Southern free safety Montavius Gaines is working hard to be a coach on the field in 2019 and he’s had plenty of practice as a coach off the field during the spring.

Gaines missed spring practice with a Jones fracture in his left foot, a particularly painful injury that occurs between the base of the foot and the fifth metatarsal bone. It takes patient rehab and can leave behind remnants of pain, especially when pushing off to run.

Gaines could still talk, though. He cheered on the young cornerbacks competing for open spots, pointed out mistakes in the secondary and kept constant communication going on the defense as a conduit between newly-appointed coordinator Lionel Washington and the rest of the unit.

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As much as he wanted to be knocking heads with his teammates, Gaines enjoyed his adjusted role.

“It wasn’t difficult,” he said when asked if it was hard to sit out practice. “I was in my playbook and helping the younger guys, so I was like an extra coach on the field. I was just trying to recover and get back best I can.

“I’m 100 percent recovered. It was a good process, we have some great trainers. There was never one day I missed rehab. I got better in the training room then came out here and gradually worked my way back on the field.”

Gaines is at the top of the list for leaders in a group that finished fourth in total defense in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. He was the second leading tackler with 55 stops and led the secondary with six pass breakups. Gaines also had five tackles for loss and an interception, giving him four in his career.

Coach Dawson Odums is counting on Gaines to produce the numbers again and even more so, show leadership. As the free safety, he’s got a bird’s eye view of the defense. Gaines made himself a better player even when he couldn’t put on the pads.

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“He really had a great summer,” Odums said. “We took it easy on him and counted his reps. He’s one of those guys we were able to get 100 percent healthy. I know he’s eager to get back on the field. You pull for these guys. Some of these guys have faced a lot of adversity.”

If he can stay healthy, adversity is what opponents may get from the Jaguars, who forced 20 turnovers and had 25 sacks in 2018. Gaines said he’s confident even with two sophomores, Glenn Brown and Robert Rhem, starting at cornerback, that the Jaguars are going to be as good, if not better, than in 2018.

“That cornerback group is young, but it’s still got experience,” he said. “They got playing time in the SWAC Championship game. They’re ready, we have to keep preparing them to be ready. I’m the leader on the back end. It’s all about being vocal but I’m trying to show them with my play, too. I like their potential.

“This defense is going to be special. This is the most talent we’ve had since I’ve been here.”