The spotlight will be on Deonte Shorts when he takes his first collegiate snap Saturday night.
The redshirt freshman will be in charge of the Southern offense when the Jaguars open the season against the University of Louisiana at Lafayette at Cajun Field.
Shorts isn’t exactly being eased into his role, facing a program that has won a bowl game each of the past three seasons and meeting it on its own turf, where a sellout crowd figures to amp up the noise to try to rattle the neophyte quarterback.
“It’ll probably be a culture shock for him, but it’s still football,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said Tuesday at his first weekly news luncheon of the season. “At the end of the day when we come back off the field from warm-ups, he’ll settle down and he’ll get himself ready mentally to go out there. And I think he’ll perform very well.
“This guy has waited for a year. He sat behind one of the better signal-callers in the history of Southern University, and now it’s his turn to prove himself. And I’m excited about the opportunity for him.”
Though Shorts has not played in a college game, he experienced every other aspect of the position last season — practice, meetings, film study, travel, observing from the sideline — as the understudy to Dray Joseph. He’s been practicing since the spring with the assumption he would be doing exactly what he’ll be doing Saturday.
“I think when we first run out there, he’ll be like, ‘This is why I chose Southern, to get a chance to play in this kind of environment,’” Odums said. “He’s going to have that chance to prove what kind of quarterback he’s going to become. We’re excited about him being our quarterback. I think the sky’s the limit for him.”
It’s going to be up to Shorts to take control of the Jaguars huddle and make enough plays that the offense can be effective. But it’s not like each of his teammates will be looking to him to have all the answers.
“The good thing about the quarterback position at Southern University is that you’ve got wide-outs and you’ve got running backs, so you don’t have to be the hero,” Odums said. “Just do your job and do what you’re coached to do and everything else will take care of itself.”
Shorts will have three seniors and two juniors lined up in front of him to protect him in a variety of ways: getting the blocking schemes set, pass blocking and opening holes for running backs in order to create favorable down-and-distance situations.
“The first thing we can do for him is protect him all the way,” guard Anthony Mosley said. “We’ve got to fight to the end and do whatever it takes to where we have no pressure, where he can sit back in the pocket and relax and just open up a clean read for him.
“If he has a bad read or a bad play, we’ll come to him and say don’t worry about it, things are going to be OK, just relax, just be yourself, be the Deonte Shorts we know. Use those smart brains that you have.”
Shorts will also have more than enough experienced skill players around him to help make plays so that he doesn’t have to do more than he’s ready to handle.
“I can keep him motivated, tell him to relax,” wide receiver Randall Menard said. “I can catch everything that he throws to me, whether it’s difficult or not, block for him, help him keep his composure.”
Menard can pay forward the advice he got from Joseph last season when he nervously played in his first college game at Houston.
“Dray said, just do what you do in practice,” Menard said.
Senior fullback Brian McCann said he saw a sign in a simulated game Saturday that told him Shorts is ready to go. On a pass play, one of the receivers didn’t run his route at full speed.
“(Shorts) went to him on the sideline and said, you need to run full speed or I’m not going to be throwing you the ball,” McCann said. “I went up to him and patted him on his head and said, ‘Man that’s a good job. I like what you’re doing. Just keep that up, because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been here.’
“As a quarterback you’re going to have to be a leader on offense and of this team. He’s definitely stepping up.”
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