HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - University of Southern Mississippi football coach Jay Hopson and his staff knew they were going to see an exodus of defensive backs and defensive linemen at the conclusion of the 2017 football season.
So, Hopson and his assistants hit the recruiting trail to try and replenish the ranks.
USM signed seven players to letters-of-intent Wednesday to join the 16-man contingent the Golden Eagles brought in during the new early signing period in late December.
Of the 23, at least 14 are expected to line up on defense, including six defensive backs, five defensive linemen and three linebackers.
"We met all our needs," Hopson said during a Wednesday afternoon news conference. "We did a good job, too, with our roster management with our classifications, where we narrowed down the numbers between our freshmen and senior classes so there's not a real big disparity right there, which is good."
USM's class included nine players signed from the junior college ranks, including seven in the early period. The early signees have enrolled and six are expected to take part when spring practice opens March 20.
The seventh, defensive tackle Von'Darius Freeman, is recovering from a knee injury and will miss the spring but is expected to be ready to practice when camp opens this summer in preparation for the 2018 season, Hopson said.
Referring to the "roster management,"Hopson said three of the junior college players, including Wednesday signee, Western Iowa Community College safety Ky'el Hemby, have three years of eligibility left, meaning they will be slotted in as sophomores.
"What we've done a really good of and what I'm really happy about is there's not a big difference (between the numbers in a particular class), the classes are starting to close in," Hopson said. "That's something that we've got to continue to do and do a good job of, but I thought as far as roster management is concerned, that was something that we've done a really good job of, getting those classes closer together."
After the December signings, Hopson said he and his staff evaluated what needs remained to fill out the class, and Wednesday's main targets were defensive end/linemen, running back and safety.
And that's exactly what the Golden Eagles signed, as well as perhaps the special teams' deep snapper of the future.
Wednesday's signees included three defensive ends/linemen in Meridian High School's Deuntra Hyman, Freeport (Fla.) Senior High School's Shannon "Junior" Carswell and Northeastern Oklahoma A&M's Nick Dawson, two safeties in Hemby and Jefferson Davis County High School's Malik Shorts and a running back in Shreveport (La.) Woodlawn High School's Trivenskey Mosley.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Hemby, a second-team junior college All-American during his one season at Western Iowa, was a big get, Hopson said.
"He's a big-time safety," Hopson said. "Ky'el was a guy who was a huge signee for us. He was number one on my board and if we were going to sign just one safety, particularly during this second period, he was the number one guy we wanted, so to get him was huge.
"He's a guy we're planning on counting on coming in right away and competing for a job."
And USM added a second safety prospect late Wednesday afternoon, when it was announced that Shorts had become a member of the Class of 2018.
Hopson also said he was high on the lone running back in the class, Mosley, who rushed for 2,473 yards and 32 touchdowns as a senior. He also had 19 catches for 222 yards and a score and returned four kickoffs for touchdowns.
"He's a player, I mean, you talk about a dynamic football player," Hopson said. "Trivenskey, he's going to be about 6-foot-2, 215 (pounds) when it's said and done. He's a 10.7 (-second) 100-meter guy. He can really run. He's an explosive, powerful guy. To me, he's got that home run ability, but he can run inside, can run outside, he can make things happen."
So, too, can Hyman, another jewel of Wednesday class.
Ranked as high as the seventh-rated prep prospect in Mississippi, the 6-4, 235-pound Hyman was a two-year football terror for Wildcats' opponents. As a senior, Hyman finished with 83 tackles, including 10 sacks. As a junior, he had 63 tackles, including 22 tackles for loss with 19 sacks.
Carswell stood by his early commitment to the Golden Eagles despite overtures from schools in his home state, including the University of Florida, and is expected to play inside, while Dawson grew from an outside linebacker coming out of Eagles Landing Christian Academy in McDonough, Ga., to a hold-his-ground edge defender at 270 pounds.
"Nick's kind of like Adalius Thomas, just a guy who's really, really filled out," Hopson said. "I was telling someone he kind of looks like (former Pittsburgh Steelers great) James Harrison.
"Nick knows that he's going to walk in and be a guy who's competing for a job. We're fired up about Nick. We think he's a playmaker."
USM also added deep snapper T.J. Harvey from Columbus (Ga.) Shaw High School.
Hopson hedged when asked whether USM intended to sign add more players to the signing class.
"I always like to keep that (information) tight," Hopson said. "We might have one or two. We're just going to see, play it out and see how it goes."
Hopson did offer up a few key spring dates, with USM's Pro Day set for March 29 and the annual Spring Game set for April 25.
2018 SOUTHERN MISS FOOTBALL
DECEMBER SIGNING CLASS (16)
Name, Position, Height, Weight, School(s) (Hometown)
Jack Abraham, QB, 6-1, 210, Northwest Miss. CC/Louisiana Tech/Oxford
Curry Benn, CB, 6-0, 170, Landry-Walker HS (New Orleans)
Trace Clopton, C, 6-2, 292, Brookhaven HS (Brookhaven)
Ethan Edmondson, DE, 6-3, 246, Scottsboro (Ala.) HS/Scottsboro, Ala.
Ty'Ree Evans, OLB, 6-2, 210, East Miss. Community College/Wayne County HS (Waynesboro)
Von'Darius Freeman, DT, 6-3, 320, Southwest Miss. Community College/Ville Platte HS (Ville Platte, La.)
Nicario Harper, DB, 6-1, 180, Atlanta Carver HS (Atlanta)
DeMichael Harris, WR, 5-10, 175, Hinds Community College/St. Aloysius HS (Vicksburg)
Freddie Hartz, LB, 6-1, 237, Morton HS (Morton)
Tairek Johnson, OT, 6-4, 300, Northeast Miss. Community College/Corinth HS (Corinth)
Jemaurian Jones, CB, 6-1, 170, Brookhaven HS (Brookhaven)
Kameron King, OG, 6-2, 275, Marshall (Texas) HS (Marshall, Texas)
Hayes Maples, ILB, 6-2, 220, Oak Grove HS (Hattiesburg)
Neil McLaurin, WR, 6-2, 195, Southwest Miss. Community College/West Jones HS (Laurel)
Tate Whatley, QB, 6-1, 190, Lakeland (Fla.) Christian School (Lakeland, Fla.)
Travion Williams, CB, 5-11, 170 East Miss. Community College/Charleston HS (Charleston)
Name, Position, Height, Weight, School(s) (Hometown)
Shannon "Junior" Carswell, DL, 6-5, 290, Freeport (Fla.) Senior HS (Ponce De Leon, Fla.)
Nick Dawson, DL, 6-4, 270, N.E. Okla. A&M/Hutchinson (Kan.) CC/McDonough (Ga.) Eagles Landing Christian Academy (Rex, Ga.)
T.J. Harvey, DS, 6-0, 210, Columbus (Ga.) Shaw HS (Columbus, Ga.)
Ky'el Hemby, DB, 6-1, 205, Iowa Western Community College/Bel Air (Md.) John Carroll HS (Abingdon. Md.)
Deuntra Hyman, DE, 6-4, 235, Meridian HS (Meridian)
Trivenskey Mosley, RB, 5-11, 195, Shreveport (La.) Woodlawn HS (Shreveport, La.)
Malik Shorts, DB, 6-0, 180, Jefferson Davis County HS (Bassfield)