FORT WORTH, Texas (WDAM) _ Like the rest of his Golden Eagle teammates, University of Southern Mississippi sophomore center Trace Clopton will be facing Tulane University for the first time in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl.
But Clopton will have no problem recognizing Tulane sophomore noseguard Jeffrey Johnson when they line up across from one another at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
The pair grew up together in Brookhaven, Miss., with the 6-foot-2, 290-pound Clopton on offense squaring against the 6-3, 320-pound Johnson on defense in practice all the time.
“It’s nothing new for us,” Clopton said Thursday afternoon after the Golden Eagles wrapped up preparations for their meeting with the Green Wave at 10:30 a.m. Saturday on the campus of Texas Christian University.
“We’ve been playing against one another since the seventh grade.”
Both came out of Brookhaven High School in 2017, and both were immediate starters at their respective positions at their respective colleges.
Johnson started in 10 of Tulane’s 11 games as a freshman in 2018, finishing with 30 tackles (13 solo). This year, Johnson played in nine games, starting five, and finished with 26 tackles and recovering a fumble.
“He’s a good player, a great one,” Clopton said.
Clopton was one of only nine true freshmen nationally to open the 2018 season as a starting offensive line starter and one of only two true freshmen centers nationwide.
He became just the fifth Golden Eagle named a Freshman All-America by the Football Writers of America Association, playing in all of USM’s 11 games, starting seven.
This fall, Clopton was one of three USM offensive linemen to start all 11 regular-season games, joining senior tackle Drake Dorbeck and junior guard Arvin Fletcher.
Clopton said he and Johnson have kept in touch, especially of late.
“We’re looking forward to it, man,” Clopton said. “We’ve been talking about it since we found out.”