Before preseason camp began at Southern, coach Stump Mitchell said fans could expect “big things” this season from a smallish player — 5-foot-9 cornerback Virgil Williams.
Mitchell and his staff believed the sophomore could cement his spot as the team’s No. 1 cornerback.
Twelve days have passed since camp began, Williams has done nothing to deter his coaches’ faith.
“He’s a guy that played all three positions last year. He was a corner, a nickel and a safety for us last year,” defensive coordinator O’Neill Gilbert said Sunday at the team’s media day.
“We’ve settled him down as a corner, and we expect a big year out of Virgil.”
As a true freshman last season, Williams actually went through preseason camp as a running back. He moved to defense during the third week of the regular season, when the secondary suffered a few injuries, not to mention inconsistent play.
Williams finished with 37 tackles, two interceptions and three pass break-ups.
Now, Williams said, teammates have given him a new nickname: “Virgil Island.”
“It’s a big name,” he said, smiling. “So I have to live up to it. Can’t let the team down.”
Williams will also return kickoffs and punts.
Concerns over James?
The coaching staff also had big plans for defensive tackle Dexter James.
Sunday afternoon, Mitchell said he still hopes the team can count on James — but a series of minor injuries during camp has limited James’ practice time, giving Mitchell cause for concern.
“I’m praying for something from him, and hopefully we’ll get it,” Mitchell said. “We’ve got to keep him on the field, practice-wise. He’s missing some practices, so I don’t know that it’s really great for me to expect a whole lot from him. But we want to get something from him.”
James, a 6-4, 275-pound fifth-year senior, had 30 tackles as a sophomore in 2008, but missed most of the 2009 season with a shoulder injury. He was academically ineligible last season.
Only two other SU players, Casey Narcisse and Brandon Turner, have college experience at defensive tackle.
Southern, which has four home games this season, is asking its fans to wear different colors to each game: white for the season opener against Alabama A&M on Sept. 10; Columbia blue for the Jackson State game Sept. 17; pink for the Prairie View game Oct. 8; and gold for the Oct. 29 homecoming game against Alcorn State.
The pink color theme is to raise awareness for breast cancer, SU spokesman Christopher Jones said.
Gilbert, a Texas A&M alumnus, was asked facetiously about the prospect of his Aggies joining the SWAC, now that the school’s hopes of joining the Southeastern Conference are at least on hold.
Gilbert played along, saying: “I’d love to have A&M in the SWAC.”
His current loyalties then showed through when he added: “I’d love to see Southern go to College Station and make about $1 million off that game.”
The last word
“I think we’re going to prove a lot of people wrong.”
Southern wide receiver Charles Hawkins, on being picked last in the SWAC Western Division