Fresh off their most impressive win of the Stump Mitchell era, Southern football players returned to campus this week, reinvested and ready to prepare for the Bayou Classic.
The big game, of course, is still nine days away; Southern and Grambling both have an open date Saturday.
Meanwhile, this week, between light practices and study halls, SU coaches spent part of their time evaluating recruits - the lifeblood of any program.
“We’re trying to get a kicker, of course, and some defensive tackles to help our young guys that played as true freshmen on defense,” Mitchell said.
Give the man high marks for recognizing the obvious.
In the offseason, Southern lost a very valuable player when place-kicker William Griswold, who made 15 of 20 field goals last season, withdrew from the university, citing, among other things, a fading interest in football.
It’s not a wild leap to think that if Griswold were still around, the Jaguars - now at 4-6, with a handful of close losses - might be sitting atop the Southwestern Athletic Conference Western Division. So, yes, they need to find a kicker. As for defensive tackles, well, they need those guys, too.
Although Southern has a stockpile of defensive ends, it’s thin on the interior, and it will lose seniors Dexter James and Kedy Enabulele.
The thing is, it’s not as easy for Southern to nab great players as it once was.
That’s because the recruiting landscape has changed.
Not so long ago, Southern could all but ransack Houston for the best SWAC-caliber players, mostly because the Jaguars had no competition to speak of. After all, Texas Southern was a joke, and nearby Prairie View was not even trying.
But no one’s laughing now. Since 2009, both programs have won conference titles.
If that weren’t enough, Southern’s low Academic Progress Rate has crystallized its need to sign players with an academic attitude.
Before, the Jaguars could gamble on talented athletes with borderline grades. If they didn’t make it, there was no looming penalty.
Now there is.
Finally, Southern isn’t just competing with established in-state programs anymore. Instead, they’re all lumped in with young start-up programs like those at South Alabama, Georgia State, Lamar and Texas-San Antonio. More hands than ever are wrestling inside the same crowded cookie jar.
All those factors have forced Southern to venture a little farther out - something Mitchell has done, in places like his native Georgia - or unearth talent that somehow gets overlooked.
It can be done. It can’t be done easily.
“We feel good about the team we have coming back, because we have a lot of youth coming back with experience,” Mitchell said.
That’s very true. But the Jaguars still need reinforcements. And these days, good reinforcements are a little tougher to find.