Coming out of West Jones High School in 2012-13, Xavier Thigpen was a Class 5A All-State selection in basketball and track field.
But Thigpen loved football, and when the shuffling of the University of Southern Mississippi’s recruiting board finally settled, the former Mustang held a scholarship from the Golden Eagles.
“I was actually the last offer, the last one to get offered in that (signing class),” Thigpen said. “So I just said, ‘As long as I get a chance.’ Anybody can take advantage of a chance, and I’ve tried not to let it pass me by.
“I’ve tried to come out and work hard every day.”
So far, so good.
The 6-foot-5, 240-pound redshirt junior spent Saturday morning with his teammates at the Joe Park Practice Facility running with the first-string defense, holding down the starting “bandit” end slot he claimed this past spring.
“He’s just a classic Southern Miss football player,” Southern Miss coach Jay Hopson said. “He’s tough. He’s fights. He’s just old-school, black-and-gold, man.”
The Golden Eagles went through the second workout of the preseason, another 2-hour, 45-minute, session of conditioning and position and team drills with two, extracurricular practice spats thrown in for good measure.
“That’s kinda what it’s all about, the emotion, the fight,” Hopson said. “It’s nothing you haven’t seen a thousand times before. You’ve just got to harness it.”
Thigpen has harnessed his opportunity to his ambition.
In high school, he averaged 25 points and 12 rebounds a game in basketball, while setting a West Jones record in discus with a throw of 167 feet.
But Thigpen was a force in football as well, finishing with 81 tackles, seven sacks and five fumble recoveries over his final two seasons, earning a spot in the Bernard Blackwell North-South All-Star Game.
After redshirting as a true freshman in 2013, he appeared in one game the following fall, making his collegiate debut at Texas-San Antonio.
Thigpen made his mark last season, appearing in all 14 games and finishing with 23 tackles (16 solos). His 4 ½ sacks were second on the team, trailing only Dylan Bradley’s 6 ½ sacks.
Thigpen was credited with two pass break-ups and two quarterback hurries, while also recovering a fumble. Too boot, he used his athletic skills to not only recover an on-side kick against Rice, but also catch a 6-yard touchdown pass against the Owls off a fake field goal.
Thigpen said while he was looking forward to the season ahead, his focus is on trying to improve every time he steps on the field.
“Every day, you’ve got to come out here and put in the work,” said Thigpen, who has added 25 pounds to his frame since arriving on campus.“You’ve got to get better and better every day. Coach tells us at least two percent every day, so by the end of camp, you’ll be that much better than when you first started.”
Hopson said he liked what he saw Saturday a bit better than Friday’s opening day of preseason camp.
“I thought our effort level was a little bit better (Saturday), which is always good,” he said. “The practice was a little bit harder, too, so a lot of times, those two things go together hand-in-hand.”
Southern Miss will take off Sunday before returning Monday morning for the first of two practices in “spiders” (light pads) and helmets. The Golden Eagles will don full pads for the first time this pre-season Wednesday morning.
The first preseason scrimmage is scheduled for Aug. 13, while the first of four, two-a-day practices is set for Aug. 15.
The Golden Eagles kick off the season on Sept. 3 at Kentucky.