication, the coaches may take the easy way out. Throughout practices, the defense regularly played with three cornerbacks on the field – Slay, Broomfield and Banks. As Friend of the Blog Brian Hadad said, “So, basically, MSU will never allow a touchdown to a slot receiver.”
The Bulldogs will play plenty of pass-heavy or spread teams in 2012, including big games against Tennessee, Texas A&M and Auburn, putting MSU in a good spot with three strong corners. And Broomfield, under-sized though he may be, could even play a bit at safety with his strong tackling ability and State lacking in depth at the position.
As for the starting corners?
“We’re gonna play the best guy,” Wilson said. “We’re gonna grade the tape and we’re gonna measure it, and the best guy is gonna play. Whoever we feel is the best player at that position, that’s the guy who will start the season.”
Slay did not go into details about why he wasn’t able to do more in 2011, registering 23 tackles in addition to his one interception, but he did offer something of a reason for what happened when he got to MSU last August.
“I came in at a bad, lazy moment, but they got me right,” Slay said.
If Slay is “right,” he’s a shooting star.