USM football shores up competition, evens out classes with signing class

USM football shores up competition, evens out classes with signing class
Photo credit: WDAM
Photo credit: WDAM

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Competition makes the world go around, and a good chunk of Wednesday's signing class should make for an interesting spring on the football practice fields at the University of Southern Mississippi.

USM coach Jay Hopson and his staff released the names of the Class of 2018 players signed to letters-of-intent during the newly-created December signing period, as well as the resigning of former Morton High School linebacker Freddie Hartz, originally a member of the Class of 2017.

The 15-man class was split between seven mid-semester transfers from Mississippi junior colleges who will enroll in January and eight high school players, including four who are expected to enroll for the spring semester.

"Looking forward to watching these young men get in here," Hopson said Wednesday evening. "A lot of them will report in January, so we're anxious to get them in and get them going."

In general, mid-semester transfers are signed in the belief that they will compete right away for playing time.

With USM graduating eight defensive backs from this year's team, that likely will be even moreso the case for cornerback Travion "Ty" Williams, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound transfer from East Mississippi Community College.

Hopson said he'd had his eye on Williams since he was an 11th grader at Charleston High School.

"Coming out as a senior in high school, I thought he was the best corner in Mississippi," Hopson said. "Was able to watch him cover some five-start receivers, and he was just dynamic.

"I think he's a guy that who's going to come in and be competing for starting job right from the git-go, and he knows that."

USM also signed three defensive backs from the high school ranks, including Brookhaven High School's Jemaurian Jones, Atlanta (Ga.) Carver High School's Nicario Harper and New Orleans Landry-Walker's Curry Benn.

Hopson was asked about Jones, who played in last weekend's Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Football Game, also had the physical tools to come in and compete right away.

"Physically, he's another guy who's ready to walk in and compete," Hopson said. "All these guys, we wouldn't have signed them if we didn't think they were great football players."

Benn, along with Hartz, Scottsboro (Ala.) defensive end Ethan Edmondson and Brookhaven center Trace Clopton are expected to enroll in January and go through spring practice.

They will join Williams and the six other JuCo transfers: linebacker Ty'Ree Evans from East Mississippi CC; slot receiver DeMichael Harris from Hinds Community College; quarterback Jack Abraham and offensive lineman Tairek Johnson from Northwest Community College; and defensive lineman Von'Darius Freeman and receiver Neil McLaurin from Southwest Community College.

The JuCo influx will help even out the disparity in numbers between USM's sophomore, junior and senior classes down the road.

"It's all about roster management, large portion of it," Hopson said. "Mainly, it was we really liked the guys we were getting, but you also have to even out the classes, and we felt like something we did was balancing that out."

Hopson said he felt like Wednesday's class hit a lot of needs. All told, USM signed four defensive backs, three linebackers, three offensive linemen, two receivers, a quarterback, defensive end and a defensive lineman.

And Hopson and his staff stayed close to home to fill their needs. Six of the seven junior college transfers prepped at Mississippi high schools. Half of the eight freshmen were also from the Mississippi ranks

"We have some playmakers in this bunch, and we knew we were going to try and sign a quarterback or two, and we did that," Hopson said. "The thing was, and I said this earlier, we were not going to sign anybody in December we didn't really want.

"Everybody we signed in December we really wanted. We knew these guys were ready to go, academically and things of that nature."

Like Abraham, Mississippi's 2015 Gatorade Player of the Year out of Oxford High School.

Abraham signed with Louisiana Tech University and redshirted his freshman season before transferring to Northwest Mississippi CC.

He threw for 2,949 yards and 23 touchdowns with eight interceptions this fall, leading Northwest to the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges' championship game, where it lost 67-66 to East Mississippi.

"You watch him throw, and what a great arm," Hopson said. "He throws the ball tremendously with great accuracy. You watch him and he reminds you of (former four-year starter) Nick (Mullens).

"But he knows he has to come in here and compete."

And like McLaurin, a former quarterback at West Jones High School, who was another player Hopson said could find a role right away as a receiver, return man or even out of the backfield.

"He's a playmaker," Hopson said. "Neil's one of those guys where the film speaks for itself. He can go the distance.

"He's one of those guys who can be of an immediate impact. He's a local guy, and I love those south Mississippi guys. He can do a lot of things. We signed him as a receiver, but he can make plays out of the backfield, too."

Wednesday was the just the first step in what hast become a two-step recruiting dance. In addition to the new, early-signing period in December, the traditional first Wednesday in February was retained as well.

"We hit just about everything, but we saved a few for January, and, in January, for some of those spots we'll look at offensive line, we'll look at running back, maybe another defensive back," Hopson said. "So, we've still got some to play with and some we're still battling on."

Southern Miss Football Early Period Signees

Player                                             Pos         Hgt.       Wgt.      Hometown/Last School

Jack Abraham                                  QB          6-1          210         Oxford, Miss./Northwest Mississippi CC

Curry Benn                                       DB          6-0          170         New Orleans, La./Landry-Walker HS

Trace Clopton                                   OL           6-2          292         Brookhaven, Miss./Brookhaven HS

Ethan Edmondson                            DE           6-3          255         Scottsboro, Ala./Scottsboro, HS

Ty'Ree Evans                                    LB           6-2          210         Waynesboro, Miss./East Mississippi CC

Von'Darius Freeman                          DL           6-2          331         Ville Platte, La./Southwest Mississippi CC

Freddie Hartz                                     LB           6-1          237         Morton, Miss./Morton HS

DeMichael Harris                               WR         5-10       175         Vicksburg, Miss./Hinds CC

Nicario Harper                                    DB          6-1          180         Atlanta, Ga./Carver HS

Tairek Johnson                                   OL           6-4          295         Corinth, Miss./Northwest Mississippi CC

Jemaurian "J.J." Jones                       DB          6-1          190         Brookhaven, Miss./Brookhaven HS

Kameron King                                     OL           6-2          275         Marshall, Texas/Marshall HS
Hayes Maples                                     LB           6-2          235         Hattiesburg, Miss./Oak Grove HS

Neil McLaurin                                      WR         6-2          195         Laurel, Miss./Southwest Mississippi CC
Travion "Ty" Williams                           DB          5-11       175         Charleston, Miss./East Mississippi CC