Last year, no one outside of Starkville really knew Taveze Calhoun. Two years ago, Benardrick McKinney was barely a household name in his own home. Now, both are stars at Mississippi State under defensive coordinator Geoff Collins.
Today, MSU’s defensive coaches pinpointed two more players who may not be on anybody’s watch list but could end up becoming stars for the Bulldogs.
Each, however, was a bit more recruited than Calhoun and McKinney – they were both four stars – and both have reached a later stage of their career than they might like to be.
The wait may be worth the patience used for junior cornerback Will Redmond and senior safety Justin Cox, neither of whom is technically listed as a starter (though Cox could earn that title by week one), but their coaches say terms like “starter” are a bit outdated.
“You’ve gotta have four deep,” cornerbacks coach Deshea Townsend said. “It’s hard to play 80, 90 snaps like offenses are trying to get.”
It’s his junior, Redmond, who Collins went to when asked if anyone in the secondary could be a breakout player like Calhoun was last year.
“He’s had a tremendous offseason with [strength and conditioning] coach [Rick] Court,” Collins said. “Will is a tremendous talent. Rick should post the ladder drill videos that he does. They say Will stays out there twenty to thirty minutes after every workout on his own doing different ladder drills and footwork drills. So we’re excited to see him this season and how he’s progressed.”
Redmond, of course, has not walked the easiest road, though to his credit, he’s taken the situation he found himself in and made the best out of it. The NCAA suspended him for an entire year and a half, the type of punishment which, without mentioning names, has derailed and even ruined the careers of others in college sports.
He finally got to see the field in the second half of last season, after months of having to stay on the sidelines with both he and his coaches knowing he could contribute, and he quietly became a reliable third corner for State in only half a season.
“To see what he went through and still be mentally in the game is amazing,” Townsend said. “He’s such a physical talent. He just has good size, good speed. He’s still hungry. He’s only played in six or seven games and he’s been here for two years. He’s one of the guys that, if he’s out there, I’m not worried. The questions he asks me are impressive. He wants to be a complete corner.”
Surprising or not, Townsend even mentioned Redmond’s name when discussing the leaders he has in his group, right up there with Calhoun and senior Jamerson Love.
Sometimes, potential isn’t realized because of squandered opportunity. In this case, that potential just hasn’t had a chance. In a few weeks, Redmond will have his opportunity, and those around him expect to see everything he hadn’t previously been allowed to show.
Cox himself was actually a corner with Redmond when he got to campus last year from junior college, and he’s been the first to say he struggled, despite all the hype around his signing and arrival.
But, once he moved to safety, things started clicking, and the coaches saw it immediately. A more natural position for Cox, he made the switch in bowl practice, which “is like having an extra spring camp,” safeties coach Tony Hughes said. Then he had an actual spring camp, followed by summer workouts, now being capped off with fall training camp.
“With all of that, the transition has been very smooth for him and has gone very well,” Hughes told reporters Wednesday. “The other kids in the room have all worked together to make sure he knew what to do and that he could operate and perform at that position.”
Regularly ranked among the fastest players on the team, Cox is also the tallest member of MSU’s secondary (6’3”), with the longest reach and one of the highest ceilings.
His athleticism was evident last year, that much was never in question. It was just his comfort at the position after two years of playing safety in JUCO.
Now, beyond comfort and talent, he’s got one more thing Hughes says he often sees in his seniors: desperation.
“It’s like a person being dropped off in the desert with no water or no food,” Hughes says. “They’re desperate for food. These guys are desperate for football. Every day at practice, every meeting, every drill is competitive. To these guys, it’s like life or death in the game of football. Just like Nickoe Whitley last year. With all that he was going through, you couldn’t keep him off the football field.”
On a defense as deep as MSU’s, and in a particularly strong secondary, the odds of anyone breaking out may be long, but Cox and Redmond may find a way to do it, anyway.