Much has been made in recent weeks — and deservingly so — of JUCO transfer quarterback Jack Abraham and freshman center Trace Clopton as they prepare to make their first career starts for the Golden Eagles. However, there are quite a few more newcomers on both sides of the ball that are expected to contribute early and often in 2018. With a very talented recruiting class joining the roster, fans should get used to hearing the Voice of the Golden Eagles, John Cox, calling a few new names on Saturdays this fall at M.M. Roberts Stadium.
On offense the Golden Eagles’ young receiving corps will receive a much needed boost in depth from a couple of promising transfers.
De’Michael Harris became the first commit of Coach Hopson’s 2018 recruiting class in April 2017. The 5’9” speedster led Hinds Community College in all-purpose yards in both his freshman and sophomore seasons as a member of the team. He also scored a special teams touchdown as the Eagles’ main kick returner.
Harris had quite a successful track career in high school, winning the MAIS state title in the 100 (10.55), 200 (20.8) and 400-meter (47.96) races. Expect Offensive Coordinator Shannon Dawson to find opportunities to get Harris in space and allow him to showcase his incredible speed.
“[Harris is] a slot receiver that’s really, really fast,” Coach Jay Hopson said. “He runs a 10.4 100-meter, so he can really fly. He has that extra gear, and that’s really exciting. Not only is he a dynamic receiver with a lot of speed, but he’s also a great kick returner, too, so he’s a dual-threat guy.”
Neil McLaurin, a 6’2” transfer from Southwest Mississippi Community College, offers both size and athleticism that the Golden Eagles will look to utilize in many aspects of their game.
Named first team All-South by the MACJC and second team returner, McLaurin finished No. 2 at the NJCAA level with 181.9 all-purpose yards per game and was also No. 5 in receiving with an average of 86 yards per game.
The Laurel native was a successful dual-threat quarterback through high school and his freshman year at Southwest, giving him a level of versatility that Coach Hopson and his staff plan to use in various ways over the next two seasons.
“He’s a playmaker,” Hopson said when asked about McLaurin’s potential with the team. “He’s one of those guys where the film speaks for itself, you know. Neil’s a guy that can go the distance and be an immediate impact, big time playmaker. And he’s a local guy, too, which I always love, so you know we’ve got us a local, South Mississippi guy that we think is going to be a big time playmaker.”
Both Harris and McLaurin are primed to see the field often and be given opportunity to make plays.
The Golden Eagles defensive secondary will see contributions from a few newcomers as well, one in particular being JUCO transfer Ty Williams, whom Coach Hopson has vocally acknowledged as “the best corner in Mississippi.”
At East Mississippi Community College, Williams helped lead the Lions to back-to-back state titles and a 2017 NJCAA Championship. As a sophomore he led the secondary with three interceptions, a fumble recovery, and 41 solo tackles. In the national championship game, he snagged a game-changing 49-yard pick six, helping the Lions win 31-28 over No. 2 Arizona Western.
6’1” safety Ky’el Hemby has also made headlines this fall with an impressive, physical style of play that Jay Hopson’s “Nasty Bunch” defense is known for utilizing. With 81 tackles, an interception, and a forced fumble in 12 games with Iowa Western Community College, Hemby has the potential to bring a lot of toughness to the defensive unit, according to Defensive Coordinator Tim Billings.
After quickly learning the system, Hemby began earning playing time with the first string unit throughout fall camp and is expected to play a large role for the group in 2018.
“We know there may be – but you know hopefully not – but there may be some growing pains early,” Billings said of his new young secondary members. “That’s why it’s vital for our front seven to give the secondary some time to grow up a little bit, especially early in the first couple games in the season.”
Billings expressed his vote of confidence in the new players’ abilities to grow as the season progresses.
“I think our back end is as talented as it’s been since I’ve been here; they just don’t have any experience outside of Picasso,” Billings said. “With repetition they’ll gain more experience, and with more experience they’ll gain more confidence, so I think that group is talented and I’m not worried about them whatsoever.”