Southern football coach Dawson Odums wasn’t taking anything for granted on the eve of National Signing Day.
He said Tuesday that he felt pretty good that his third recruiting class would compare favorably with his first two, which have helped the Jaguars win the last two Southwestern Athletic Conference Western Division titles.
But until he has all the paperwork in hand Wednesday, a cautious approach was prudent.
“Only time will tell,” Odums said, “but we think we’ve figured out this chess game and made the right moves with our first two classes. We’re going to see if we can get another.”
On signing day last year, Southern landed 17 recruits — and 12 of them contributed to a 9-4 finish, including several key players such as quarterback Austin Howard; defensive backs Danny Johnson, Bryan Anderson and Rhaheim Ledbetter; running back Malcolm Crockett; wide receiver Reggie Travis; and linebacker Martin Henry. Howard was the SWAC Freshman of the Year; Johnson was named to the all-conference second team after leading Southern with three interceptions; and Travis was the Jaguars’ second-leading receiver.
Ledbetter, Crockett, Travis and Henry either transferred from four-year colleges or junior colleges.
Odums said he hopes to sign “20-plus” recruits Wednesday, though he thinks “two or three” will be 11th-hour decisions.
“They would make it a complete class,” he said, “but they won’t raise or lower the bar (significantly).”
Odums added that he expects this class to consist of “mostly high school players.”
The Jaguars lost 14 seniors, but they have returning talent across the board. Odums said he expects to “fill the holes” at the positions that have been the top priorities — the offensive and defensive lines and the secondary.
It’s unlikely any newcomers are going to come in and immediately fill the shoes of players such as defensive ends Arthur Miley and Jaylen Jordan, offensive linemen Dewayne Houston and Zach Brown or defensive backs Kevin King and D’Andre Woodland. Houston, Brown and Miley were all named to the All-SWAC first team last season.
“Even (at the priority positions), we have most everybody back,” Odums said. “We’re looking to add depth.”
He added that the coaches have to deal with “a black eye on the program” — Southern’s ongoing NCAA postseason ban, brought on because the university submitted unusable data on Academic Progress Rates to the NCAA.
But since the SWAC chooses to have a conference championship game, which Southern won two years ago and lost last season, instead of participating in the FCS playoffs, the ban doesn’t affect football.
Still, other schools are quick to note that numerous Jaguars were unable to participate in all or part of last season because they weren’t academically certified.
But presumably any recruit that went to bed Tuesday night still considering Southern had already determined that the APR issue was not a disqualifier for the Jaguars.
“We just let them and their parents know that we’re going to do everything we can to help them get their degree,” Odums said. “That’s really all we talk about. The football part speaks for itself.”
Southern is 22-13 under Odums and has won 14 of its last 18 games.
“This is another step toward rebuilding and reloading the program,” Odums said.
The Jaguars already have five newcomers in school — long snapper David-Michael Carrell of South Terrebonne High School; running back Dequame Varra of Tioga, a member of the 2013 class who is now eligible; wide receiver Dontrell Brown, a transfer from Nicholls State who was with the Jaguars in 2013; defensive back Nicholas McDonald from Southwest Mississippi Community College; and wide receiver Kelvin Woods, a transfer from Louisiana-Monroe who is walking on.
On Wednesday, they and Odums will find out just who will join them for the summer and fall.
“I think we’ve done a great job of building relationships with the young men we’re recruiting and their parents,” Odums said. “You just hope they wake up in the morning and choose Southern.”
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.