The Southern football seniors will be honored before their last home game against Mississippi Valley State on Saturday night.
Their careers are quickly coming to an end, but there could be much more to celebrate after the fond farewell at A.W. Mumford Stadium.
The most anticipated Bayou Classic in years awaits on Nov. 29, and a Jaguars victory or a Grambling loss to Alabama State on Saturday would guarantee that the long-time rivals’ annual season-ender would determine the Southwestern Athletic Conference West Division title.
The West Division champ will face East Division champ Alcorn State on Dec. 5. And for Southern, it would be a chance to win a second straight title.
“It’s great to see these guys have some success at the end of their careers because the beginning started so rocky,” coach Dawson Odums said Tuesday at his weekly news conference.
The 14 members of the class have experienced pretty much the best and the worst that they could have. Fortunately for them, the best has come at the end of their careers.
Those who didn’t transfer in during the past year or two began while the proud program was at a low point, finishing 2-9 and 4-7 in former coach Stump Mitchell’s first two seasons in 2010-11.
Things got worse the following season with a 0-2 start. And the second loss, an uninspired 6-0 defeat to Valley, led to Mitchell being reassigned and Odums being elevated from defensive coordinator to interim head coach of the foundering program.
Odums brought some stability and had the interim tag removed from his title after a 4-7 finish. Then things changed dramatically at midseason last year as the Jaguars won their final five games to finish 9-4 and claim their first Southwestern Athletic Conference championship in 10 years.
The seniors enter their final game in Mumford Stadium on another five-game winning streak.
“They’ve encountered a lot,” Odums said. “We somehow found ways to win games, and they’re allowing the legacy to be passed. Last year’s senior class started something special and passed the torch on to this senior class, and they’re trying to continue that legacy.”
Odums admitted to being a bit closer to outgoing defensive ends Arthur Miley and Jaylen Jordan because he was their position coach their freshman season before becoming coordinator then head coach.
“You look back at when you talked to those guys as freshmen and told them that they would be the class to really change things around,” Odums said. “They stuck together, and now they’re part of it, and it’s great to see that.”
The defensive linemen had the clearest idea of what awaited when Odums replaced Mitchell.
“Coach Odums has been our only coach since we started at Southern,” Jordan said. “His way was the only way we knew, and we knew he coached us hard our freshman year.
“Everybody else was lucky that they didn’t have him. We knew it was going to be a change for them to have to adjust to Odums, not Odums adjust to them.”
Several players said the seeds of last season’s championship were sown while Odums was interim coach.
“Back then there was no team camaraderie. Everybody was separated,” said cornerback Kevin King, one of five fifth-year seniors. “Now we’re here together, jelling as a team and playing well. We’ve come a very long way.”
The other seniors are wide receivers Sam Altman, William Nolan-Waddel and Reggie Travis; defensive backs D’Andre Woodland, Jaleel Richardson, Jonathan Wilson and LeMar Martin; linebacker Brian McCain; offensive linemen Dewayne Houston and Zach Brown; and long snapper Ohene Akuoko.
“I’ve been here for five years, and it goes by fast,” Houston said. “You don’t realize it until the last week that it’s going to be your last time playing in the stadium.”
Even this season hasn’t been a smooth ride. The team was jolted as the season began by the loss of more than a half dozen starters because of a lack of academic certification, several of whom were pulled off the team bus as it was leaving for the opener at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Several of the players have returned and contributed to the late-season surge.
“It’s been a long season, but at the same time a short season,” McCain said. “There have been a lot of challenges this year. That’s what makes football fun. And through it all, you have fun with your brothers that you’re playing with. You have fun during those times because at the end of the day, it only lasts a short minute.”
Jordan missed half of his senior season while awaiting certification, but his odyssey could end with another championship.
“We went through a bunch of good times and bad times,” Jordan said. “Everybody we came in with wasn’t able to make it as far as we have. So for the seniors who made it to the last game, it means the world to us. We love the game, and we love each other. It’s nice to be able to go out with one big bang before we never play at A.W. Mumford again.”
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