Much of Southern’s preseason football camp features position groups holding separate meetings and conducting individual drills that focus on their particular specialties.
But the rest of time, the Jaguars position groups split up and the team is reassembled in groups custom made by head coach Dawson Odums.
The players are placed in nine “battalions” featuring 10 or 11 players representing a cross section of the roster — offense with defense, big guys with little guys, older guys with younger guys, local guys with out-of-state guys.
“You’re always going to have true freshmen with seniors and they’ve got to sit together, they’ve got to get to know each other,” Odums said. “When you’re in camp, if you’re not careful, offensive linemen will sit with offensive linemen, linebackers will sit with linebackers and freshmen will sit with freshmen.
“When you allow the offensive line to sit with the offensive line and the defensive line to sit with the defensive line, you’re creating separation. It’s all about building a team and getting that team to bond together.”
Odums makes sure they get to know each other, because at various team gatherings one battalion is featured. The players have to show the entire team what they’ve learned about their fellow battalion members, even having to answer questions from him.
“We have to tell 10 things about (a fellow battalion member) that the others might not know,” free safety Blake Monroe said. “You might not know it if you’re not sitting in a battalion with him. You might not even speak to him.”
Monroe said his battalion last year included incoming freshman quarterback Austin Howard, who normally would have merely been a guy he would try to intercept during practice.
Instead, Monroe said, “he became one of my closest friends on the team.”
Monroe added that he “picks (Howard’s) brain” to get a better understanding of how quarterbacks make decisions based on what they see from a defense.
This season, Monroe is in battalion three and last season he was in battalion eight. He said it “tells me a lot” that he remembers the group number from last season. The numbers are chosen randomly, but Monroe still identifies with his battalion’s.
Strong safety Dionte McDuffy found himself in a battalion last season with strongside linebacker Daniel Brown.
“We talked a lot because we’re on the same side and we have to communicate a lot,” McDuffy said. “I learned a lot from him, because I play off of him. If he goes inside, I go outside.”
While McDuffy was learning how to read Brown’s actions, freshman cornerback Danny Johnson was learning how McDuffy makes calls for the secondary.
But, Johnson said, the battalions teach the players a lot more than Xs and Os.
“Hanging out in the battalions, you get to know everything about them — their parents, if they have children, their siblings,” Johnson said. “When (Odums) asks the questions, you know the answer because you know your teammate.”
Quarterback Jarrad Hayes said he learned to be more humble by listening to others in his battalion.
“It helped a lot mixing with guys that might not be the same as me,” Hayes said, “guys from different parts of the world, seeing how they think, seeing how they interact with people.”
Defensive tackle Christian Allen is a fifth-year senior who has “a lot of young guys” in his battalion.
“So we’ve got to stay on them,” Allen said. “We’re getting them to be on time and respect discipline and be part of the system and they’re learning.”
When a battalion arrives at the cafeteria, it can’t enter until every member is present and lined up in proper order. Departure is handled the same way.
“For some reason, my battalion always has one person that wants to be late,” running back Lenard Tillery said. “One day I was about two minutes behind and they jumped on me because two minutes can be the difference between ya’ll eating first and ya’ll eating behind 30 people.”
Tillery, who is the only running back in a battalion featuring two wide receivers, three defensive linemen and four defensive backs, said there’s no jumping the gun because graduate assistants are on hand to make sure each battalion follows the rules.
“I like it,” Tillery said. “It’s making us hold each other accountable, helping guys make sure they’re on time. It’ll help us out in life. Whenever you hold each other accountable and hold yourself accountable, it’s going to make you a better player and a better person.”
The Jaguars had live contact work for the first time in camp Saturday morning, conducting a controlled scrimmage consisting of 70-80 plays. Odums said he extended certain periods to allow younger players to get added reps. “There were a lot of mistakes,” Odums said, “but we’ll have a chance to look at the film and clean it up.” … Southern will scrimmage again Tuesday with situational work such as goal line and red zone. That will consist of 100-plus plays if the heat allows it.
Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.