As the 2017 season progressed Shawn Preston became more of a two-way player, but on the first day of the new Early Signing Period, the St. James product had a one-track mind, signing his National Letter of Intent to play at Mississippi State.
“It's a special day,” said Preston. “First of all, I'm happy that the recruiting process is over for me and I can just go to school now. I'm happy that all of my friends and family are here to see it, coaches too (they've) been a big impact in my life. It's really a good day today.”
It may have been a new twist, signing in December instead of the first Wednesday in February, but Preston's signing had all the excitement of any other National Signing Day event. The Mississippi State decorations in the St. James High School library would have made any Hail State follower beam (cowbells and all), and the packed crowd included family, teammates, coaches, and administrators.
“Honestly? I kind of didn't want to sign early but I wanted to get the recruiting process over at the same time,” said Preston. “I wanted to do it together with all my friends (in February), all the guys that I put the hard work in with. That's the only different thing about (signing early) but I'm very grateful that I signed early and I got it over with and that I'm going to be going to Hail State.”
As if the Early Signing Period wasn't enough to deal with, Preston had two other major factors to deal with. One was a switch in coaches at Mississippi State, and the other was a decision on what position would he be playing.
After Dan Mullen left the Bulldogs for Florida last month, Joe Moorhead was brought in from Penn State to become the new head coach and shortly after Bob Shoop was named the defensive coordinator and safeties coach. Preston met Moorhead last week during an in-home visit, then went to Starkville this past weekend on his official visit which solidified his commitment.
“It's all about people that have been faithful to you at the end of the day,” said Preston. “When I went up on my official visit that definitely secured to me that Mississippi State wanted me as bad as I wanted them so it just sealed the deal.”
As far as the position question, Preston is happy he will be given a chance to do both. As a hard-hitting free safety Preston recorded 56 tackles, 2 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, 5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss, and 4 pass breakups helping the Wildcats to a 9-4 record in his senior season. But as the season progressed Preston started receiving more reps on offense. He had six receptions for 192 yards for a stunning 32 yards/catch average including a jaw-dropping touchdown reception in the playoffs at Madison Prep that was featured on ESPN's “You Got Mossed” segment during “NFL Countdown.”
So when asked what side of the ball he'll be playing at Mississippi State, Preston had a simple answer.
“Both. Coach Moorhead admires me on offense and Coach Shoop has big plans for me on defense. Both of those guys want me really badly and I'm definitely willing (to play both) and ready for the opportunity,” said Preston.
“They're getting a very versatile player,” said St. James coach Robert Valdez. “I don't know if (Preston) knows yet if he's going to play defense or offense, I think he can play both. They're getting a guy who checks the boxes; tall, rangy, can run fast, and plays physical. He has a very bright future and I'm just excited for him and his family.
Preston remained patient during the recruitment process which started slow and ended with him signing to play in what is widely regarded the best conference in college football.
“Long nights when you're just starting off and you see everybody getting offers and you think, 'when is my time going to come?” said Preston. “And then you get this first offer from Alcorn State, then you get an offer from U-L, and then offers star piling on, then out of nowhere you get this Power 5 offer from Arizona, then another Power 5 offer from Texas Tech, then out of nowhere the SEC comes and Mississippi State offers you. Then Vanderbilt an academic school offers you. Just going to an SEC school is big starting from nowhere it's big. I'm very lucky to be going to the SEC.”
Just before Preston actually signed his letter-of-intent, he stood to address the crowd. He spun his St. James helmet from the familair Wildcats logo that was facing the crowd, to the opposite side revealing no sign of a logo, just chipped paint merging the offical black and gold colors into one undefined mess. Preston said that side symbolized the grit and determination that the Wildcats go through and reminded his teammates he would be there for them.
“St. James has made me, shaped me to who I am today,” said Preston. “(St. James) taught me lessons on how to be a better man, better person, that kind of thing, I'm very grateful and definitely will have a big impact on me at Mississippi State.”
“We always pride ourselves on giving kids academic and student-athlete opportunities and to be able to go to the best conference in college football two years in a row with Lowell Narcisse last year signing with LSU and Shawn this year signing with Mississippi State it's tremendous,” said Valdez. “We have a lot of tradition with our football program, the kids work hard, and we do a lot of good things so I'm very excited for them and I just can't wait to see them both of them on the field at the same time.”