Southern football coach Dawson Odums said his approach to recruiting has always been the “tank-of-gas” method.
That means zeroing in on territory that can be reached in driving that requires a tank of gas or less. On Wednesday, Odums said this year’s class reflected that approach: 13 of his 24 players are from Louisiana.
More significantly, though, four players could have been reached by bicycle — or even on foot — if Odums and his staff had chosen that approach.
Among the marquee players in this class are two from Southern Lab (quarterback Bladrick Veal and running back Darbbeon Profit) and two from neighboring Scotlandville (defensive back Bryce Beekman and linebacker Caleb Carter).
“This is the first time since I’ve been here that we’ve been able to get this many players from our backyard in Baton Rouge,” said Odums, who signed his fourth class Wednesday. “It’s so great to be able to get players from right across the street. That’s huge. There’s a lot of talent at Southern Lab, and there’s a lot of talent at Scotlandville. I really think it’s a great opportunity for them, and I think it’s the right time to be at Southern University.”
But with other signees from Donaldsonville, New Orleans, Loreauville and Shreveport, Odums was happy with the statewide reach.
“The plan from Day One has been the tank-of-gas philosophy,” Odums said. “We’re starting to see that pay off. When you continue to knock on the doors of the high schools in the state of Louisiana and keep going back, you build relationships with the coaches, and they start trusting you with their players.”
The class has 11 offensive players, 11 defensive players and two specialists. The defensive side is undergoing change with new coordinator Trei Oliver switching to a 4-3 base from the 3-4 scheme that Odums employed as coordinator.
The Jaguars signed only two defensive linemen, but they are both tackles, which was the bigger need since Southern has more experience returning at end.
“We addressed a really big need at defensive tackle,” Odums said. “We got two really big guys.”
Those guys are 6-foot-3, 334-pound Lee Castille from Loreauville and Dakavian Champion (6-2, 285) from Houston.
Also on defense, Odums wanted to shore up linebacker, where the depth was tested by injury last season.
“We had some guys go down at linebacker last year,” Odums said. “We really needed to address depth at that position.”
The area of the defense with the biggest infusion of talent is the secondary, which Oliver will oversee. He’ll have five newcomers to blend into the mix.
On offense, Southern landed just one lineman — Jeremiah Abby from Atlanta — leaving the one void in the class. Odums said he hopes to beef up that area in the spring.
Much of the focus on offense was long-term. The Jaguars signed five running backs even though Lenard Tillery, the school’s all-time leading rusher, returns next season. His two primary backups — John West and LonDres Johnson — will be graduating next season.
“Next year we won’t have to put an emphasis on running backs, because we really took care of next year’s class this year,” Odums said.
Even though Southern has two juniors at quarterback in Austin Howard and Deonte Shorts, it signed two newcomers in Veal and Darquez Lee from Shelby, North Carolina.
“You get a chance to come in and develop from a guy who’s been in the system and get ready for your opportunity to take over,” Odums said. “More competition will make everybody in that room better.”
As for the class as a whole, Odums is hopeful that the recruits from the neighborhood are part of a trend that will grow.
“When you continue to be successful and those guys are successful once they get here,” Odums said, “you’re going to see more guys follow in their footsteps.”