Southern football coach Dawson Odums wants laser focus from his team in November, and that’s especially necessary given this week’s challenge.
He doesn’t expect his players, on an emotional senior night for 2019’s last home game, staring hard at the 0-7 record sported by opponent Virginia University of Lynchburg.
At this time of year, with the Southwest Athletic Conference West Division title — and possibly an overall title — within their grasp, the last thing he wants to see is his players slipping back into September habits.
Jaguars fans will bid farewell to 15 seniors when Southern hosts the Dragons at 4 p.m. Saturday.
Odums also doesn’t want his players seeing the Google search headline that identifies VUL as the “worst football program in the country.” Actually, that was a quote from VUL coach Bobby Rome of what he said colleagues told him about the school when he took the job five years ago.
When Southern lines up for the kickoff, Odums wants his team to see a hungry SWAC opponent.
“You can’t look at records,” Odums said. “That team has had its struggles, but at the end of the day it’s not about them, but about us preparing and playing a certain way. If we do that, we have a chance to be successful against anybody.
“It’s about putting good (practice) days in the bank, so that when we get to Saturday to make a withdrawal, we withdraw good days. Work as hard as you can work smarter and do all the little things.”
Southern’s teams under Odums might never have faced a team that looks like more of a pushover. VUL has been outscored 357-71, been shut out twice and given up no fewer than 31 points in a game. The Dragons have zero rushing touchdowns and only 310 yards for the season, fewer than Southern had last week against Alabama A&M.
The Dragons quarterback Jeffrey Richardson was 27 of 41 for 253 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-23 loss to Mississippi Valley State, their best chance at a victory. VUL out-gained Valley 342-185.
Running back Tomas Newman rushed for 67 yards on 14 carries against Valley and wide receiver Johnny Rembert caught seven passes for 93 yards and a touchdown. Dale Simmons had a 10-yard interception return to lead the defense.
Richardson also threw three touchdown passes in a 60-21 loss to Savannah State. The teams have one common opponent, Prairie View, which beat the Dragons 51-0,
The Dragons (0-7) are not members of a conference but compete in the National Christian College Athletic Association and are hoping for acceptance into Division II in the future. The school is a small, historically black and private institution.
Rome, a former fullback at University of North Carolina, won three games last season, but the Dragons appear headed for their second winless season in three years. The Dragons had an open date last week and lost to Hampton 56-6 in their most recent outing.
Southern struggled the last time it played a winless team, holding off Texas Southern 28-21 and needing a fumble recovery in to snuff out a drive in Jaguars territory at the end.
“We’re going to come out and play our game, not like they’re a winless team,” running back Devon Benn said. “We’ll play Jaguar football, and hopefully the result with be a ‘W’.”
Odums is hoping to see more of the resilience, even if it isn’t needed to secure a victory, that his team showed the week before. Southern found itself trailing for the first time, 31-28 vs. Alabama A&M, with 4:20 remaining. The offense responded with a touchdown drive and the defense got a sack on the final play.
“We’ve been battle-tested,” he said. “We found a way to win. Hopefully that jump-starts something. It increases your believing. Then you are confident in how you prepare. This football team can come together and finish off the month of November the way it needs to.”
There’s an emotional component to the night also. Fifteen seniors that saw the program through some rough times of APR sanctions and have a chance to guarantee a seventh consecutive non-losing regular season.
“This class has played a lot of games, and it’s tough because every year you go through this,” Odums said. “We have a chance to give ourselves seven straight non-losing seasons. That’s pretty incredible no matter what level you are on. For these guys, it starts with the character and believing in the process we have in place.”
And that means laser focus, regardless of the opponent’s record.