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Southern quarterback Ladarius Skelton holds the ball out as he crosses the goal line during their game against Jackson State on Nov. 16, 2019, at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson, Miss.

Many other college football conferences are four games into their 2020 season. The Southern Jaguars are just getting started.

With the Southwestern Athletic Conference opting to answer the restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic with a spring football season, Southern is among the 10 teams strengthening itself in myriad ways.

Weight training and conditioning are just as important as getting used to the protocols for the best possible result.

Southern coach Dawson Odums said he isn’t making any assumptions while looking ahead to an abbreviated, seven-game conference season starting Feb. 27 at Alabama State.

“Nobody knows,” said Odums, entering his 10th season. "It works for a little while and then all of a sudden you hear the numbers. It’s the unknown. You put a plan in place for your resources and what you have to work with, then do the best you can.”

The team reassembled two weeks ago for the first time in seventh months to begin a long, careful preparation. Odums said there were some positive coronavirus tests among players but none since the team began weightlifting and conditioning this month.

The Jaguars are working in smaller groups inside the weight room and bigger groups for the outside drills. Odums said he’s looking at two months of that and hopefully getting into pads before the Christmas break in December.

If all goes well, the team will reassemble after Christmas for a minimum of eight weeks of preseason drills before the first game.

Odums is trying to promote the attitude that while the protocols are annoying, as obstacles, they are minor.

“Just follow the protocols. I don’t think anything is difficult; it’s an easy process,” he said. “Temperature checks, testing, masking, social distancing and going from there. We’re following the CDC (Center for Disease Control) guidelines. With places not being open, there’s not a lot of places they can go to party.”

Odums said he’s encouraged that the roster has returned mostly intact. The Jaguars figure to have 12 of 22 starters returning, eight on offense, including quarterback Ladarius Skelton. The offense will be coordinated by first year assistant coach Zach Grossi, who replaces Chennis Berry.

Odums said he expects few changes in the offense despite Berry being the coordinator for the past four seasons. Grossi is one of four new offensive coaches.

“We’ll still be spread on offense,” he said. "We’ll do some different things. They understand the philosophy of how we want to play. Shorten the playbook, be good at the plays you’re going to run and go play.”

Also returning are running backs Devon Benn and Jarod Sims, who came on strong as a freshman at the end of last season. Replacing leading receiver Hunter Register and three offensive linemen will be the biggest adjustments.

Six defensive starters are gone, including defensive tackle stalwart Dakavion Champion and leading tackler Calvin Lunkins. The Jaguars will build around linebacker Caleb Carter and end Jordan Lewis.

“Coaching staffs that have been together are making a difference with continuity,” Odums said. “Getting them to play together is going to be the challenge. You have to get a lot of guys ready because you don’t know who you’re going to be without (because of the virus).

“The returning players are here. Our freshmen will get a chance to play, more time to showcase skills. We’ve got a lot of guys coming back. Some guys will have to step up and play. I think they will.”