Nearly every position group on the Southern football team has had its share of ups and downs in 2021, whether because of injuries, inconsistent play or game-altering mistakes.
The one that has stood strong is the offensive line. None of its five members has missed a start, and it’s a well-connected group that has formed the team’s physical core.
Tackles Ja’Tyre Carter and Jeremiah Stafford, guards Jonathan Bishop and Brian Williams, and center Dallas Black have played nearly every snap and set the tone for Southern’s physical reputation. They’ve cleared the way for the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s best rushing offense and allowed the second fewest sacks. That was the expectation all along for a group that has been together for three years.
The Jaguars might need their best effort of the season to score a victory Saturday against Jackson State (8-1, 6-0) in the home finale.
It doesn’t take a close examination to see the pattern of Southern’s 2021 football season. Every loss is followed by a win, which is followed …
Offensive lines need to develop chemistry and this group has it on the field and off.
“It’s amazing when we’re clicking,” said Bishop, the only senior in the group and an All-SWAC pick. “We call ourselves the 'Gravediggers.' It’s a bond, (and) to have a bond you have to have a name. We all came in together. It’s amazing to play beside them every game.
“We shared leadership since we came in together. Everybody has a say so and everybody knows the standard.”
The line returned intact from the spring season when Black, Stafford and Williams stepped into starting roles. They’re the first group opposing coaches point to when scheming against Southern.
“They’ve played a lot of football together, so they have great chemistry amongst each other,” Southern coach Jason Rollins said. “It’s not just on the field but off. They are always together and enjoy each other’s company. They take pride in moving other men against their will. That’s their motto.”
Rollins calls Bishop — a Birmingham, Alabama — native the “Energizer Bunny” of the group. As the lone senior, he’s also the unofficial spokesman.
“He’s got the attitude, the tough guy, the fun-loving guy, the older guy who keeps them all together,” Rollins said. “He’s that type of guy: strong, tenacious and a competitive football player, and the nicest guy in the world off the field.”
Bishop likes to sing the praises of his fellow linemen.
A lot went wrong for Southern in its 29-17 loss to Florida A&M on Saturday, and a lot of it was caused by the visitors, a rival with just …
Carter is having a strong season as the left tackle. He shut out Florida A&M’s Isaiah Land, the SWAC’s sack leader, last week. He has an invitation to the East West Shrine Game as a draft-eligible junior.
“Ja’Tyre is a great athlete, a true NFL prospect,” Bishop said. “Dallas is a great communicator. I couldn’t ask for a better center. He came up with the name, we made it the bond. Brian Williams, very physical and an IQ out of this world. Jeremiah Stafford, our right tackle. Gotta love him.
“We go to Chili’s a lot. Some of us have dogs, so we have dog parties. We have a great bond outside of the program.”
On the field, the Gravediggers will face perhaps their biggest challenge in a Jackson State front four led by James Houston. He’s second to Land with 10½ sacks. Rollins said while most teams have one or two strong defensive linemen, Jackson State has four and is perhaps the best in the nation.
“We treat every defense like it’s the best in the nation,” Bishop said. “You can’t underestimate or overestimate anybody. You’re lining up against another grown man. You have to treat them with the same respect.”