When Southern coach Dawson Odums looked at his fully assembled 2018 signing class, he stressed the importance of building relationships.
There were the two players from Ocala, Florida, whom Odums thinks Southern snagged because of the roots it has established in that area. There was the big offensive lineman the Jaguars were there for early and late, even as the big-name schools showed interest. There were transfers with whom Southern established relationships long ago who made their way to the Bluff a couple years late.
“It’s all about relationships,” Odums said.
After signing 11 players in the early signing period, Southern added four more players to its 2018 signing class Wednesday, in offensive lineman Larry Dixon, linebacker Jordan Lewis and defensive backs Robert Rhem and Glenn Brown III.
The Jaguars also officially announced the addition of two transfers from the Football Bowl Subdivision classification — Hunter Register and Kennedy Madison, both of whom are already attending classes at Southern — bringing its total number of signees to 17.
Odums felt his coaching staff did a nice job getting out to a fast start, identifying targets and establishing those personal connections shortly after signing day last year.
“When you get on it early, you identify what you want,” Odums said. “They fit your program, and when they commit, you honor their commitment and you hope to keep them. That’s what we were able to do: Keep those guys.”
That helped Southern fill out much of its signing period early, allowing it to use Wednesday to refine it.
The first signature Southern received came from Dixon, an imposing 6-foot-4, 330-pound specimen from Hahnville. Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports, he was a first-team all state player who at one point held scholarship offers from Mississippi State and Houston.
Dixon helped create holes for Kansas signee Anthony “Pooka” Williams, who gashed opponents for more than 3,000 rushing yards this season.
“(Dixon is) a big young man, powerful, explosive, very athletic. I think we got a great steal here,” Odums said. “We’ve still got to develop him fundamentally and do all those things, but I think everybody coming to college has to improve in those areas.
“He’s a great get for us, and we’re excited to have him.”
In Rhem and Lewis, Southern signed a pair of high school teammates from Trinity Catholic in Ocala, a talent-rich area in central Florida.
Odums already has connections to the area from his time at Bethune -ookman, and he smartly deployed quarterbacks coach Matt Leone — who hails from the Ocala area — to recruit the pair.
“(Leone) played an instrumental role,” Odums said.
The 5-11 Rhem helped Southern achieve one of its primary missions of getting longer athletes in the defensive secondary, while Lewis provides an athletic playmaker on the edge.
“He may own the (school) record in the 110 (meter) hurdles,” Odums said of Lewis. “We’re talking about an explosive guy who is very athletic.”
Brown III also fit the long and athletic profile Southern was looking to add to its team — something it felt it accomplished with the class as a whole.
“I really thought length was a big concern for us and we addressed that need,” Odums said.
Although Southern has typically eschewed the transfer route employed with great success by Grambling in recent seasons, it saw an opportunity to add three players it was familiar with in this signing class.
Southern recruited Register, Madison and quarterback Ladarius Skelton when they were coming out of high school. It saw an opening when Register (Minnesota) and Madison (Louisiana Tech) opted to leave their previous institutions.
“It’s still relationships,” Odums said. “It’s not like you’re getting new guys; it’s not like you’re just taking transfers. You’re taking guys that fit what you’re trying to build, they fit your philosophy, they fit your process.
“They’re the kind of individuals that you want; they’re not just guys that you’re taking because they’re leaving other schools. … It’s like they’re supposed to be here.”
While it is still dealing with limited scholarships as a result of its NCAA infractions, Southern will continue to fill out its roster with preferred walk-ons.
It is a route Southern has had some success with in recent years, most notably with second-leading receiver Jamar Washington last season.
“That’s what our program does: It gives individuals a chance that want an opportunity to play college football,” Odums said. “Sometimes you can’t sign everybody, we miss on some guys — but we open our doors.”
Spring practice dates set
Odums said Southern will begin spring practice April 2, culminating with a spring game April 21.
The only members of the 2018 signing class who will participate are the three transfers — Skelton, Register and Madison.
Southern's 2018 signing class
EARLY SIGNING PERIOD
Jacoby Allen, LB, 6-1, 210, North Shore High School (Houston)
Jamel Byrd, WR, 6-1, 190, Hahnville High School (Hahnville, Louisiana)
Bernard Childs II, OL, 6-2, 315, Channelview High School (Channelview, Texas)
Damien Crawford, DB, 6-3, 188, Green Oaks High School (Shreveport)
Martell Fontenot, K/P, 5-11, 155, Zachary High School (Zachary, Louisiana)
Colyn Givens, DL, 6-3, 255, Captain Shreve High School (Shreveport)
Terrence Gray, DL, 6-3, 242, Ellender Memorial High School (Houma, Louisiana)
Kobe Hartman, WR, 6-3, 190, Ellender Memorial High School (Houma, Louisiana)
Ladarius Skelton, QB, 6-2, 210, Fullerton College (Fullerton, California)
Reggie Wilson, TE, 6-3, 225, Reagan High School (San Antonio)
Gary Young, WR, 5-7, 170, G.W. Carver High School (New Orleans)
Glenn Brown III, DB, 5-11, 180, St. James High School (St. James, Louisiana)
Larry Dixon, OL, 6-4, 331, Hahnville High School (Boutte, Louisiana)
Jordan Lewis, LB, 6-3, 195, Trinity Catholic (Ocala, Florida)
Robert Rhem, DB, 5-11, 180, Trinity Catholic (Ocala, Florida)
Hunter Register, WR, 6-5, 214, University of Minnesota/Comeaux High School (Lafayette)
Kennedy Madison, OL, 6-3, 302, Louisiana Tech/Ouachita Parish High School (Wisner, Louisiana)