University of Southern Mississippi Jay Hopson tends to wince when someone starts quoting statistics at him.
For example, Hopson may not be able to tell you how many passes for how many yards Allenzae Staggers hauled in during his debut season with the Golden Eagles after transferring from Northeast Mississippi Community College.
But Hopson said USM’s leading receiver in 2016 is looking even shaper this summer during preseason camp.
“Staggs has been a lot crisper on his routes,” Hopson said. “I think he’s really worked on polishing some things. I’ve been really pleased with him.”
For the record, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Staggers turned in one of the most productive seasons ever by a Golden Eagle receiver with 1,165 yards and seven touchdowns on 63 receptions. He also returned 20 punts for another 202 yards and another score.
Staggers became the only Golden Eagle in school history with two, 200-yard receiving games in the same season, setting another school record with a 292-yard performance against Rice University that included touchdown catches of 93 yards, 81 yards and 75 yards among six receptions.
Staggers wrapped up his first season in black and gold by setting a pair of R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl records with 11 catches for 230 yards. He also scored a touchdown in USM’s 28-21 victory over the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.
Staggers delivered the big play, accumulating 44.8 percent of his receiving yards in those two, 200-yard games. He turned in 10 plays of 30-plus yards, the most of any player on the team, including four of the longest plays of the season.
But while keeping the big play potential in place, Staggers said he has worked hard on being a more consistent player and setting an example to follow.
“Just being consistent, being more of a leader, pushing my teammates on and off the field,” Staggers said. “I want to just go out there and compete. Work hard every day.”
Staggers said he focused this spring and summer on the nuances of his position and has put in the time with first-year inside receivers coach Scotty Walden.
“Coach Walden, he’s a great players’ coach, and he’s helped me with the small movements, the small details, being detail-oriented,” Staggers said. “He just pushes me, even with the little things, like on my stance.
“Last year, I wasn’t anywhere near to where I am now, and it’s because of Coach Walden. He’s just a good coach.”
Hopson said the work has not gone unnoticed.
“He’s a guy we don’t talk about a lot because, it’s like, ‘Well, it’s just ol’ Staggs,’ but I’ve really think his route running has really improved,” Hopson said. “As a coach you look for the little things, and I think that one thing that Allezae has paid attention to this summer has been working hard on the fine points of receiver play. I think he’s done real (well).”
Staggers did pretty darn well in 2016, becoming just the fifth Golden Eagle to reach 1,000 yards receiving in a season. His 1,165 yards were the third-highest on USM’s single-season receiving list, trailing only Mike Thomas (1,391 yards, 2015) and Sherrod Gideon (1,186, 1998), and ahead of DeAndre Brown (1,117, 2008) and Cliff Coggin (1,087, 1949).
Gideon is the only Golden Eagle to post two, 1,000-yard receiving seasons, turning the trick in both the 1997 and 1998 seasons.
Also, Staggers’ 63 catches were the fifth-highest, single-season total, trailing only Casey Martin (80 receptions, 2015), Thomas (71, 2015), Brown (67, 2008) and Gideon (66, 1998). Staggers’ performance bumped LeRoy Handy (59 receptions, 2001) from the short list.
Can Staggers approach those numbers this fall?
Two, relatively inexperienced quarterbacks, redshirt junior Kwadra Griggs and sophomore Keon Howard have been competing for the starting job after the graduation of Nick Mullens, a four-year starter who rewrote the USM record books.
Howard got a taste of college football, starting two late-season games in the place of the injured Mullens, while Griggs has yet to a throw a pass for USM in a real game.
Both quarterbacks will be playing behind a rebuilt offensive line with only sophomore right tackle Ty Pollard returning at the position he played in 2016.
Receiver also may be as deep a position as there is on the Golden Eagles with returning veterans like Staggers, senior Isaiah Jones and redshirt juniors Korey Robertson and Chase Whitehead being augmented by the return of redshirt sophomore Jordan Mitchell and the addition of sophomore junior college transfer Trevor Terry and freshmen Jaylond Adams, Tim Jones and Bubba Fludd.
Finally, after last season, Staggers likely will see a bit of additional attention from opposing defenses.
But Staggers said his biggest concern is the scoreboard, not his stat card.
“The way our offense is, it’s set up for everybody to do (well), so if that happens, it’ll just open up (things) for the next guy,” Staggers said. “I’ll take the decoy role. It doesn’t matter to me. As long as we win and progress, that’s all that matters.”