STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — Johnthan Banks has the sheer talent. Corey Broomfield has the smarts.
Together, they form the nucleus of a defensive backfield that's expected to give Mississippi State a chance to contend in the Southeastern Conference Western Division.
Banks is one of the most successful defensive backs in Mississippi State's history, coming off a season with 71 tackles, including eight for a loss, and five interceptions. He's also on several All-American watch lists and is consistently mentioned among the SEC's top cornerbacks.
His career is a blueprint for how coach Dan Mullen plans to build the Bulldogs into an SEC contender.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior from tiny Maben, Miss., represents a large chunk of the Mississippi State roster — lightly recruited prospects from small towns in Mississippi who have developed into quality players.
"We really try to trust our evaluations and there are kids who are very much overlooked," Mullen said. "... We want to make sure we evaluate the kids in this state the right way and show that they can come here and represent their state."
Banks immediately burst onto the scene during his freshman season in 2009, intercepting Florida quarterback Tim Tebow twice and returning both for touchdowns. He's built on that success over the past three seasons and is currently fourth among active NCAA players with 12 career interceptions.
"I wouldn't give me all the praise," Banks said. "First it was a blessing from God, just allowing me to do what I do, but there's been a lot of people around me that have helped build me into Johnthan Banks."
He decided to come back to the Bulldogs for his senior season instead of leaving for the NFL. The decision was an immediate boost for the Mississippi State defense, which can use his long frame to defend the SEC's elite receivers. Mullen was one of the few college coaches who saw that defensive potential.
Banks was a baseball, basketball and football star in high school, and Mullen noticed that no matter the situation, he was always in the action.
"He did it all," Mullen said. "That's something that I like because he's a ballplayer and ballplayers are going to find a way to get on the field for you at some place."
Quarterback Tyler Russell said Banks' presence on the field has allowed him to test his abilities against one of the SEC's best before he hits a live game.
"If I see him on (a receiver), I try to throw it," Russell said. "I don't want to back down because it's going to make me better. There are not that many great corners in the country or in the SEC like Banks, so I think he really makes us better."
Broomfield is almost the exact opposite of Banks from a physical standpoint. He's generously listed at 5-10 and 180 pounds and wouldn't garner a second notice on campus.
But Broomfield has been undeniably productive, with nine career interceptions thanks to a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Teammates say he's constantly in the film room and his ability to read quarterbacks is uncanny.
"Some guys just use what God's given them," senior linebacker Cameron Lawrence said. "He's got speed, quickness and is a really elusive player. He reminds me of a little gnat — a waterbug. When he's on receivers, he's right in their hip pocket and he bugs them the entire way."
Despite Broomfield's lack of size, the coaching staff has even moved him to safety in certain situations. Cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith said opponents who underestimate Broomfield's abilities do so at their own risk.
"He's a lot better athlete than you think," Smith said. "He doesn't look like Tarzan, but he does a lot of good things. He's one of the better players on this team."