We’re familiar with veterans in football, meaning those older players with experience. In the same vein, we all understand newcomers to mean those who are, well, new.
For a few of Mississippi State’s key players, though, we may need to temporarily adopt a new term: new veterans.
Junior quarterback Tyler Russell, junior running back LaDarius Perkins and senior cornerback Darius Slay have all seen varying amounts of game action for the Bulldogs, with correspondingly various levels of success.
But now, these upperclassmen are making the transition from backup to starter. From intriguing second-stringer to key players with expectations and weight on their shoulders.
LaDarius Perkins is tasked with filling the shoes of Vick Ballard, while also proving he can transition from a change-of-pace, speedy pass-threat to an every-down running back. (Hint: he and his coaches think he can. I tend to agree.)
Russell’s story has been told time and again, as he is one of the most highly-decorated high school quarterbacks to sign with MSU and is expected to lead a more pass-happy offense now that he has finally assumed the role of starter.
As for Slay, the coaches moved Corey Broomfield, one of the top corners in the SEC the last three years, to safety so they could get the lightning-fast Slay onto the field as a starter
Each will play a significant role, each was patient in waiting to assume their spots and each must make the transition from potential to production.
The best news, though – for both them and MSU fans – is that each has earned the praise of their coaches.
Back in the spring Dan Mullen was non-committal on his running backs, saying it was an open and even competition to replace Ballard. By the end of the fall camp, it became clear Perkins had – pardon the pun – run away with the job. Any questions those outside the program had about Perkins’ ability to run between the tackles and handle 15-20 carries a game have been quickly squashed by him, his teammates and the men with whistles in charge of them.
Slay arrived on campus last August later than expected and with little prospect of getting a starting job, as Broomfield and Johnthan Banks were the entrenched and experienced starters at the two corner positions. Fast forward to this spring, and Slay picked off Russell three times in one of the team’s last scrimmages, leading defensive coordinator Chris Wilson to admit that when he says the best players will play, Slay might be one of them.
Fast forward once more to fall camp and we learn about Broomfield’s move to safety, paving the way for Slay to be the man opposite Banks, a possibility which seemed so unlikely one year prior.
Russell, of course, we knew would be the starter the moment the final seconds ticked off the clock in Nashville at the Music City Bowl and Chris Relf walked off the field. Since then, Mullen says he has seen a completely different player and person. Russell has become a leader, both verbally and physically, on the field and off.
And now, it’s on his shoulders the Bulldogs’ season rests. Mullen’s words, not mine. This is the year and tomorrow is the day Russell has been waiting on since he won the state championship back in his senior year of high school.
For all three, it’s not a journey completed, but a wait that has ended for a battle that is about to begin.
Mississippi State takes the field against Jackson State tomorrow at six p.m. in Davis Wade Stadium.