USM’s young offensive line gifted with experience

USM’s young offensive line gifted with experience
Bryant Bowen was the hero on this night with his walk-off single, giving the Golden Eagles a 9-8 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette. (Photo source: USM)

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Initially last spring, Woodlyson Alcius wasn't quite sure what he had gotten himself into.

The youngster from Miami, Fla., enrolled at the University of Southern Mississippi for the 2017 spring semester after graduating early North Miami Beach High School, and within a few weeks, found his head spinning for a few days on the football practice fields.

"I was lost at first," Alciius said with a smile. "I was like, 'Was I ready to come in early?'

"But after the first couple days, I started to get used to it."

Alcius was one of a half dozen true or redshirt freshmen who immediately were immersed in the intricacies of offensive line play, a position where the individual also has to become part of a unit.

Usually, that happens over time, but with USM facing a lack of depth across the front, youth was given its day and its opportunity.

Last year, I felt like we were young," said USM coach Jay Hopson, whose second signing class included six offensive linemen, including four true freshmen. "Six out of our 10 were (newcomers), and now, all of them have played football.

"We're a lot more experienced up front, so, definitely, we've got a lot more depth and experience up front, which always helps, and that experience is going to be here next year and for the next few years."

Last fall, two redshirt sophomores and a redshirt freshman were among the starting five linemen in 10 of USM's 13 games.

Ty Pollard (6 feet, 7 inches; 314 pounds), who started all 13 of USM's games as a redshirt freshman in 2016, started 12 of 13 games at right tackle or right guard. Fellow sophomore Drake Dorbek (6-6, 293) started 10 games at left tackle, missing three early-season game recovering from an arm injury suffered in the season opener.

Redshirt freshman Arvin Fletcher (6-2, 302) started all 13 games at left guard.

All three are back up front this spring, joined by Alcius (6-4, 313) at right tackle, who has replaced departed senior Jerry Harris as the unit's Swiss army knife, capable of playing at number of spots.

"I'll play wherever they put me."

Alcius, who appeared in eight game in 2017, said being able to get his feet wet last season has proved invaluable.

"It was all about getting that game feeling, getting that first nervousness out of your system," Alcius said. "Now, I know the offense a little bit better and now, it's about executing it as best that I can."

Two more youngsters, redshirt freshman Hayden Sturdivant (6-4, 287) and true freshman Trace Clopton (6-2, 290) are competing to replace departed senior Devin Farrior at center.

"We've got four guys who can play there, but both those young guys, Trace and Hayden, both of them are really good-looking center bodies there," Hopson said. "Both of them have been doing a great job."

Sophomore Paul Gainer (6-3, 280), who appeared in three games last season, spent the first few practices this spring starting at left tackle in Dorbeck's stead. Sophomore Bryce Foxworth (6-3, 316) and senior Jimmie Terry (6-3, 372), an early junior college transfer in 2017), also saw playing time last season.

A 2018 early junior college transfer, Tairek Johnson (6-5, 306) of Southwest Mississippi Community College, and redshirt sophomore Wyatt Richtofen (6-4, 296) also taken significant reps this spring.

Alcius said he expects good things from the group going forward.

"We've got whole bunch of talent," Alcius said. "We're young and we've just got to keep working every day this spring to execute."