USM to wrap up spring football with annual Black and Gold Game

USM to wrap up spring football with annual Black and Gold Game
The Golden Eagles will conclude spring drills at noon Saturday with the annual Black and Gold Game at M.M. Roberts Stadium.

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - In many cases, spring football is the time of year for asking questions, but usually, the definitive answers don't arrive until preseason practice. Take the University of Southern Mississippi for example.

The Golden Eagles will conclude spring drills at noon Saturday with the annual Black and Gold Game at M.M. Roberts Stadium. While head coach Jay Hopson said he likes what he's seen during the past five weeks or so, many positions will remain contested when USM returns to the practice field some three months from now.

"We accomplished a lot this spring," Hopson said. "We've still got some good competition, kind of like last year, where it went into August. There are a lot of battles that still haven't been decided, and that's a credit to the guys fighting for those positions. They've kind of kept each other in check. There are some guys who have had some good springs."

Like 2017, when Kwadra Griggs and Keon Howard battled through the spring and the preseason for the starting position, quarterback remains undecided.

Griggs, a redshirt senior who started seven games last season, missed the spring with a leg injury, allowing Howard, redshirt freshman Marcelo Rodriguez and early junior college transfer Jack Abraham to split the majority of the spring repetitions.

Howard, a junior, started six games in 2017, and Abraham arrived with a JUCO resume boasting nearly 3,000 yards passing with 23 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 2017 at Northwest Mississippi Community College.

Rodriguez, who opened eyes last summer with a strong arm and polished field presence when he arrived as a true freshman, came on during the final few weeks of spring drills to reinsert himself into the quarterback conversation.

"Jack had a real good spring, and Keon had a real good spring," Hopson said. "They pushed each other, and they both came out of spring better, and that's fun. Marcelo came on last week and had a good week. But, Kwadra will be back in the mix when he gets back, so it'll be like last year when after every practice you guys will be asking about the quarterback and whose starting."

While the most visible, quarterback isn't the only undecided spot.

"We've still got battles at linebacker, still got battles at running back, starting, pecking order, the whole deal," Hopson said.

Hopson said one position of separation was center, where true freshman/early enrollee Trace Clopton moved ahead of redshirt freshman Hayden Sturdivant to fill the vacancy left by departed senior starter Devin Farrior.

"I think Trace has kind of asserted himself into the (number) one center right now," Hopson said. "That's one battle that you might say kind of got defined. I can't say it's over with, but he's kind of asserted himself as a one right there."

The five-man defensive backfield, where departed seniors made 62 of 65 possible starts in USM's 13-game season, was boosted by the return of redshirt senior Picasso Nelson, who sat out 2017 with an injury after starting 31 games during 2014-16.

Competition at the other defensive backfield spots remains heated, but Hopson said redshirt sophomore Rachuan Mitchell, who started three games in 2017, and Ty Williams, an early junior college transfer, have logged solid springs at cornerback.

"We've still got some battles," Hopson said. "(Mitchell and Williams) had good springs, but there's still some competition there."

Saturday's spring game will feature split squads, with a pair of former USM head football coaches, Jim Carmody and Curley Hallman, serving as honorary head coaches.

Carmody will coach the Black team. Hallman, the Gold team.

"We split this thing up pretty evenly, and we're just let the kids go play," Hopson said. "What we do is we have fun. We split the coaches up, split the trainers up, split the managers up. We split everybody. The whole building is split, but we go out and have a fun time. To have Coach Carmody and Coach Hallman here, that's going to be fun. Just love having those guys back. I'm fired up about that."