The Southern football team’s first practice of preseason camp was moved to the Seymour gymnasium because of thunderstorms.
It was a signal of the nomadic nature that awaited the Jaguars throughout the season.
Coach Dawson Odums tried to work inside of A.W. Mumford Stadium to avoid the uneven surface on the adjacent practice field, but there’s only so much wear and tear that’s tolerable on a surface that not only is the site of Southern’s home football games, but also hosts its soccer games and Southern Lab’s football games.
So it was quickly back to the practice field.
When daylight saving time ended in early November, it became too dark for the Jaguars to hold their late-afternoon practices on the practice field, which doesn’t have lights. So Southern packed up and traveled a few miles to Doug Williams Stadium at the Louisiana Leadership Academy. The lights and field turf there provided a very good practice facility, but traveling to and from campus for a few weeks was a burden.
Players would toss shoulder pads and other equipment into the bed of Odums’ truck so the coach could transport them to and from the off-site practice facility.
Most players piled on to school buses or jumped into various vehicles driven by other personnel.
It wasn’t exactly the working conditions one might envision for a college program trying to win its second consecutive conference championship.
The Jaguars returned to Mumford Stadium, which featured a dusty playing surface by late November, for preparations for the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game, which Southern lost to Alcorn State 38-24 on Dec. 6 in Houston.
Throughout the odyssey, Odums championed the cause for upgraded facilities whenever the opportunity presented itself.
“Where do you go from here?” he asked this past week. “What else is there to do? The biggest game we have is the SWAC championship. That’s the biggest accomplishment we have. But how do you portray your program to the world and say it’s getting better? Winning is a part of that. Now that you’re winning, other factors have to kick in. It’s about winning over a consistent period of time.
“Now they’re holding you to expectations. I expect them to make contributions to keep us in that hunt, and that comes with facilities.”
The recent football success, which began with Southern’s first SWC championship in 10 years in 2013, hasn’t yielded a revenue boon to green-light the ambitious facility enhancements on Odums’ wish list. But the Jaguars are on schedule to upgrade field conditions for Mumford and football and soccer practice fields for next fall.
“We’re trying to seize on the opportunity to add game guarantees that will add to our revenue,” Athletic Director William Broussard said.
Southern will receive $650,000 for playing at Georgia next September, and Broussard said another game against a “Power Five” program yet to be named will add another $350,000. That $1 million in guarantee money will help fund some upgrades.
Broussard said the university will be able to begin work in the summer to improve the fields inside the stadium and on the practice field with better irrigation and soil for next fall. Southern will add lights to the football practice field and put in a soccer field adjacent to it.
Plus, there will be less wear and tear on Mumford next season because of the upgraded practice fields and the fact that just four of Southern’s 11 games will be played at home. Broussard said the Jaguars don’t have enough money to install field turf, which has been a goal for years.
“You can get multi use out of field turf,” Odums said. “It lasts a lot longer. It costs more to get it in the beginning, but it pays for itself.
“I prefer field turf because that way other sports can use it. If you go have a practice field, you won’t have to go on the game field and it may last a lot longer. It needs irrigation, it needs proper drainage, it needs proper maintenance. It needs all of that. It takes funds to do that.”
Broussard said he’s lining up more significant game guarantees beyond 2015 because the money for facility upgrades isn’t available from the university or the state.
Southern actually brought in about 8 percent less revenue from ticket sales in the wake of winning the SWAC than it had prior to that.
So the football revenue hasn’t turned around as quickly as the football program has, meaning facility upgrades won’t be happening as quickly as Odums would prefer.
“When a recruit comes in, you want them to say, ‘They’re committed to winning football over a long period of time. They’re willing to invest,’ ” Odums said. “To build a program, you’ve got to constantly be investing dollars into that program, because this is the revenue generator. I think we’ve held up our end of the bargain in bringing the program back to respectability.
“I think the million dollar question is: ‘What does Southern want? What do they want to be? What kind of program do they want to create?’ ”
Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.