With three first-round selections during the last draft cycle in Jeffery Simmons, Montez Sweat, and Johnathan Abram, Mississippi State tied with Alabama and Clemson for the most opening night draftees of any school.
The school has become a hot bed for talent and it's no surprise to see the success of names such as Fletcher Cox and Darius Slay. That's not to say that there will be a precipitous drop off because of what exited the Bulldogs program following last season though.
Following in the footsteps of the aforementioned Slay, Johnthan Banks, and even going back to the on the field glory days of a familiar name in Fred Smoot, the program has produced many defensive back names.
For the 2019 season, there's another name on the horizon that could join the likes of many former greats, but his unique story, winding journey to the position, and the state of Mississippi is a notable one.
Cornerback Cameron Dantzler stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 185 pounds, which he said is the heaviest that he's ever been, but his speed has not dropped off because of the added weight.
His story originated in Hammond, Louisiana, which is a small town that's about an hour outside of New Orleans. He spent most of his childhood as two-sport athlete, participating in track and football.
A standout three-star athlete at St. Thomas Aquinas High School, he was exactly that. The countless number of hours spent on the track and on the gridiron growing up carried over into a historic high school career. Not only was he a shutdown corner on Friday nights, but he was leaping into new heights as the schools record setting long jumper.
His senior season sits atop the record books as he recorded a program record 23-3 ¼ jump, which helped him secure the 2015 Class 2A State Championship. Prior to that point, he became labeled as a true do-it-all threat on the field.
His athletic prowess helped him experience success at quarterback, wide receiver and defensive back. He finished his final campaign with over 3,200 all-purpose yards and 37 touchdowns, while still maintaining a high performance level on defense with two interceptions, one which was returned for a pick-six.
Recruiters were now flocking to Dantzler, but there were mixed opinions about which position he translated the best as on the next level. That didn’t stop him from leading his team to a 12-1 record before suffering a heartbreaking loss in the state semifinals. This marked the first time that the program had experienced that much postseason success in school history.
Fast forwarding to life after his long jump state title, the lanky defensive back was now ranked as the second-best athlete in the entire state by most major recruiting services. Many had no idea exactly where he would choose to sign his name on the dotted line during National Signing Day, but he ultimately chose to attend college in Starkville, which is only four hours away from his hometown in Hammond, Mississippi.
At the time, Dantzler was barely tipping the weight scale at 160 pounds and the coaching staff agreed to redshirt him during the 2016 season. Utilizing his redshirt season and even though many within the program didn't realize it, this is where he began to separate himself from the pack.
Setting himself up for a successful redshirt freshman season, Dantzler was used mainly as a backup corner during the 2017 season. Appearing in all 13 games, he went on to finish with 25 tackles and one interception, but the turning point in his career came during the final game of the year against Louisville in the Tax Slayer Bowl.
A miscommunication between then quarterback Lamar Jackson and his intended target led to a gimme interception that surprisingly fired right into the chest of the Bulldogs star. Since that point and through his redshirt sophomore season, he received his opportunity to take over the starting field cornerback spot for the first time.
Starting all 13 games, he recorded 43 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, two interceptions and a team-leading 11 pass breakups. The most impressive stat following his breakout season though is that he only allowed 18 catches (47 targets) all season that included not allowing a touchdown pass over the course of the year. If a quarterback were to drop back and spike the ball every play, their QB rating would be 39.6. According to Pro Football Focus, Dantzler allowed a 41.1 rating into his coverage through the duration of the 2018 season.
Dantzler is currently under the tutelage of cornerbacks coach Terrell Buckley, who is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, the 1991 Jim Thorpe Award winner, a 1992 first-round selection of the Green Bay Packers, who also experienced a 13-year NFL career.
The former Super Bowl champion had a lot of high praise for one of the best corners in the SEC. Saying to the Mississippi Daily Journal that, "After this year, I’ll have about 15 guys that have signed professional contracts and I have just as much confidence in him as I had about Xavier Rhodes and Jaire Alexander,” Buckley said. “He’s buying into not just the talent part. The talent and the mental capacity that he has is starting to merge. Once it really merges and he gets it, it’s just going to be scary.”
A second-team Associated Press All-SEC selection last year and now preseason All-American, Dantzler is still out to earn the respect that he deserves. Searching to be considered amongst the SEC's elite, he has the potential of being a first-round draft pick next April if his development stays the course and he's able to repeat the success that we experienced a season ago.