Southern has lost a half-dozen starters and several important reserve players to academic issues.
Wide receiver Randall Menard (toe) is out for the season because of injury, linebacker Javon Allen (hand) is sidelined for a couple of weeks and another half-dozen players are questionable because of various injuries.
On top of that, the last-minute removal of players from the lineup for academic certification concerns has been commonplace this season, so there’s no telling just how many key players will be unavailable when the Jaguars play Prairie View on Saturday.
But Southern coach Dawson Odums is confident he’ll find enough playmakers to have a chance to win the team’s Southwestern Athletic Conference opener.
“Our team understands the moment,” he said, “and this is a moment where on Saturday, somebody that we don’t know anything about is going to step up and have a football game that we’re going to be talking about at next week’s press conference.”
Fullback, tight end and punter are the only positions that have not been weakened by any of the aforementioned issues.
“It could be anybody on our team,” wide receiver Justin Morgan said of potential players to emerge. “We’ve got a whole bunch of people that are ready to play and willing to do whatever it takes to get us on the right road.”
Morgan had 109 yards receiving, including a 79-yard touchdown, in Menard’s absence last week. The receiving corps got thinner when Mike Jones suffered an ankle injury that is expected to sideline him Saturday.
“Justin Morgan is an explosive player who made the best of his opportunity,” Odums said.
The thinner the receiving corps gets, the more opponents will zero in on Willie Quinn, who also had a 79-yard touchdown reception last week.
Running back Jamarcus Jarvis (ankle) was held out of last week’s game, but is expected back Saturday. Malcolm Crockett hurt his ankle early in last week’s game and is questionable.
Lenard Tillery, last year’s leading rusher, stepped up in their absence and had a team-high nine carries for 71 yards.
Odums said Tillery talked to him during the preseason when “he was buried on the depth chart.”
“The No. 1 thing I always tell players is it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish,” Odums said. “This game has a way of playing itself out. Hang in there, stay the course.
“I texted him (after last week’s game) and said I was proud of the way you played but I’m more proud of the way you handled the situation.”
Tillery said he “had a moment of despair” when he decided to visit Odums, but felt much better afterward.
“I just had to go talk to him, and he just let me know that sometimes you have to sacrifice some things for the team,” Tillery said. “That’s really what I needed to hear.
“Sometimes people get caught up in themselves and want to do more and more, but sometimes you have to sacrifice some of your reps and some of your playing time so that the team can benefit. Once he explained it to me, I was ready to do anything for the team.”
The defense also is looking for players to emerge in the absence of Allen and the likely absence of starting defensive backs Kevin King, D’Andre Woodland and Dionte McDuffy.
Last week, redshirt freshmen Justin Bethancourt and Blake Monroe and true freshman Danny Johnson joined Rhaheim Ledbetter and Bryan Anderson in the starting secondary.
“They’ve gotten the reps and they’ve watched film and gotten more comfortable with the game plan,” Odums said. “They have the talent. Now, it’s about having confidence and making plays when the opportunities arise.”