When the horn sounds for the next period of practice at Mississippi State’s training fields, he sprints to the next drill, yelling at the cleat-clad corners trailing behind to hurry up.
Later, after one of his passes goes astray, he drops to the ground immediately, banging out push-ups and returning to his feet, talking the whole way through, smiling as he soaks through his maroon adidas shirt with a full day of sweat in the broiling Mississippi sun.
“I could watch Deshea Townsend coach all day,” an observer quietly concedes.
The Bulldogs’ new cornerbacks coach is a diversion from the norm of most college assistants, a hair over half the age of the guy he replaced and more recognizable than any of the players he coaches.
A two-time Super Bowl champion and 13-year NFL vet, Townsend can’t be missed at an MSU practice, constantly engaging his players, teaching, exhorting and pressing buttons.
And, like a true corner, talking.
Surprisingly, that’s a new thing. New at MSU, anyway.
Hired in January after the previous season had ended, Townsend was, for want of a better description, subdued when spring practice began a couple months later.
He hardly knew his players or even his colleagues on the coaching staff all that well and it was his first time to coach college players.
The wide-eyed new coach has since emerged from his cocoon, making a transformation to the energetic teacher seen on the field now.
“Just seeing from the start of the spring to now,” defensive coordinator Geoff Collins said, “the confidence, and he’s got a ton of swag, he’s got a lot of juice, a lot of energy, and I think we’re starting to see that on the practice field … He’s a complete coach.”
He’s only in his second year of coaching, having taken a similar position with the Arizona Cardinals immediately after retirement from playing, but without knowing it, Townsend has been preparing himself for this job since the first time he played football.
He’s the first to admit he was never the fastest or strongest player in the league, but he lasted and had so much success for over a decade because he was – and remains – smart.
After a few years of learning his position of cornerback in the NFL, Townsend abandoned the meeting rooms with the other defensive backs.
Instead, he sat in with the defensive linemen.
Then he joined the linebackers.
“That’s how you become good,” Townsend said. “In the NFL, if you want to last, you better know a lot. For me, I took it upon myself to kind of know where I could cheat and where I couldn’t cheat. If I knew what the linebackers were thinking, what the D-line was thinking, I knew how to be a better player. Now, it’s helping me in coaching.”
The same idea has been applied at MSU. On Saturday, Townsend could be seen teaching footwork, angles to take and cornerback technique.
State’s defensive staff wants all players to understand what the other positions are thinking and doing, just like Townsend did for so many years in the NFL.
“I love being around Coach Townsend,” senior linebacker Deontae Skinner said after the drill. “He’s always fun, he always has juice, he’s always looking to excite everybody. I love it. He’s got swag. I just like to be around him.
“He’s a great teacher. Being in the NFL, he knows a lot. He can come and translate things to college and help us work on our development so we can get to the NFL, too. He’s teaching us great things in the right way.”
Somehow, he’s managed to strike the perfect balance between coach and friend, expertly and naturally straddling an often blurry line.
“We have a good relationship with him,” sophomore corner Taveze Calhoun said. “It’s also good because he was a college player and played in the NFL, so he understands what we’re going through. It’s easy to relate to him and for him to relate to us.
“He teaches us a lot about technique. He knows how to motivate us all the time, no matter what. He knows we all want to be great and we all want to make it to the next level.
“We have our relationship where we have fun all the time, but we listen to him, we respect him.”
Townsend comes off less as a brother or father, perhaps, and more as a real-life hero, mentor and example for his room of talented youth playing the same position he did, whose fantasies and lifelong dreams are the stuff of real life for their coach at the head of table, the same guy dropping to do push-ups and sprinting from drill-to-drill, sweat pouring down his always-smiling face.
“When he talks,” Dan Mullen said, “all those guys want to go do what he did. He’s talking from experience, ‘This is what I personally did to get there,’ on top of the coaching and techniques that we’re using.”
For all the players who have dreams of successes like they’re coach, they have more immediate visions at MSU. They want to play. They want to start. With three senior corners exited from the program, opportunity is here. But they have to battle each other for it.
And no one has any more advantage than the next, playing for a coach who was a starting corner by his second college game as a freshman.
“Competition brings out the best in everybody,” Townsend said. “I was brought up playing football where nobody has a job. It’s a what have you done for me now business. That’s the mindset you have to have to become a good player. When you become complacent, that’s when the next guy passes you. I want them to always have that hunger, always want to compete.”
Both a daunting and encouraging proposition for his players.
At a position where any mistake is seen immediately and each play is a 1-on-1 battle on an island in the middle of the field, Townsend’s cornerbacks have to be ready to handle a burdensome load.
“I’m a pressure guy,” he said with a smile.