The Southern football team returns to practice as the reigning Southwestern Athletic Conference champion Wednesday.
The Jaguars have lost some star power from the 19 seniors on last year’s team, and the statistics can quantify just how much was lost. But Dawson Odums says he begins his second set of spring practices as head coach confident he has everything he needs up and down the roster for Southern to continue to grow as a program.
“It’s all about consistency,” Odums said. “We’re probably the only school in the SWAC to keep all of its coaches. That’s consistency. We just have to continue to get better during the spring. It’s tough on younger players when they have to learn a different defense or a different offense. But when you’re able to be consistent, you get better and better.”
The Jaguars will start an inexperienced quarterback next season in the wake of losing Dray Joseph, the school’s all-time leader in touchdown passes who was a SWAC Co-Offensive Player of the Year last year.
Also gone is his favorite target, Lee Doss, a 1,000-yard receiver and All-SWAC player a year ago.
The defense is missing three of its top four tacklers from last season in linebackers Anthony Balancier and Franchot West and safety Omar Cook.
Though those positions will be manned by less familiar names, Odums said the productivity can be replaced.
“You can’t replace players like Dray Joseph and Lee Doss,” Odums said. “In fact, you don’t replace players. You just get the next guys ready to play.
“Instead of one guy handling a particular position you might have four or five guys sharing it. We have a lot of players. We have a very good football team.”
Southern has three quarterbacks returning — Deonte Shorts, Wynton Perro and Francis Kanneh — but they have virtually no experience. Shorts is the favorite to earn the starting position, though the competition could get more interesting in the fall when freshmen Jarrad Hayes of Central and Austin Howard of West St. John come aboard.
“None of them has taken a snap in a game so we’ll see what happens when we get into practice,” Odums said. “We have enough talent. They don’t have to be great. They just need to understand how to play the position.”
Odums said on signing day the offense could be tweaked to allow for the lack of experience at quarterback and the quality of depth at running back.
“Any time you have a new quarterback, you scale back,” Odums said. “Each week they get more comfortable, and you either add or you take away what they don’t know how to handle. I’m confident we’ll be OK.”
Lenard Tillery and Kylum Favorite were both effective runners as freshmen last season, and two transfers — Malcolm Crockett from Pitt and Jamarcus Jarvis, who played at East Ascension High School, from North Texas add to the competition. The backfield is bolstered further by the return of fullback Brian McCain, who missed last season because of a broken foot.
“We were good there, and we got better with the guys we added,” Odums said. “That’s going to allow us to do some more things in the running game. Whenever you create that kind of competition, it makes good guys better and better guys great. That’s what happens in spring ball.”
Southern returns four starters on the offensive line — tackles Reginald Redding and Zachary Brown and guards Dwayne Houston and Anthony Mosley.
“We should have as good a group as anybody we play,” Odums said. “I know this about our guys: They’re going to play as hard as they can regardless of size or what it says on paper. They’re ready to compete every day and they’re only going to get better.”
Terrell Lee, Brandon Thibodeaux and Clayton Sylve will vie to replace Aaron Hall at center.
“Someone needs to take ownership of that position and say it belongs to me,” Odums said. “That’s what spring ball is all about.”
Doss caught 78 passes for 1,172 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, but Willie Quinn and Randall Menard combined for almost the same productivity. With Mike Jones and Justin Morgan returning as well as the addition of former Plaquemines High receiver Reggie Travis, a transfer from Memphis, the new quarterback should have plenty of dependable targets.
The defensive line is anchored by ends Arthur Miley and Jalen Jordan, but a new nose tackle must emerge as a replacement for Trae Tiller.
Daniel Brown and Detrane Lindsey have the most experience in a linebacking corps that features a lot of competition in the absence of Balancier and West.
In addition to Cook, the secondary also lost Virgil Williams and Johnathan Mack, but two transfers — Rhaheim Ledbetter (Florida) and Renaldo Thomas (Tulane) — strengthen that area.
“We’ve got a lot of football players coming back who have played a lot of snaps,” Odums said.