Dan Mullen found himself in an interesting spot when a colleague nudged him and said four-star receiver Fred Ross had switched his commitment from Oklahoma State to Mullen's Mississippi State squad the night before Signing Day in February.
The coach was at the Jim Thorpe Award banquet in Oklahoma City, where his player, Johnthan Banks, was being honored as the nation's best defensive back for the 2012 season.
“I started looking around (and thinking to myself), ‘Maybe I need to sneak out the back door to get out of here right now,'” Mullen said with a chuckle. “There were certainly some Cowboy fans in the audience.”
And it probably won't take long for Ross himself and those Cowboy fans to get acquainted with each other, as the former Tyler (Texas) High School star and longtime OSU commitment before making the Signing Day Eve flip is likely to contribute when Mississippi State faces OSU on Saturday afternoon at Reliant Stadium in Houston in the season opener for both teams.
“I'll tell you what, there was a lot of celebrating for us when (Ross) said he was coming,” Mullen said.
With Mississippi State losing its top three receivers from last season, the Bulldogs signed six pass-catchers in the 2013 class. But Ross, at 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, was widely considered the top get after amassing 85 catches for 1,580 yards and 22 touchdowns and earning Parade All-American honors as a senior. And he was already impressing early in fall camp, according to the Clarion-Ledger.
Ross did not crack the Bulldogs' first depth chart released last week — but no true freshman did. He is competing with Robert Johnson (17 catches, 164 yards, two touchdowns in 2012), Joe Morrow (five catches, 53 yards) and Jameon Lewis (10 catches, 108 yards), among others, for playing time.
Family connections played a role in Ross' commitment switch. He has two cousins who work in the Mississippi State athletic department, including assistant women's basketball coach Aqua Franklin.
Ross also never lost touch with Mississippi State throughout the recruiting process, even after pledging to the Cowboys in February of 2012. He took an unofficial visit last summer and then an official visit before making a decision.
“We've just been in constant communication with him the whole way through,” Mullen said. “I think when he took the official visit out here, his family came here, and he felt how much he fit in with the guys here, that he knew this was the place for him.”
Despite the last-minute switch from Ross, OSU still signed two four-star receivers in Marcell Ateman and Ra'Shaad Samples, who are both expected to play right away. They're the latest additions to a potent receiving corps, which includes veterans such as Josh Stewart, Tracy Moore and Blake Jackson and promising youngsters Jhajuan Seales, Brandon Sheperd and Austin Hays.
Still, Ross' late flip provides another storyline to an already-intriguing nonconference matchup.
But will it have any impact on the game itself?
“I don't know if it'll add more to it,” Mullen said. “I think that's going to be just a fun game anyway.”