There’s a difference between getting comfortable and having a good comfort level.
Southern football coach Dawson Odums wants the latter, not the former.
When he welcomes his squad Wednesday for the start of fall practice, he’s banking on a veteran team that has a comfort level with each other that promises a strong season. But he’s not allowing them to feel comfortable about their prospects.
Practice gets underway Friday in helmets with the Jaguars donning full pads Wednesday for their first scrimmage.
“We haven’t done anything yet,” Odums said. “We’ve got to earn everything starting with the first day. We didn’t finish the job last year, and we don’t get to pick up from that point.
“But we have a comfort level of everybody getting along with each other and having a better understanding of what we expect in our program. We’re motivated and excited about what’s coming forward. The players coming back, the opportunity. We’re ready to get started and hopefully make a run.”
The Jaguars came out of media day the favorites to win the Southwest Athletic Conference West Division and was two points behind Alcorn State in the voting for the overall league title. With 17 starters returning Odums said he can relax and coach because he can trust the experience level of the players.
The roster is full of experienced lettermen in starting and reserve roles. He also loves his senior class’ willingness to lead.
“We work hard to get the team behind us,” fifth-year senior right tackle Jodeci Harris said. “It could be a very special year because we have so much talent. The coaches can’t watch everybody. The seniors have to step up and run the team. We have to hold each other accountable.”
Odums is counting on that attitude to bridge the gap and bring Jaguar Nation its first SWAC title since 2013, his first full year on the job. Odums said he’s just as fired up about the coming season as he was then.
“I love the guys in our program,” he said. “I love how hard they work and what they stand for. As long as I got that love there will always be an eagerness to get back to work. When you lose that love, you have to look in the mirror and question what you are doing.”
For a change Odums, has more answers than questions. The offensive line returns intact, his top rusher, Devon Benn, is back in the fold and the quarterback job seems in the capable hands of LaDarius Skelton. He accounted for 1,515 yards and 18 touchdowns despite starting only six games last year.
Skelton was 5-1 as a starter after taking over for John Lampley and had rallied Southern into a fourth-quarter lead at the SWAC title game against Alcorn State before an ankle injury knocked him out of the Braves’ 37-28 victory.
Odums said he was happy to see Lampley come back strong and battle Skelton for the job and it made an impression on the players.
“I really don’t know who the starter is going to be,” Harris said. “They’ve been competing hard and pushing each other day in and day out. We’ll see at the end of fall camp.”
The defense will be under the command of Lionel Washington, installed as the coordinator when Trei Oliver left after last season. Washington will try to shore up the run defense with nine starters back, led by nose guard Dakavion Champion and linebacker Calvin Lunkins.
“We’ve been here five years. We know the ropes,” Lunkins said. “Stopping the run is what I want to do; that’s my job. I’m going to get that across to the rest of the guys in camp. Coach Washington played in the league. He knows how it goes. We’re not changing, just simplifying. We should be good.”