By Tyler Martin
Special to Tidesports

HOOVER — The record did not reflect it, but Mississippi State had one of the best defenses in all of college football last season.

The Bulldogs’ front seven held opponents to only 95 rushing yards a game, which qualified for second-best in the country. Their defensive unit led the nation in total defense and finished second in scoring defense.

Back in April, three of the standouts from that top-ranked defense, Jeffery Simmons, Montez Sweat, and Johnathan Abram, were taken in the first round of the NFL Draft. Mississippi State tied Alabama and Clemson for the most first-round picks from the same school.

State brings back four starters on defense for 2019, including junior linebacker Erroll Thompson. He had 87 tackles and nine tackles for loss, along with two interceptions in 2018.

“He did a phenomenal job last season,” MSU coach Joe Moorhead said at SEC Media Days on Wednesday. “He was one of the highest-graded linebackers on Pro Football Focus and one of the top linebackers in the country.”

Due to the exodus of defensive players to the draft, there will be a leadership void, and Thompson is ready to fill it and be the leader younger players can look up to.

“I feel like the guys who left last year molded me to step right into that leadership role.” Thompson said. “Being a leader is hard, but to whom much is given, much is required. I feel like the Mike linebacker on any team has to be that leader.”

Thompson was elected a team captain by his fellow Bulldogs in the spring.

“I was a little surprised honestly,” Thompson said. “It’s an honor, but it doesn’t change anything. You still have to prepare the same way.”

The 2019 Bulldogs defense has large shoes to fill, but Thompson is not backing down from what his team can accomplish.

“People probably feel like we are going to take a step back,” Thompson said. “It’s not really my call to make, but I feel like as long as we are prepared to compete on a week to week basis we’ll be fine.”