Aug. 1, 2008
• Watch the CBS College Sports Preview of Southern Miss' Season
Excitement in Hattiesburg is at an all-time high as the Southern Miss football program enters its 92nd season. With the announcement of its 18th head coach, Larry Fedora, on Dec. 12, 2007, a new era in Golden Eagle football has begun - not only with a new coach but a new addition to the school's home facility as well.
Fedora, considered to be one of the great offensive minds in the game of football today, promises to bring an attack offense as the Golden Eagles unveil its South End Zone Complex, which features 34 luxury suites, a club seating area called the Touchdown Terrace and general seating. The Eagle's Nest is also a new feature for the stadium on the East Side, which features a new, chairback seating area.
The new additions to the program hope to enhance its illustrious history that currently includes 14-straight winning seasons, six consecutive bowl appearances and four league championships in the 12-year history of Conference USA.
The 2008 Southern Miss squad features the Conference USA preseason Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year in running back Damion Fletcher (5-10, 177, Jr.) and linebacker Gerald McRath (6-3,220, r-Jr.).
Overall, though, the Golden Eagles return five starters on offense and four on defense. The team will also look to replace the entire defensive line as well as the quarterback spot and a pair of starting offensive guard positions.
Nine seniors saw a majority of playing time on the defensive side of the ball and will need to be replaced in 2008, while the offense lost its two-year starting quarterback and three members of the interior of the offensive line.
Still, optimism is high for the program that has never experienced a losing conference mark while in C-USA.
The slogan is simply one word - "Attack."
That is what is expected by Fedora and his staff as they get ready for the 2008 season and the unveiling of their spread offense at The Rock on Aug. 30, against Louisiana-Lafayette.
As offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, the Cowboys raised their offensive totals each year and in 2006 were one of only two schools in the country to average over 200 yards a game both rushing and passing. Fedora said that the philosophy of their success began at practice and that attacking mode began then as well.
"We are going to be in a hurry up tempo," Fedora added. "We are going to move during practice and we are going to coach on the run. We are going to get on and off that field."
Although the Golden Eagles are going to have to replace Jeremy Young at quarterback and all-conference Offensive linemen Chris Clark and Nick Dean, the Golden Eagles have plenty of weapons that run from a quality receiving corps to a standout running back to two veterans on the offensive line.
Those mixed ingredients should help the Golden Eagles as they look for their fifth Conference USA championship.
This offense will try to top last year's school-record total offense of 5,066 yards - the first time the school reached the 5,000-yard plateau in a season.
This may be the biggest battle heading into fall camp as three underclassmen and a senior vie for the job at running the offense.
At the top of the list are Martevious Young (6-1, 188, r-So.) and Austin Davis (6-2, 206, r-Fr.). Also vying for the job are Todd Wilson (6-3, 209, r-Sr.) and signee Brett Jefcoat (6-1, 200, Fr.).
Young and Wilson have the most experience of the quartet as each have taken a few snaps in their respective Golden Eagle careers. Young saw action in two games last season. He appeared late in the Tennessee-Martin game and got a start against Rice, but was lost for the season on the third play of the game when he suffered a broken leg. Wilson has taken some snaps as a backup to Young and Stephen Reaves (Tampa, Fla.) the last couple of seasons.
Davis, who signed with the program last spring after spending his first year with the team as a walk-on so that he could play baseball as well, decided to solely concentrate in the spring with the intent on leading the Golden Eagle offense.
Jefcoat could also see action after enjoying a stellar career at Itawamba High School.
The Running Backs
This position starts with its backbone the last two years - Damion Fletcher (5-11, 177, Jr.). The 2007 Cellular South Conerly Trophy winner, given to the most outstanding college football player in the state
of Mississippi, looks to become only the fourth Golden Eagle rusher to run for over 3,000 yards as he is 26 yards of reaching that milestone.
Look for Fletcher as a double threat this season as he could also see more passes thrown to him this fall. If last year's Papajohns.com Bowl is any indication of what is to come this year - 155 yards rushing on 29 carries and seven catches for 50 yards against No. 20 Cincinnati - it should be another banner year for the two-year starter.
Last season, Fletcher rushed for a school record 1,586 yards and no other Southern Miss player has run for more yards in consecutive seasons (2,974 yards).
Look also for V.J. Floyd (5-10, 186, So.) to see some snaps after rushing for 93 yards on 24 carries during his first season.
The biggest surprise out of the spring came in the form of junior college transfer and Hattiesburg native, Bubba Kirksey (5-10, 179, Jr.), who showed his skills and impressed the coaching staff at the same time. Isaac Bryant (5-11, 212, r-Jr.) and Kameron Roan (5-8, 160, r-So.) also look to contend for some time at the running back spot.
Josh Barton (5-11, 213, r-Jr.) and Josh Hurd (6-0, 220, r-So) look to get most of the fullback snaps while Daren Turner (5-11, 218, r-So.) will fight for some time there as well. Barton has the most experience at the spot, collecting 14 yards on 14 carries last season.
The Wide Receivers
This area is where the Golden Eagles can really prosper this season as they return a talented and exciting group of receivers, as well as a highly touted newcomer.
Torris Magee (6-2, 214, r-So.) headlines these returnees as the team's top receiver a year ago with team bests of 44 catches and 632 receiving yards. He added three touchdown receptions, including a school record-breaking 85-yarder from Reaves last season against Marshall.
Gerald Baptiste (6-0, 182, r-Jr.) also returns after catching 28 balls for 283 yards, along with Ed Morgan (5-9, 159, Sr.) who added 17 receptions for 152 yards.
Johdrick Morris (6-2, 206, r-So.) returns from last season after catching 10 passes for 98 yards and Chris Rhoden (6-4, 193, r-Sr.), who was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA last spring, tallied a pair of catches for 16 yards.
Five-star signee DeAndre Brown (6-6, 220, Fr.) also should join in that rotation of receivers, after enjoying a stellar high school career.
His reputation as a prep star already has earned him preseason Newcomer of the Year accolades from the 2008 Blue Ribbon Football Magazine.
Big things are also expected from junior college transfer Freddie Parham (6-0, 172, Jr.), while Deon Hodges (6-2, 204, Jr.), William Spight (5-10, 167, r-Fr.), Justin Whiddon (5-10, 171, r-Sr.) and Tommy White (6-2, 217, r-So.) will also try to work their way into some reps.
All-Conference USA selection Shawn Nelson (6-5, 239, r-Sr.) looks for a breakout season after catching 33 passes for 451 yards and five touchdowns. Nelson looks to be the big threat over the middle for the Golden Eagles in 2008.
Signee Jonathan Massey (6-3, 251, So.) should also see some time, while Kane Wommack (6-0, 223, r-Jr.), who sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, makes the transition from running back to tight end this fall.
The Offensive Line
The towers of strength for the Golden Eagle offensive line is at the tackle positions.
Calvin Wilson (6-6, 353, r-Jr.) looks to be the front runner at left tackle after occupying that spot for much of last year, after moving over from guard. He will be bookended with Ryan McKee (6-6, 291, Sr.) at the right tackle spot to give Southern Miss a strong outside front.
Jimmy Driskell (6-2, 299, r-Sr.) appears to be the backup at left tackle behind Wilson, while Brennan Houston (6-4, 314, r-Jr.) has the reserve role behind McKee at right tackle.
Cameron Zipp (6-1, 297, r-So.) seems to have the inside edge at center with Alex Michael (6-2, 310, r-So.) and Kyle Clark (6-0, 265, r-Fr.) fighting for the top spot as well.
At left guard, Wesley Housley (6-2, 287, r-Sr.) comes out of spring practice as the starter, with junior college transfer R.J. Brown (6-3, 301, Jr.) as the reserve. At right guard, Ryan Hebert has the nod (6-5, 310, r-Jr.) above James Brady (6-4, 253, r-Fr.) and James Dodd (6-2, 289, r-Fr.).
Micah Brown (6-2, 287, r-Jr.), who was injured the entire spring with a foot ailment, looks to fit in a role as well in the fall at a number of positions.
The defensive side of the ball, which finished 2007 ranked 48th nationally in total defense, allowing 368.4 yards per game, looks to replace seven starters from last season.
The Golden Eagles will feature an entire new defensive starting line, after losing seniors Robert Henderson (Ponchatoula, La.), a sixth-round NFL draft pick to the New York Giants, Martavius Prince (Ft. Pierce, Fla.), who signed a free-agent deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Matthew Chatelain (Metairie, La.), a 2008 NSCA Strength and Conditioning All-American, and Sean Merrill (D'Iberville, Miss.).
Southern Miss also lost James Denley (Foley, Ala.) at linebacker and defensive backs LeVance Richmond (Lake Wales, Fla.) and Brandon Sumrall (Beaumont, Miss.), who signed a free-agent deal with the Minnesota Vikings.
The current C-USA Defensive Player of the Year, though, returns for the Golden Eagles as well as a young, spirited frontline group as well as an experienced squad of defensive backs.
Once again, the 2008 Southern Miss defense looks to live up to its nickname of the "Nasty Bunch" that was established over 30 years ago for that units prowess on that side of the football.
With the pieces that return, as well as a highly regarded cast of newcomers, the Golden Eagles are set to continue that excellent tradition.
Only two players with experience return on the defensive line, including Eric Phillips (6-7, 290, r-Sr.) and Anthony Gray (6-0, 301, r-So.). Phillips has tallied seven total tackles in nine career games, while Gray - who missed the first seven games of the year with a foot injury - tallied seven stops over the final six games, including three tackles for loss and a sack.
David Boyce (6-6, 248, r-So.), Andrew Burns (6-4, 258, r-Fr.), Logan Hickman (6-3, 245, r-Fr.), Cordarro Law (6-2, 243, r-Fr.) and junior college signee Rolando Barragan (6-3, 295, Jr.) all look to battle for starting spots on the defensive line.
Talented newcomers Darius Barnes (6-4, 285, Fr.), Terrance Conner (6-3, 234, Jr.), Willie Packer (6-1, 275, Fr.), Terrance Pope (6-1, 280, Fr.) Joel Ross (6-1, 300, Fr.) Bo Tillman (6-6, 305, Fr.) and Josh Tillman (6-5,
245, Fr.) will add to the depth as well for the Golden Eagles with summer drills begin.
Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year Gerald McRath (6-3, 220, r-Jr.) returns to anchor the linebackers at the middle spot.
McRath led the squad last season in tackles with 139, including a 21-tackle performance against UCF. McRath is the eighth Southern Miss player to win the top honor for defense in the 12-year history of the league.
Tokumbo Abanikanda (6-0, 224, Sr.) returns as well at the will position after tallying 58 stops a year ago.
Jerome Lyons, who was granted an extra year of eligibility last spring due to an injury, returns to backup McRath in the middle, while Blake Spiers (6-2, 219, Sr.) should be in reserve of Abanikanda at will. Brandon Davis (6-1, 200, Jr.) and Tim Green (6-3, 200, r-Fr.) will battle for the strong-side position at linebacker. Davis notched 13 tackles last season, seeing much of his time on special teams.
Noah Slater (6-3, 215, r-So.), Martez Smith (6-0, 211, r-So.) and Jeremy Snowden (6-3, 197, r-Fr.) also will vie for time at linebacker.
The area of defensive backs for 2008 at Southern Miss is the most seasoned group returning on defense.
Eddie Hicks (6-2, 183, r-Jr.) and C.J. Bailey (5-10, 189, r-So.) are the only two starters returning from a year ago. Hicks finished third on the squad in tackles with 84 and notched three interceptions, while
Bailey added 40 stops and two picks.
Bailey, though, missed all of spring practice with a shoulder injury, but should be 100 percent when fall camp opens in August.
Justin Wilson (5-11, 187, r-So.), who was the nickel back in the defense last season and often began the game on the field as a result of the coverage, tallied 43 stops and two interceptions for the year. Eddie Willingham (5-10, 174, r-Sr.) returns for his senior season and should be in the mix for a starting spot along with Chico Hunter (6-0, 195, So.). Willingham notched 11 stops during the season, while Hunter was in on 19.
Senior Ivory Bradshaw (6-1, 185, r-Sr.) sets his sights on a comeback this fall, after suffering a pair of knee injuries last year.
Carlos Grant (6-1, 184, r-So.), John Green (6-0, 222, r-Sr.), Antrone Harris (5-11, 206, r-Sr.), Paul Inoa (5-11, 176, r-Sr.), Michael McGee (5-10, 181, Jr.), Kevin North (5-11, 212, Sr.), Cameron O'Neal (6-0, 206, r-Fr.) and Micah Pellerin (6-1, 183, r-Fr.) will battle for playing time when camp starts.
The Golden Eagles return solid specialists in the kicking game in the form of Britt Barefoot (6-0, 185, r-Sr.) who handles both the kickoff and punting duties. Last season, Barefoot averaged 64.1 yards per kickoff (a 44.2-yard net) and 42.5 yards per punt.
His solid kicking helped solidify the special teams unit that rarely gave up the big play a year ago. Brett Hicks (6-0, 192, r-Sr.) serves as Barefoot's backup.
Justin Estes (5-9, 151, So.) converted 15-of-22 field goals and 39-of-41 extra points, but could see some competition for the placekicking duties in the fall from not only Barefoot, who made his only field goal attempt of 51 yards last season at Tennessee, but from Barrett Cobb (6-0, 191, Jr.), Dylan Lanphere (6-2, 193, r-So.) and John Sablich (5-11, 179, r-Sr.).
The chores of the deep snapper will fall to either or both Andy Hill (6-3, 221, r-Jr.) and Cody Tawater (6-3, 232, r-Jr.).
The quest to find return specialists for both kickoff and punt returns will come during the preseason drills.