The Southern football team reported to campus Sunday to get ready for the start of preseason camp. But the Jaguars will be heading off campus for the first several practices beginning Monday afternoon.
A delay in the construction of the Jaguar Park practice facility has forced Southern to practice at the Louisiana Leadership Institute on Hooper Road, just a few miles from campus.
The Jaguars practiced at Louisiana Leadership late last season after the expiration of daylight savings time caused the end of practice to occur after sunset. The existing practice field has no lights, and the current construction makes it unusable until the project is complete.
“The good thing is we’ve been over there before, so we know the plan, we know the layout,” coach Dawson Odums said. “We’re not going to a facility that we’re not comfortable being a part of. It’s a really easy transition. We load up on the busses, head over, get our work in and come back and continue to do that until we get our practice facility ready to go.”
Southern hopes to be able to use the new practice field by next week.
“Due to elevated water levels of the Mississippi River, Army Corps of Engineers have restricted construction to install the football practice field light poles as a part of the Jaguar Park project until the river recedes,” Southern said in a statement. “SU athletics anticipates practice returning to campus once clearance for the project’s continuation is received and the light poles have been installed.”
The unusually high level of the river means water would enter any holes drilled as deep as the ones needed for the light poles and thereby prevent proper support, leading to the Army Corps’ ban, said Larry James, who is coordinating the light-pole installation for Sun Electronic.
Where the practices are held and why seemed to be of little concern to the players, who were unable to have spring practice because of NCAA sanctions.
“I know all of us are ready to get back out there,” cornerback Danny Johnson said. “It doesn’t matter where we practice. We’re just glad to get back at it, ready to get the season started. Everybody is just happy to be back and ready to compete.”
Johnson said this year’s reporting date was much different than last year’s, when he was a wide-eyed freshman. Now the former East Feliciana star is a returning starter and a preseason All-Southwestern Athletic Conference selection.
“It’s a big difference now because last year I was learning a new playbook, trying to get adjusted and get a feel for everything,” Johnson said. “But now I’ve grown out of that and it’s just me being a leader and stepping up to make bigger plays and do bigger things.”
Quarterback Austin Howard, like Johnson, is a returning starter as a sophomore, having been named SWAC Freshman of the Year last year.
“I feel like I’m at least a junior, if not a senior,” Howard said with a smile. “(Last year) I was very nervous, very anxious. I was sitting in the lobby (of the dorm) with (co-offensive coordinator Chad) Germany just talking. I feel real comfortable going into this camp.”
When Southern last practiced as a team, it was also at Louisiana Leadership Institute’s Doug Williams Stadium last December as they prepared for the SWAC title game, which it lost to Alcorn State 38-24. This time, the conditions will be much different on the turf field.
“Some guys are saying it’ll probably be hot out on the turf, but we don’t care,” running back Lenard Tillery said. “We’re just happy to be practicing. We’re looking past the heat.
“Whenever you have guys not worried about it being hot out or having too many practices and all they want to do is put on the pads and go play, that’s a great thing.”
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.