The day in December when he was introduced as Southern’s new football coach, Dawson Odums promised to make anybody “within a tank of gas” the focus of the program’s recruiting efforts.
Odums made good on the commitment in putting together his first recruiting class.
Seventeen of the 26 newcomers whom Southern celebrated Wednesday are prospects who will not be leaving Louisiana to continue their football careers. Fifteen of the in-state signees hail from high schools in Louisiana, and two others are Division I transfers.
“We knocked on every door of every high school in the state of Louisiana and tried to draw some of the best talent here to Southern,” Odums said. “I feel like we’ve got a great backyard that plays football. We don’t have to go outside the state to get a whole lot of talent.”
Southern signed only three Louisiana products last year after signing six the year before.
The list of homegrown talent is headlined by Salmen receiver Chuck Baker, who spent much of 2012 as an LSU commitment and is listed by ESPN as the nation’s No. 205 prospect.
Baker scored a 21 on the ACT and carries a 2.0 grade-point average, Salmen coach Jerry Leonard said last month, so he should have no issue becoming academically qualified. He fills a void left by Charles Hawkins and Michael Berry, top playmakers who were seniors last year.
“We put a lot of work into it,” Odums said. “We did our due diligence, and we were happy that he signed with us. It was great to see one of the top payers in the nation choose Southern. It goes to show you that, if you work hard, you can find some of those guys if you recruit them the right way.”
The list of 27 signees includes three prospects who have enrolled in classes: LSU transfer Corey White, South Alabama transfer Dionte McDuffy and Blake Monroe, a Maryland native who played at Jireh Prep in North Carolina last season.
White was a Capitol High standout who signed with LSU in 2011 as a four-star prospect. McDuffy starred at Evangel.
But the majority of the class will arrive in the fall and, most likely, provide depth to a Southern team that has eight starters returning on both sides of the ball.
“We wanted to get some depth,” Odums said. “We feel like we have a good team coming back and that we really just needed to plug some holes.”
Odums said the Jaguars may look to add more transfers during the spring and summer.
Even though he had yet to earn the everyday nod, Odums, who served the final nine games of 2012 as Southern’s interim coach, continued to represent the program on the recruiting trail during the few weeks after the season ended. By the time the interim label was removed, Odums said he and his staff had visited 200 high schools across the state.
One school in the River Parishes proved especially fruitful. West St. John had four players sign with Southern: running back Kylum Favorite, defensive back Justin Bethancourt and linebackers Javen Toney and Dontre Turner.
Favorite, Bethancourt and Toney committed to SU after visiting in mid-January. Turner was on the same recruiting trip, but he remained undecided until this week. Turner earned all-state honors as a senior after making 107 tackles, recording seven sacks and forcing five fumbles.
The three from WSJ follow Southern quarterback Dray Joseph, a star at the Edgard school before signing with Southern after the 2009 season. They also follow WSJ coach Robert Valdez, who played center at Southern in the mid-1990s.
“I just told them to go where they felt comfortable,” Valdez said. “I wish them the best of luck, and look forward to watching them play on Saturdays.”
Odums & Co. did not begin and end their recruiting close to home. They went to Indiana for lineman Skyler Prol and Minnesota for Francis Kennah. They brought aboard Cedric McLoud of Western Arizona Community College and Collis Walker from Dallas.
But Odums said taking care of business locally was a must.
“Anywhere we could get within a tank of gas, we were going to try and get there,” Odums said. “We wanted to reclaim the state of Louisiana, try to find some kids in the state and rebuild the traditions here Southern has always had.”
One player Southern signed did not require a drip of gas.
Southern Lab quarterback Deonte Shorts chose to play his college football across the street rather than leave home and play for Grambling. He will have to sit behind Joseph early, but Odums believes a year to watch and learn will help Shorts develop.
“The need for him to play right away is not there, so he can learn our system and fully grow,” Odums said. “When it’s time for him to take over, he’ll know that he’s prepared for it.”
Shorts was the District 7-1A MVP last fall after passing for 2,315 yards and rushing for 675.