After playing his final game in A.W. Mumford Stadium last week, Southern linebacker Daniel Brown looked over to sophomore defensive end Aaron Tiller and smiled knowing the program would be left in good hands.
“He’s the future,” Brown said after the Jaguars’ senior night win over Alabama A&M last Saturday in which Tiller produced three sacks and a pair of forced fumbles.
Southern still has the Bayou Classic to play next week but failing to reach the postseason after a bumpy 6-4 season has the program’s 23 seniors saying their final goodbyes to the Bluff.
And once the final whistle blows in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, all that will be left to do is officially pass the torch onto the underclassmen who succeed them.
The Jaguars lose about seven starters to graduation this spring, four on defense, but Brown and the other senior defensive leaders are comfortable with whose hands their leaving the reigns of the program in.
“I’m comfortable, but it’s not about what I’m leaving; it’s about what they’re going to put forth on the table,” Brown said. “When they come in here, everybody has goals set for themselves, not just what someone else passes on.
“(The defense) has no where to go but up. … Next year is going to be young and energetic, and they’ll know what they’re doing.”
As of now, players like Tiller, cornerback Danny Johnson and linebacker Kentavious Preston — all sophomores — are the frontrunners to take leadership positions in the locker room with all three coming off successful seasons.
Tiller, who earned Southwestern Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors against Alabama A&M, leads the Jaguars with seven sacks.
Johnson has backed up his preseason All-SWAC honors by leading the team with three interceptions.
Preston leads the team with 56 tackles.
“I feel like Danny (will be the leader of the secondary),” senior strong safety Dionte McDuffy said. “He’s played two years already, so I feel like next year he’ll come back more confident than he was this year.
“I look up to Danny. He’s got a great work ethic.”
But the Jaguars have options for the future with so many young players getting experience this season.
Southern coach Dawson Odums has, on several occasions, said the team is made up of freshmen and sophomores. He often credited lack of experience as a key factor in the defense’s inconsistency.
Sixteen underclassmen were listed in the team’s two-deepdepth chart as of last week — 10 on defense — with many more receiving significant playing time this year.
“I’m just going to follow in their footsteps and try to outgrow it,” Tiller said. “As the sophomore class right now, there’s a lot of us that know we’re going to have to step up and take control. As a whole, we’re just going to get it done.”
Brown said he’s been trying to give some of the younger players advice and motivation through his past experiences, particularly in regards to some of the pitfalls the team went through before Odums arrived.
But despite the season being all but finished, Tiller said the seniors are still in control of the team, while he chooses to focus only on next week.
And even when his time does come, Tiller isn’t too worried about the added responsibility.
“I don’t do much talking,” Tiller said. “We just go out there, play, practice, try to help coach up (the freshmen), try to make them know the defense more. I just try to show through my effort and my attitude and my play on the field that anything is possible.”