POSTED: Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - 4:00pm
UPDATED: Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - 4:04pm
BATON ROUGE, LA — After salvaging the 2012 season by posting a 4-5 record which included wins over Jackson State, Florida A&M and Grambling, Dawson Odums proved he deserved the chance to resurrect Southern’s football program.
The university removed the interim tag in mid-December and handed the wheels to the program to Odums. Odums immediately added experienced coaches to his staff to help tranform the mindset and culture of the Southern program. With the addition of OL Coach Chennis Berry, WR Coach Chris Coleman and LB Coach Lorick Atkinson, Odum is set to usher in a new dawn in the storied history of Jaguar football.
On the heels of a career season in 2012, Dray Joseph is creating expectations for an encore performance in 2013 that could possibly lead Southern to the SWAC Championship in Houston. Joseph (5-11, 215) excelled as the unquestioned leader of the Jaguar offense as a junior, passing for 2,511 yards and 25 TDs. The West St. John product completed 58.5 percent of his pass attempts on his way to earning a spot on the All-SWAC second team. Joseph punctuated his stellar season by leading the conference in passing average (228 ypg) and total offense (2,640 yards).
With the emergence of redshirt freshman and Baton Rouge native Lenard Tillery (5-10, 181), Southern will look to strengthen its ground attack and produce its first 1,000-yard rusher since the 2003 SWAC championship season. Tillery, a McKinley High product, sat out in 2012 but showed flashes of his explosive play-making ability during fall and spring practice.
Senior Darrius Clayton, who filled in admirable for injured starter Sylvester Nzekwe, returns to aid Tillery in shouldering the load in the backfield after rushing for 183 yards in 2012. Senior Brian McCain and redshirt junior Lee Mitchell provide veteran leadership and stability at the fullback position.
The lone question mark for a Southern offense that returns seven starters is at wide receiver. New Orleans native Lee Doss (6-2, 175) returns as the Jaguars leading receiver after a career season in 2012 but the void left after the departures of Charles Hawkins and Mike Berry will quickly need to be filled. Doss’ 65 receptions and 703 yards placed him among the SWAC’s elite receiver and earned him All-SWAC honors.
With a bevy of inexperienced candidates abound, a viable receiving target must emerge from a unit which includes junior college transfer Sam Altman and redshirts freshman Justin Morgan. Both players could provide the dynamic, shifty scoring threat while freshman Chuck Baker (6-2, 190), a Rivals 3-star athlete who was a LSU commitment, could enhance the Jaguars vertical passing attack.
In the trenches, Berry’s addition has infused new life to an offensive line that is charged with protecting Joseph and churning yards on the ground. D’Wayne Houston, who doubled as the SWAC’s Top Male Field Performer in indoor and outdoor track this spring, and Anthony Mosley, a converted defensive lineman, continues to get stronger and have emerged as the unit’s hardest workers. LSU transfer and Capitol High star Corey White is going to provide depth to the offensive line while center Aaron Hall works his way back from a season-ending knee injury in 2012.
Under Odums, Southern’s 3-4 scheme saw vast improvements from the previous season but still faltered late in close games resulting in four losses by a combined 11 points. In 2013, Southern return eight starters, many whom gained valuable playing experience in those close loses.
With seven players returning, the defensive line possess the potential for a dominant season led by two experienced pass rushers in senior Kadeem Lewis and junior Arthur Miley. Dion Palmer is posed to have a breakout year after rehabbing a knee injury the forced him to sit out. Sophomores Gabe Echols and Justin Woods replace Casey Narcisse on the interior and will look to improve upon the teams 21 sacks from a year ago.
Spearheading the linebacker corp is Anthony Balancier, the teams leading tackler in 2012. Balancier, who flourished in his return to his natural position after an unsuccessful stint at safety in 2011, led the Jaguars in sacks (4.5) and tackles-for-loss (11.5). Juniors Daniel Brown, Detrane Lindey and Franchot West solidify the group as the strength of the defense and the most experienced unit. Freshman Jarkeith Ruffin raw athleticism and intense physicality has him touted as “not you average freshman” by Odums.
Though the most inexperienced unit, gone are the days of the 5’9-sized defensive backs. Three-year starter and return specialist Virgil Williams remains the groups most versatile and fundamental sound player. Williams, a Shreveport native, finished tied for second in tackles with 62. Dionte McDuffy, a South Alabama transfer and William’s Evangel Christian teammate, joins returning staring corner Johnathan Mack in the secondary. Omar Cook, a walk-on from California, has worked his way into filling Levi Jackson’s vacant safety spot.
Odums makes his Southern head coaching debut since having the interim tag removed against the University of Houston Aug. 30 in Reliant Stadium to open the 2013 football slate. The game will air live on ESPN3 at 7:30 p.m.
The Jaguars contest against the Cougars will be the second consecutive season opener against a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) member for Southern and the second meeting between the two schools. Houston defeated the Jaguars 55-3 in the first-ever meeting in 2008.
Southern will also renew a familiar rivalry with in-state rival Northwestern State Sept. 7 in Natchitoches. The Southern-Northwestern State series began in 1993 and served as the coaching debut and first Southern win for Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame coach Pete Richardson in the Louisiana Superdome. The series is tied at 5-5.
On Sept. 14, Southern welcomes Prairie View A&M for its 2013 home and Southwestern Athletic Conference opener in A.W. Mumford Stadium before traveling to Itta Bena, Miss. to face Mississippi Valley State Sept. 21.
The Jaguars will enjoy a two-game homestand when they host Jackson State Sept. 28 and Alabama A&M Oct. 12. Defending SWAC champion Arkansas Pine-Bluff will host Southern in Pine Bluff, Ark. Oct. 19.
Alcorn State will serve as the Jaguars' homecoming opponent on Oct. 26 before Southern concludes the 2013 campaign with four November games. The Jaguars will embark upon back-to-back road trips at Texas Southern in Houston and Alabama State in Montgomery, Ala. on Nov. 2 and Nov. 9 respectively.
Clark Atlanta, where Odums served as interim head coach in 2004, will travel to Baton Rouge on Nov. 17 for the first-ever meeting between the two schools.
Southern concludes the 2013 campaign looking to extend it Bayou Classic win streak to two over archrival Grambling State in the 40th annual Bayou Classic on Nov. 30.