Injuries plagued Southern’s offensive line during the offseason, but the line is approaching full strength just in time for the Jaguars’ season opener Saturday against UL-Lafayette.
The offensive line remains one of the strongest sections of the team, returning four starters: left tackle Reginald Redding, left guard Zach Brown, right guard Anthony Mosley and right tackle Dwayne Houston.
“Those four are very instrumental to this program becoming successful,” head coach Dawson Odums said.
Brown missed all of spring practice after shoulder surgery on a torn labrum, but returned during the summer. During preseason camp, Redding suffered a concussion and is working on being cleared to play by team doctors.
Different backups rotated to fill in for Brown and Redding while they were out — but the strength of the line wasn’t the same without the veterans.
“(Brown, Redding, Mosley and Houston) work together, so when you take one out, it really weakens the unit,” Odums said. “The chemistry’s there with all those guys that played last year. We look forward to getting all those guys out there.”
Redding has not yet returned to full contact in practice but hopes to be ready in time for Saturday’s game. Offensive line coach Chennis Berry said he feels good about whatever unit that takes the field.
“Our motto is adapting and overcoming,” Berry said. “Maybe one of these guys is going to go down, but the next guy has to step up. The next guy always has to be ready.”
The line gained experience last season protecting quarterback Dray Joseph, who passed for 3,573 yards, and opening holes for running backs to gain 1,460 yards from scrimmage. This season, the Jaguars plan to start freshman quarterback Deonte Shorts and emphasize running the ball.
Brown said despite the year-by-year changes, the line has a big responsibility — and the linemen take pride in their positions.
“We get everything rolling,” Brown said. “We have to set the tone for every play. We control what the offense does, and we control the tempo of the game. We pretty much lead everyone by being the biggest, strongest guys on the team.”
Odums and his players credit the offensive line’s success to Berry’s leadership. Berry joined the team last spring after spending two seasons as the co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Howard.
In a short time, Berry helped the players become a close-knit group and become a “band of brothers,” as they put it — guys who share unique bond and love for each other. The players say they consider their offensive line coach a father figure, friend and mentor.
“In my case, I never really had a father figure growing up,” Redding said. “When I look at coach Berry — how he’s on me all the time, and how he wants me to be great — I really appreciate that. I really look up to him because I see what he’s done, I see what he’s become and I really admire him for that. I really admire him for putting all that he has into us.”
Berry said his goal as a coach is to develop the “total man” — someone who’s as a leader from the classroom to the cafeteria, someone who can overcome any situation thrown at him.
“Football one day is going to be over,” Berry said. “I try to prepare my young men for the game of life. They will face obstacles and situations in their lives, and I try to put them in a situation where they’ll have to lead. We believe there is no one there that can outwork us. Whenever we’re in an adverse situation, we believe that we’re going to adapt and overcome.”