Southern Miss football returned to the field on Friday to start their 2016 football season for their first practice of the fall. Although no pads were used during the two-and-a-half-hour practice session, the intensity was still evident.
“First day of camp, we have to keep getting in better shape,” said first-year coach Jay Hopson. “I thought everybody had a pretty good day work-wise.”
Although there is not much to tell from the practice because there are no pads and the playbook is minimized, the offense can still learn a few things from new offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson.
“We divide into basically thirds but it may not even be that right now,” Dawson said. “Way less than a third of the offense, I would say.”
The team went through special team drills, individual drills and a plethora of other workouts to gear up for the season opener against Kentucky in Lexington on Sep. 3. Due to the limitations of the first practice, few players got to stand out in the drills.
On the day, the defense came out with more firepower and held its own against the offense. Coming up with several picks, the defense also forced quite a few drops from the Golden Eagle receivers and tight ends.
Senior linebacker Elijah Parker imposed his will early and often with his play from the middle linebacker spot. Along with an interception thrown by senior quarterback Nick Mullens, Parker forced tight windows to be thrown into if a pass was thrown down the middle of the field.
Along with the new coaching staff boasting more than six new coaches, there are also new players added on since the 2015-2016 school year ended.
On the offensive side, highly-touted Laurel quarterback prospect Keon Howard has joined the team and is looking for repetitions at the No. 2 spot behind Nick Mullens as a true freshman. On the defensive side, linemen Jacques Turner and Lorenzo Dantzler are looking to scratch some playing time along a defensive line that boasts senior Dylan Bradley, redshirt junior Xavier Thigpen and sophomore Ladarius Harris.
“You’ve got to keep building and getting into game-shape,” Hopson said. “A lot of guys that stuck it out through the zero, one and three [win seasons].”
One face missing from the fall camp is redshirt freshman running back Patrick Brooks who is sidelined nursing an apparent hip injury. His absence will propel the much-waited return of two former Golden Eagle stars Tez Parks and George Payne, both returning from injury.
“The same guys that told them it was great last year are the same guys they sucked when they won zero [games], that’s the reality,” Hopson said. “Last year was a great year, it was in the past. This year is a year when we want to win a championship.”
Practice will resume on August 6 with more reports to come.