HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) _ The road graders arrived early Wednesday morning at Duff Athletic Center.
And Golden Eagles head football coach Jay Hopson couldn’t have been happier.
By sunrise, the University of Southern Mississippi had signed 13 football players. Of those, nine were offensive linemen or tight ends, positions that were considered primary needs heading into December’s early signing perio .
“Christmas came early for Southern Miss, that’s for sure,” Hopson said Wednesday afternoon in discussing the 19-man class that the Golden Eagles eventually collected during the first day of the three-day period.
Hopson said both offensive line and tight end were areas of focus because of a dearth of depth in scholarship numbers at those positions.
USM signed three junior college linemen _ tackles Tre Johnson of Iowa Western Community College and Tanner Hawthorne of Glendale (Ariz.); and interior lineman Khalique Washington of Dodge City (Kan.) Community College _ who are among six JuCo players expected to transfer in January and participate in spring practice.
Johnson had started his career at the University of Miami before transferring, while Hawthorne started out at Purdue University.
“We flew from one coast to the other,” Hopson said of USM’s quest for help up front. “And we think it’s paid off.
“We targeted eight to 10 junior college linemen and the players we got were in those eight.”
USM also signed four high school prospects including tackles Matthew Ryals of Purvis High School and Gerquan Scott of Mobile (Ala.) Davidson High School and interior linemen Louis Smith of D’Iberville High School and Coker Wright of Brookhaven High School.
“To be able to get four guys like that in one (class), we feel very good about that,” Hopson said.
The Golden Eagles added a pair of tight ends, including Naricus Driver of Highland (Kan.) Community College and Luke Baker of Gulf Coast High School near Naples, Fla.
“I haven’t been able to sign a tight end in two years,” Hopson said. “Last year, we had to sign nine defensive backs because we wouldn’t have had a defensive backfield and we wouldn’t have had a special teams.
“So, it was like what position can we get away without signing, and that was tight end. Now, we’ve got one who’s older and one who’s younger, and both are going to be good players.”
The Golden Eagles not only went heavy up front but heavy on offense.
The Golden Eagles signed only three players specifically slotted for defense: defensive end Eriq Kitchen of East Mississippi Community College; outside linebacker Swayze Bozeman of Copiah-Lincoln Community College; and cornerback Khalen Leonard of Texas Prep Academy.
Collins High School Markel McLaurin could play defense, but also could wind up at receiver, while all the while returning kicks.
“He’s just a Golden Eagle, one of those guys,” Hopson said. “He’s one of those guys people look up in two years, and say, ‘Where the heck did he come from?’ He’s that under-the-radar guy.”
USM also signed another multi-purpose player in Velma Jackson High School’s Antavious Willis, who could handle quarterback, running back or receiver on offense.
Gulfport High School quarterback T.Q. Newsome is expected to shift to running back as a Golden Eagle, and was joined in the signing class by speedy running back Dee Baker of Northwest Rankin High School.
USM also landed quarterbacks Jaden Johnson of Memphis (Tenn.) Kirby High School, who had committed to the University of Louisville originally, as well as highly-regarded dual-threat quarterback Chandler Rogers from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
A potential pass catcher from Florida signed Wednesday morning as well in receiver Chris Scruggs Jr. Superior Collegiate Academy in Clearwater, Fla..
Southern Miss football
Class of 2019 signees (19)
- Dee Baker, RB, 6-0, 170, Fr., Northwest Rankin HS/Flowood
- Luke Baker, TE, 6-4, 198, Fr., Gulf Coast HS /Naples, Fla.
- Swayze Bozeman, OLB, 6-3, 210, Jr., Copiah-Lincoln CC/Tri-County Academy/Flora
- Naricus Driver, TE, 6-3, 246, Jr., Highland (Kan.) CC/Spalding HS/Griffin, Ga.
- Tanner Hawthorne, OT, 6-6, Jr., 300/Glendale (Ariz.) CC/Centennial HS/Peoria, Ariz.
- Jaden Johnson, QB, 6-2, 208, Kirby High School/Memphis, Tenn.
- Tre Johnson, OT, 6-7, 296, Jr., Iowa Western CC/First Academy/Orlando, Fla.
- Eriq Kitchen, DE, 6-2, 247, Jr., East Mississippi CC, South Panola HS/Batesville
- Khalen Leonard, CB, 6-3, 175, Fr., Texas Prep Academy/Alvin, Texas
- Markel McLaurin, ATH, 5-11, 175, Fr., Collins HS/Collins
- T.Q. Newsome, ATH, 6-1, 205, Gulfport HS/Gulfport
- Chandler Rogers, QB, 6-0, 179, Lake Ridge HS/Mansfield, Texas
- Matthew Ryals, OT, 6-7, 280, Fr., Purvis HS/Purvis
- Gerquan Scott, OL, 6-4, 300, Fr., Davidson HS/Mobile, Ala.
- Chris Scruggs Jr., WR, 6-2, 175, Superior Collegiate Academy/Clearwater, Fla.
- Louis Smith, C, 6-3, 294, Fr., D ‘Iberville HS/Biloxi
- Khalique Washington, OL, 6-5, 320, Jr., Dodge City (Kan.) CC/Lebanon County HS/Lebanon, Pa.
- Antavious Willis ATH, 5-10, 175, Fr., Velma Jackson HS/Camden
- Coker Wright, C, 6-4, 275, Fr., Brookhaven HS/Brookhaven