For nearly six months, Chad Bumphis didn’t talk to the media. He didn’t tweet much. To anyone not on his team, he pretty much went silent.
The Mississippi State receiver was only concerned with one thing: his senior season at Mississippi State.
His final season at MSU is his most important, and it comes after the worst statistical year of his career as a Bulldog.
He doesn’t talk about it, but it seems he’s noticed.
“You can tell,” sophomore receiver Jameon Lewis said. “He’s got a chip on his shoulder.”
It appears the chip has turned into production, as he already has two touchdowns and has been on the receiving end of some spectacular catches and throws with quarterback Tyler Russell.
Against Auburn Saturday, MSU’s first SEC opponent of the year, Bumphis made the first catch of the game, tip-toeing on the sidelines, and finished with three catches for 47 yards and one touchdown, another beauty in the back of the endzone.
His performance against the Tigers was important, offensive coordinator Les Koenning said, after many had said Bumphis only performed well against non-conference opponents.
“There were a lot of things going into the paper about Chad only making plays against certain teams and stuff like that,” Koenning said. “He stepped it up and played well. You look at the corner routes, the two corner routes he ran, he really stuck the defender and broke out. I think that’s a sign of maturity.”
After leading the team in receiving as a true freshman in 2009, then repeating the feat again as a sophomore in 2010, expectations were sky-high for Bumphis. Perhaps, that’s where some of the criticism came from.
For receivers coach Tim Brewster, who has only been at MSU a few weeks, Bumphis is a new player, but one he’s been plenty impressed with.
“I’ve been around a lot of really good receivers,” Brewster said, “and Chad Bumphis is as good as I’ve been around. I don’t know what the expectations were before I got here, but he’s pleased me.”
While Bumphis was quiet in the offseason, he was apparently working. Constantly and unrelentingly.
His demeanor changed, and according to Russell, he started seeing the bigger picture.
“He’s older,” Russell said. “This is his last year. He knows to get to that next level, he has to have a big year. In the offseason, he calls me, ‘Hey, Tyler, this is what we’ve gotta do.’ And stuff like that. He’s starting to do what he needs to do to be successful.”
Bumphis has done several things to improve, it turns out, and some of them have very little to do with actually catching passes.
What Brewster said he’s been happiest with over the last three weeks has been Bumphis’ improvement and willingness to be physical and block, both on running and passing plays.
Brewster called Bumphis a savvy vet and complimented his route-running ability profusely, but said he already knew Bumphis could do that.
“I don’t give him a whole bunch of bonus points for what he’s doing in the passing game,” Brewster said. “I give him bonus points if he’s blocking the perimeter well.”
Apparently, he’s doing just that.
But the motivated Bumphis isn’t working solely on himself. Much like senior cornerback Johnthan Banks, who said he returned to school in part so he could help his younger teammates, Bumphis is a leader to the youth in the receivers room and an asset to Brewster, who said Bumphis does as much coaching as anyone.
While the emergence of Bumphis’ fellow and younger slot receiver Jameon Lewis was often seen as increased competition for the senior, it actually turns out some of the improvement for Lewis must be credited to Bumphis.
“He’s got a great mentor,” Brewster said of Lewis. “The greatest coaches are players. Watching a guy do something really well and seeing how he does it. Jameon sits there and studies Chad Bumphis.
Lewis said the same thing. Whenever the sophomore has a question, he goes to Bumphis. When he needs help, he asks the senior to watch his route and critique him. If explaining it doesn’t work, Lewis said, he just watches what Bumphis does.
It seems to be working.
Bumphis has been working, too. Lewis said it looks like the former freshman sensation entered his final campaign with something to prove.
“Yeah, I think he has,” Lewis said. “It’s his last year. You can’t go back to college. He wants to go out with a bang.”
While it’s been an up-and-down journey for Bumphis, he’s happy now.
“I wouldn’t change anything,” he said.