On the eve of Southwestern Athletic Conference media day, and roughly two weeks from the start of preseason camp, Dawson Odums felt as good as he has in a long time during the summer.
Southern lost plenty of talent from last season: Austin Howard isn't at quarterback; defensive end Aaron Tiller won’t be mauling opponents anymore; tight end Dillon Beard is gone; and, of course, for the first time in four years, Danny Johnson won’t be the best defensive back in the league.
But none of those departures was surprising to Odums. Those were natural. But despite those losses Odums called this year's team one of the deepest he’s had in his seven years at Southern.
The reason for that overwhelming enthusiasm, though, has nothing to do with talent level.
Since spring practice closed three months ago, Odums and the Jaguars had a string good news flood into the program — a run he hopes carries into preseason camp.
At the start of the team’s first spring practice in four years — Southern brushed off the final remains of the school’s devastating period of NCAA sanctions and restrictions because to academic shortcomings — the Jaguars still had a barrage of holes to fill.
They didn’t have a full coaching staff. They had no clear path out of a five-way quarterback battle, and their offense had virtually no experienced leaders.
But as Odums, defensive back Demerio Houston and tight end Dennis Craig made the six-hour drive to Birmingham, Alabama, for Friday's media day, the coach was proud to announce that at least some of those issues were resolved.
Southern filled three coaching vacancies this summer with Ashton Warner at running backs coach and Skylar Jones at defensive line. Both men had served as graduate assistants at SU.
Odums, who coached linebackers in the spring, passed those duties to Patrick Bastien, who held the same job for three years at Georgia Southern.
“Coaching styles are different, but we’re going to do what we do," Odums said. "We know what our identity is and we know who we are. Those guys are going to coach their guys hard.
“Because of spring ball, we’ll be able to move a lot faster in fall camp because we’re not having to evaluate in fall camp.”
But perhaps the best news Odums received this summer was that wide receiver Randall Menard will have a sixth year of eligibility.
The last player from Southern’s 2013 SWAC championship team spent the past eight months in a state of limbo while the NCAA decided if his broken leg, which he suffered in Week 4 last season, afforded him another year of eligibility.
Menard’s career has been difficult over the years, as high expectations were almost constantly held back by nagging injuries. He has 81 catches for 1,350 yards and 13 touchdowns in 35 games.
If Menard can stay healthy, Odums expects him to be one of Southern’s most important leaders.
“We only have really one other senior returning — our tight end, Dennis Craig — and those two guys know what our program is about,” Odums said. “To have that kind of knowledge and experience around, it’s going to pay dividends once we get into the season.”
Receiver is one of the few areas Southern returns the bulk of last year’s production.
But as Southern breaks in a new starting quarterback, it's nice to have experienced.
Odums said he isn’t prepared to name a starting quarterback, and the competition remains wide open. But Southern is narrowing down the list.
During the spring, Glendon “Bubba” McDaniel and John Lampley took most of the first- and second-team snaps. Kobie Lane and Ladarius Skelton are also competing for the spot.
“I think it’s going to play itself out, but it’s still a competition,” Odums said. “Just because we have a guy taking reps with the ones right now — we’re looking at reps from certain guys and really focusing on the guys who can be the quarterback moving forward.”