A film enthusiast, fighter and a hype man walk off the turf with faces drenched in sweat, dripping down their faces like raindrops on a typical hot and humid Mississippi day. One by one, the three plop down onto the eagle statue with their backs turned to the practice field and eyes gazing up at the Duff Athletic Center.
After another day of perfecting their juking, passing and footwork in 90-degree weather during fall camp, the three still glow with excitement when thinking about the games ahead. After experiencing injuries, Trace Clopton, Darius Maberry and Jaylond Adams are grateful to be back at the Rock.
Sophomore business major Clopton has been one to watch ever since he signed with Southern Miss.
“When I got here, I was thrown into the lineup pretty quick,” he said.
Graduating a semester early from Brookhaven High School, Clopton made history by being the first true freshman center head coach Jay Hopson and former offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson trusted to start. For seven out of 11 games, he kept his role as a starter.
The son of a seasoned high school football coach, Clopton is one of 80 Division I centers to be placed on the Rimington Trophy preseason Watch List in July.
In January, Clopton became the fifth Golden Eagle to earn a spot on the Football Writers Association of America Freshman All-American team for his efforts, notably for continuing to play despite his injury.
Minutes before halftime on October 13, 2018, Clopton sprained his left ankle in Denton, Texas.
“I wasn’t sure how bad it was, and I was just ready to find out how bad it was, so I could get back out there with them,” Clopton said.
Clopton recalls being driven off North Texas’ sideline and into an x-ray room anxious to find out if he broke his ankle. Luckily for him, the first thing the doctor told him was that his ankle was not broken.
“At that point, I’m pumping my fist. I’m just ready to get back on the field,” Clopton said before widening his eyes and saying, “but my ankle’s huge.”
Number 57 was cleared to walk back onto the field and play for the second half, but not without a hard cast, boot and a limp.
Maberry had a different start to his Southern Miss career. In 2017, the running back business major from Bolton, Miss., redshirted as a freshman and got his first serious injury.
Calmly recalling the incident, Maberry said he reached for a jump ball during practice for the Independence Bowl game against Florida State and felt a buckle in his knee.
Walking off the field, he said, “It didn’t feel like anything serious, but I just knew something wasn’t right.”
Once he was checked out by a trainer, Maberry was devastated to learn that he had torn his ACL.
However, Maberry continued to radiate positivity, crediting his friends and family for keeping his spirits high before and after surgery.
“[The injury] was kind of heartbreaking, but I just had to fight through.”
Wide receiver Adams could not fight through the torn ligament in his ankle. Late into the third quarter of the fourth game of the 2018-2019 season, against Auburn, someone landed on his ankle after Adams jumped for the ball during a screenplay.
The injury cost the criminal justice major the rest of the season.
“I felt like I had let my team down,” Adams said. “I had no control over what happened, but it was a part of me that wanted to be on the field with my brothers.”
Once Maberry had surgery, he battled with a Cybex machine to regain strength in his thigh with the help of Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Medicine Todd McCall. Once Clopton had surgery, his mode of transportation was a scooter. Meanwhile, Adams worked on ankle mobility exercises.
Although Maberry’s injury occurred in 2017, he says he did not feel fully healthy until this summer.
“People say it takes a year to come back fully healthy from it, but to get your explosiveness and all that back, I feel like it takes a little bit longer,” Maberry said.
Unable to participate in spring training, Clopton said he “lived” in the film room for the entirety of the semester, feeling like it was the “longest few months” of his life. When he was finally able to put on pads during fall camp, he called his dad “hungry” to play.
In his time off the field, Adams eagerly became the “energy guy on the sidelines.”
Adams says he has maintained that energy during fall camp when he was finally cleared.
“The injury helps me in a way because now I look at every day in a different way,” Adams said sincerely. “It’s motivation. On days where I may not feel the best, where I don’t want to go out and do this stuff, I remind myself that just last year, I wasn’t able to do it at all when I wanted to. Missing that one year basically took everything from me,” Adams said.
By being more vocal at practice and cheering on his teammates, Adams hopes that his energy becomes infectious.
All three players expect for 30,000 fans to attend each home game, but for various reasons. While Maberry believes the sale of beer and light wine will help, Clopton and Adams believe that the fans will appreciate the sheer talent of new and old players.
As for fans infamously leaving at halftime, none of the three players are thrilled by the idea.
“It’s something to think about,” Clopton admits.
Clopton remains optimistic and thankful for the fans who attend the games for any period of time, but he holds a special place in his heart for the fans who stay for the game’s entirety.
“Those are the people that make it easier to get up at six o’clock every morning and do what we do.”