Shortly after being named Southern’s starting quarterback last week, Deonte Shorts looked over his shoulder at the Harding Street overpass that shadows the Jaguars practice field.
He reflected on the short journey that was a long time coming.
“I grew up right across the hump in Scotlandville,” Shorts said. “This is what I’ve been looking forward to. I’ve been waiting on this for a year.”
That’s how long Shorts has been zeroed in on what will happen when he receives his first snap in the season opener at Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday. But it was several years ago that Shorts began gazing over that hump, envisioning himself as Southern’s quarterback in waiting.
It started when he was a middle school quarterback in Scotlandville and survived a brief hiatus as he focused on basketball and baseball for his first two years at Southern Lab.
Shorts inevitably returned to football before his junior season and soon was on his way to becoming a Jaguar.
“Southern started recruiting me in my junior year,” he said, “but it didn’t really hit me until signing day that I was going to be playing right across the street in my hometown.”
When Shorts signed, it was with the understanding that he would be senior Dray Joseph’s understudy for a year.
“When it’s time for him to take over,” coach Dawson Odums said at the time, “he’ll know that he’s prepared for it.”
Odums officially deemed Shorts prepared before practice Wednesday, formally handing the keys to the Jaguars offense to him. Shorts had been the presumptive successor to Joseph since Joseph’s record-setting career ended with a Southwestern Athletic Conference championship last December, but he had to fight off challengers.
Shorts pulled away from fellow redshirt freshman Francis Kanneh, who pushed him hard in the spring, then dropped down the depth chart in preseason camp before leaving the team late last week. Shorts also staved off two talented first-year freshmen who joined the battle during the summer — No. 2 Austin Howard of West St. John and Jarrad Hayes of Central.
Odums said Shorts’ ability to grasp the offense while serving as Joseph’s understudy last season was a key to him winning the job. That had been the coaches’ expectation all along.
Shorts redshirted last season but traveled with the team and roomed with Joseph, who was named a SWAC Co-Offensive Player of the Year in his third season in offensive coordinator Chad Germany’s offense.
“The plan was to have Shorts travel last year to learn under Dray,” Germany said, “to be on the sideline, to learn a little bit more about the opponent, to not actually be in the game but to be in the game (mentally) from the sidelines.”
Though, Shorts was being groomed to be Joseph’s successor, it was clear he was not the same type of quarterback as Joseph.
Shorts, at a lanky 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, is three inches taller than Joseph and a more explosive runner, but he lacks the arm strength of Joseph, the Jaguars’ career leader in passing yards and touchdown passes.
“He’s not Dray Joseph,” Germany said, “but I think Deonte Shorts and his flexibility and athletic ability will be something that we can take advantage of.”
In order to do so, Southern has tweaked its playbook, featuring the running game more, including more carries by the quarterback.
“We’ve just made some adjustments to fit the offense around his strengths,” Germany said. “I think he’s a very athletic quarterback that also can throw the football so we always want to make sure that we’re doing things that he can do well.”
As Shorts maintained his grip on the No. 1 spot during preseason camp, the coaches concentrated on how decisive he was in choosing to throw, run or throw the ball away.
“I think he’s now at a point where he has grown and he understands what we’re trying to do with the offense, and we’ve been able to build the offense around his skill set,” Germany said. “I think the offense is a better fit for him now, and he has had time to make the adjustments and learn the things that he needs to know in order to be successful.”
Unlike Joseph, Shorts won’t be asked to carry the offense. He has an abundance of talented skill players to run the ball and get open for his passes while he operates behind a proven offensive line.
“He knows where to go with the ball and he can do a lot with his feet,” wide receiver Willie Quinn said. “He can be a running quarterback or a throwing quarterback. He can do a lot of things.”
Shorts’ long-awaited opportunity to show just what he can do on the college level finally arrives Saturday. He said he expects about 20 relatives and friends to be in attendance at Cajun Field.
“It’s my debut,” he said. “Everybody is going to be there.”
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