USM football to deal with rule changes

USM football to deal with rule changes

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - University of Southern Mississippi coach Jay Hopson definitely considers himself old school when it comes to football.

So Hopson isn't quite sure what to make of recent rules changes passed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association that will impact recruiting and preseason practice this year.

"I thought we had a product that wasn't broke," said Hopson, who will be heading into his second season at the helm of the Golden Eagles this fall. "That's an old-school train-of-thought, if something ain't broke, don't fix it."

The recent legislation opened up official recruiting visits by high school players from April 1 to near the end of June, where before a player could not visit officially before the beginning of his senior school year.

The legislation also created an early signing period near Christmas for high school players to go along with the traditional early February signing date. 
Hopson said he's not sure about the need to tinker with a system that seemed to working well enough.

"I don't think there was a coach in America who had a problem with the (recruiting) schedule as it was," he said. "Everybody kind of understood how it went, and everybody was kind of content with it. 
"So, am I for it? I've been pretty vocal that there's really nothing I've seen about it that is just super fantastic. There's nothing about the early signing date that I've seen that is great."

This year, signing dates fall on Dec. 20 and Feb. 4, but Hopson said in all likelihood, two really will be one.

"With football, there's not going to be an early and a late signing period, not really," Hopson said. "Now, the signing date is December.

"Yes, there might be some here and there (in February), but when you move it up, you move it up. So, I don't know."

Hopson said he's not the only one trying to figure the possibilities.

"This year, in football, everybody's kind of dancing into the unknown," he said. "This is a year in football where a lot of coaches, to be honest with you, are a little bit confused. That's kind of my feeling from C-USA meetings, where everybody's kind of trying to feel their way.

"It's kind of like a trial run. Everybody's trying to see where the kinks are."

Hopson said the new recruiting calendar ought to help foul-weather schools.

"With the early signing period and allowing April, May and June for official visits, it kind of helps the northern schools, because now, you can bring in a kid from the South, and now they're going up north when the weather is 75 to 80 degrees, and not December or January when it's 10 below zero," he said.

"I think that was a big push, 'Let's get kids here in the summertime,' versus in January, when it's freezing and there's a foot of snow."

Hopson said the new recruiting calendar also will push more of the official visits into the regular season, where many of the heavier weekends came during bowl preparations or after a team's schedule had concluded.

"That's another thing, where now you have that while you're getting ready for games," Hopson said. "You have to do both at the same time, and it's just what people'll have to do now. You've got visits now that are occurring almost a year before signing date, and usually, it was like a week before signing date.

"It's always good when you can give them that 48 hours of full attention (on a weekend visit), where when you've got to get ready for a game, there's no way that you can give that recruit 48 hours of full attention."

Another rule change banished preseason two-a-days, though teams will have the same number of practices (29) to get ready for the season ahead.

With an earlier-than-usual first day of classes on Aug. 16 already pushing Southern Miss' reporting date up from the traditional first week of August, the rule change will move the reporting date for players to July 24.

"I'm old school," Hopson said. "We understand all the things, but I don't what's better for player safety. In one scenario, you're starting in a whole other month and two extra weeks, and in another scenario, you're going twice a day for a week-and-a-half or two weeks. So, I'd be a liar if I said I knew which was better.

"I'm fine without two-a-days, but I don't think many coaches are all for coming in July (24) and putting these kids out there and say, 'Hey, let's go, put the pads on,' and it's July." 
But Hopson said being able to get in enough preseason work was key, even it meant pushing up the preseason practice schedule.

"I think most coaches feel like I do," Hopson said. "It has been kind of proven that you do need that mid-to-late 20s practice number just to get ready, so that you've got a good product. You need days for practice to work out the kinks, so I think they're doing the right thing backing it up a week and letting everybody stay at 29 practices.

"So, this is kind a test year where everybody's just going to try and figure out, 'Ok, how does this work?' From a coaching standpoint, I don't think you just sit there and say, 'Oh, we've got to have two-a-days,' but at the same time, do we really want to put the pads on them on July 4 or whenever, when normally it's like Aug. 5 or so."

Hopson said the rule changes shouldn't alter the beliefs and philosophies at the root of the Southern Miss program.

"We're a high school-based recruiting (program)," Hopson said. "I think there's something to recruiting kids from high school, and getting guys in and talking to guys about the Southern Miss way, the Southern Miss style of play, the Southern Miss way of doing things, and I think that's something that you have to go through.

"If you look at a lot of the great players here, a lot of them were here for four years. You go through them, some of the legends, the Reggie Colliers, the Brett Favres, the Sammy Winders, to the Louis Lipps, the Hanford Dixons, the Ray Guys. I bet if you look at the Hall of Famers, the really great players, a high percentage of them are going to be four-year players.

"At the end of the day, I really think there's something to that, and that here, Southern Miss is a way of life. This isn't something new. It's just a tradition, a way of doing things. I was kind of raised in this system, to a degree, and it's something that I believe in, and we're just trying to play Southern Miss football."

But Hopson said how the Southern Miss Way might be impacted at all by the new rules remains to be seen.

"We are in uncharted territory right now in football," he said. "This is a year that I think every coach in America is trying to figure out what his philosophy will be. I think a lot of coaches have a lot of questions, so this will be a trial run, and everybody will see how it goes." 

Southern Miss 2018 verbal commitments (6)* 
Jason Bedell, DT, 6-2-290, Greenwood HS (Greenwood, Miss.) 
DeMichael Harris, WR, 5-10, 175, Hinds Community College/St. Aloysius HS (Vicksburg) 
Hayes Maples, ILB, 6-2, 220, Oak Grove High School (Hattiesburg) 
William Robinson, OLB, 6-3, 210, Hattiesburg HS (Hattiesburg) 
Tate Whatley, QB, 6-1, 190, Lakeland (Fla.) Christian School (Lakeland, Fla.) 
Travion Williams, CB, 5-11, 170 East Mississippi Community College/Charleston HS (Charleston) 
* Per