Each morning, when the Southern football team gathers for practice, the first thing Dawson Odums does is look at his players' socks.
If every player is wearing matching white socks, he knows they’re ready and focused. And if not, he says, something has to change.
After a open week, Southern finally looks right.
Always one to preach about doing the small things right, Odums’ fixation on proper uniforms has intensified this week as the Jaguars go into their home finale against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. The teams play at 4 p.m. Saturday in A.W. Mumford Stadium.
It’s not because the Golden Lions (1-8, 0-5 Southwestern Athletic Conference) look like a threat to Southern (5-3, 4-1), which has won three straight games and holds a half-game lead in Grambling in the Western Division.
But Odums is trying to avoid the dreaded drop-off. This, to him and others, has all the makings of a potential "trap" game. The Jaguars were idle next week — and after UAPB, they'll take off another week before the all-important Bayou Classic.
“It’s only a trap game if you allow it to be a trap game,” Odums said. “It’s about attention to detail, and our focus is solely on UAPB. It’s not about football.
“Everybody asks, 'How do you gauge whether your team is ready?' Do we have to repeat things at practice? Do we come out and all our shirttails are tucked in? Is everybody in white socks? Those little things let me know that the little things are where they need to be in order for us to trust our guys.”
Southern is looking to maintain its recent run of success during a three-game win streak, with convincing wins over Prairie View, Texas Southern and Jackson State that put the Jaguars in control of their own destiny.
Southern can secure a spot in the SWAC championship game with wins its final two games.
The Jaguars may still have a chance to host the game, as well. The SWAC announced last week that the championship game will move from a neutral site to the home venue of the top overall team.
If Jackson State can upset Alcorn State next Saturday, then Southern is in business.
But first, SU has to handle business with UAPB — which, despite holding the worst record in the conference, appears to be a dangerous team.
Three of UAPB’s last four games were decided by a single digits — including two that went into overtime against Mississippi Valley State and defending SWAC champion Grambling.
The Golden Lions also have the league’s only 1,000-yard rusher this season in running back Taeyler Porter, who has run for a total of 1,077 yards and nine touchdowns on 216 attempts.
Southern has won five straight against UAPB, stretching back to 2012. Last year’s game was the closest in recent memory at 47-40.
“I use the mentality of, don’t look further than your fingertips,” Odums said. “You hold your arm out and what’s at the end of those fingertips is UAPB. That’s where your focus is. Just trying to understand that it’s about the opponent in front of us. It’s not about the questions of anything else but the opponent.”
Odums said Tuesday was the first practice he felt his team was fully focused on the task at hand throughout the open date, giving him confidence that the players will be prepared for the Golden Lions.
But the players themselves were adamant they never lost focus the past two weeks, and they aren’t looking ahead to Grambling.
Center Jaylon Brinson said the goal this week is to maintain the hungry mindset that got the Jaguars in the advantageous spot to begin with.
“No trap games," Brinson said. "That's the whole point of us maintaining focus. We're not worried about Grambling at the moment. We're not talking about them. Nobody has said anything about Grambling all week. We're focused on UAPB right now."