Southern senior quarterback Austin Howard doesn’t sit on benches.
Howard said he never has, not even when he was a wide-eyed, incoming freshman. Howard, the Jaguars' four-year starter, embodies a culture Southern continues to cultivate with its freshmen: There’s no time to sit on the bench.
“I told him, ‘I don’t sit on benches,’ ” Howard said of a conversation he had with former Jaguars offensive coordinator Chad Germany years ago. “He believed in me and he threw me in there one practice. Have never looked back since.”
With a blend of redshirt and true freshmen, Southern (4-3) has deployed 25 first-year faces this season, coach Dawson Odums said.
Using newbies at a high volume is nothing new at Southern.
Southern, in most cases, plants its rookies in summer school upon their arrival in early June. More than a month later, the Jaguars begin fall camp.
By that time, the soon-to-bloom freshmen have already learned the playbook. From then on, it’s about talent and seizing opportunities, Odums said.
“Once they come to camp, you can see their talent because they’re not thinking,” he said. “You just plug them in and give them an opportunity."
Along with Howard, many of Southern’s every-down seniors stars — like defensive lineman/linebacker Aaron Tiller, linebacker Kentavious Preston and cornerback Danny Johnson — strive to enhance the Jaguars' fight-for-playing time culture.
“It’s just like when we came in as freshman,” Tiller said. “We weren't sitting on the bench for nobody. This defense isn't about who you are, it’s about what you can do. As freshman, there were five of us on the defense that played. As seniors, that’s what we preach to them.”
“I’m actually happy for them,” Preston said, because I remember when me, Danny, Austin and Tiller and a couple more freshmen came in our freshman year, we were forced to play right away. … And I’m really proud of them, because I know by their senior year, they’re going to be very experienced.”
Southern has started freshmen all over the field, ranging from redshirt freshman running back Devon Benn, who led Southern in rushing before exiting SU’s Sept. 30 game versus Fort Valley State with a knee injury, to Maverick May who's started at center since SU’s season-opener.
There’s much more.
With the loss of star wide receiver Randall Menard for the season because of a leg injury, Southern’s started a handful of true freshman wideouts in games since.
As recently as Saturday's 35-17 win at Jackson State, the Jaguars started Kendall Catalon, Jamar Washington and Cameron Mackey at receiver — none of whom is listed as taller than 5-foot-9.
“They’re great route runners and they’re extremely fast,” Odums said. “I think when you see them, you don’t think this guy can move as fast as he can. They’re quick. They can get in and out of first or second gear really quick.”
Washington, generously listed at 5-7, leads all Southern receivers with 23 receptions this season.
The Jaguars’ place-kicker, Cesar Barajas from Arcadia, Florida, is even a true freshman.
“Them boys balling,” said Howard, the team captain. “When your name is called, you’ve got to be ready to play.”