The Golden Eagle football program announced its latest recruiting class, signing 24 high school and junior college prospects to join Southern Miss.
“I always talk about Southern Miss guys,” said Head Coach Jay Hopson. “These guys are Southern Miss guys. It’s a group of men that are high character. Tough. Guys that have a chip on their shoulder.”
Hopson said he was excited about the Feb. 1 signing of the new Golden Eagles.
“You know where your needs are with your graduating senior class and your upcoming senior class,” Hopson said. “So you know you got to have depth for the future. I think you also saw a strong high school class, building for the future. Definitely excited about the guys.”
Southern Miss’s most pressing needs were in the defensive backfield and along the offensive line. The Golden Eagles will lose four offensive linemen and four defensive backs to graduation this offseason and will lose eight defensive backs next year.
This was a need that the Golden Eagles addressed, gaining six defensive backs — five of which are fresh from the prep ranks. The ability to gain experience in the system while sitting on the sideline can be valuable for a young player. These young players garnering early playing time is not out of the question for Hopson.
“That’s always up to them,” Hopson said. “We’ll find out in August who’s going to play, [and] who’s going to redshirt.”
Besides defensive backs, the offensive line also took up six spots in the signing class, highlighted by 6-foot-3-inch Gautier, MS lineman Paul Gainer, who Hopson says “can do anything up front.
“Extremely excited to have him,” Hopson said.
One prospect hails from Alabama, and eight prospects are from Florida. Hopson, who worked at the University of Florida in 1994 as a graduate assistant, said the southern states stretching from Louisiana to Florida are prime for the Golden Eagles’ future.
“We’re The University of Southern Mississippi,” Hopson said. “We want to stay in that footprint – South Mississippi, always, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi – that’s kind of who we are and always have been. Good to get those local guys here in black and gold.”
Those local guys are highlighted by not just Gainer but prospects like three-stars Tim Jones and Darius Maberry, who have the potential to step right into the Golden Eagle system and make an impact.
The high school products out of the Mississippi area are the ones Hopson said he prides himself on and puts his most belief in.
“We have to build from the ground up – high-school wise,” Hopson said. “I believe in Mississippi. At the end of the day, I just believe the guys in this state can play football.”
As former record-setting quarterback Nick Mullens prepares for his shot at the NFL, the Golden Eagles restocked the cupboard. Hopson added two additional quarterbacks to join sophomore Keon Howard, signing Florida quarterbacks Marcelo Rodriguez and Steven Anderson.
“All quarterbacks are different,” Hopson said. “I think both of them do things [strongly], but it’s going to be fun to watch them battle. That’s the great thing about football is competition. You put the ball out there, you let them compete for it.”
Competition will be apparent when fall arrives and players vie for positions along the offensive line, defensive backfield and even push for Howard’s spot at quarterback. To Hopson, that is what National Signing Day is all about.
“It’s one of my favorite days in football,” Hopson said. “It’s a fun day, and it’s an exciting day. It’s a celebration.”