Jarell Aaron's first two years at Southern Miss involved mostly watching from the sideline, but the receiver showed this spring that he's ready to hit the field running as a redshirt sophomore.
The Poplarville native arrived on the USM campus in 2012 as a lanky 6-foot-5, 180-pound freshman in need of a redshirt season.
After he sat out his first year, he suffered a knee injury that prevented him from playing in 2013.
There were plenty of questions on whether Aaron would ever make an impact on the USM offense.
In the spring, he seemed to answer most of those queries.
"Coming into the spring, I had something prove," Aaron said. "Nobody had seen what I could do. I had to make a move right now to be the best I can be."
Aaron proved productive throughout the spring and he capped the strong showing with seven catches for 80 yards and a touchdown in the April 19 spring game.
Aaron has added 25 pounds since joining the USM program and he hopes to be at 210 for the 2014 campaign.
While he put in the work in the time in the weight room to bulk up, Aaron's best spent time was likely in the film room while recovering from the knee injury.
"It was more mental than physical," Aaron said of his rebound from injury. "I had to watch film and watch what other people do to better themselves."
Even though Aaron was putting in the work necessary while coping with injury, even head coach Todd Monken (who also serves as Aaron's position coach) was surprised by his emergence in the spring.
"I would've never guessed with the knee injury," Monken said. "He's really done a great job. He has a world of upside that he hasn't reached yet. He's a great kid who wants to be a good player."
While Aaron has yet to show in real game action what he's capable of, he's confident that he fits in well to what offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Chip Lindsey and Monken want to do with the offense.
"I actually love this offense," Aaron said. "It gives everybody a chance to get the ball in their hands and put points on the board."
Aaron is part of a receiving corps that's taken its lumps over the last two years of 1-23 football. Last year's inexperienced group suffered from far too many drops.
With D.J. Thompson also returning from injury and other young receivers like Marquise Ricard making strides, a significant step forward is expected from the group this year.
"We have all the tools we need," Aaron said. "I know we're still young, but we all know what we have to do. We motivate each other We're all in the same class. It's a competition, but it's a friendly competition. You've got to want it more than they do."