Every time the Southern football team steps into the A.W. Mumford Field House from practice, captains stop each player, reminding him to take off his dirty cleats before walking through the door.
Once inside, any player caught riding the elevator will almost immediately be followed by a senior demanding they use the stairs instead because that’s a few more active steps they could take.
If a wide receiver drops a pass during practice, he immediately falls to the ground to give 10 pushups before one of his teammates has a chance to inevitably call him out. It’s 15 for running backs because of what junior Lenard Tillery said was the fact they don’t get many passes thrown to them.
Coach Dawson Odums and his staff never asked players to follow any of these rules, but they do them anyway — something unthinkable for the Jaguars only four years ago.
When Odums first arrived on campus, he found a program that complained about hard work and made excuses for failures, and he has spent the past three seasons trying to turn that mindset around through strict discipline.
Now, players are disciplining themselves just as often as Odums is, and the Jaguars wouldn’t want it any other way.
“I tell (the younger players) all the time, ‘We’re not going backwards. We’re not going the same way as things used to be,’ ” said senior offensive lineman and team captain Anthony Mosley. “I hated it; it was terrible around here.
“Now, life is so much better for us thanks to Coach Odums.”
Mosley is one of the few remaining players left from the pre-Odums era at Southern and vividly remembers the undisciplined mindset that permeated throughout the locker room. He said players lacked the same drive and team unity he sees now.
Small acts like taking the stairs or doing a few extra pushups probably won’t be the difference in winning a championship, but Mosley said it’s symbolic of the length the program has come in its mentality during Odums’ tenure.
Odums said he isn’t too concerned about his players not taking the elevator, but rather he sees the fact that Southern has the chance — after this season — to have an entire program of players who have never experienced a losing season with the Jaguars as the primary example of how far the program has come.
“I associate it with recruiting different kind of players and then having a system in place that doesn’t tolerate the nonsense,” Odums said. “If you can keep the young men focused and at the end they get a degree and at the end they have a chance to win games … that’s how programs sustain through adversity.”
Odums has his own set of small rules he mandates on his team, like being 15 minutes early to practice, sitting in the first three rows of a class or making sure everything in their lockers is always hung up and organized.
If players don’t follow the rules, they can expect to receive punishment, sometimes in the form of extra running before practice or, in the case of Mosley against Louisiana Tech, getting held out of games.
But Mosley said he didn’t mind being held out of the first quarter of the season opener, because he respects Odums’ philosophy of wanting a disciplined football player over a talented one.
“Our No. 1 rule is just do the right thing,” Mosley said. “We’re all old enough to know what the right thing is. If you do the wrong thing, it’s going to come right back to you and coach is going to say, ‘My mind is already made up.’ ”
Senior running back Malcolm Crockett, who was made a captain this season less than two years after transferring from Pittsburgh, said he expects that level of discipline from a program and couldn’t imagine what it would be like to play for someone who didn’t emphasize strict rules or with a team that doesn’t hold each other accountable.
“At Pitt, we had rules and expectations to follow, but there’s a little more rules that coach Odums emphasizes, and if we don’t follow them, he will find us,” Crockett said. “Once he does that, sometimes he sets examples of players that don’t follow them, but that just helps the team as a whole and helps to become one in discipline.”