Stepping on a college campus can be intimidating for any incoming freshman, but Tyler Barnes has had some extra help acclimating to life at Southern Miss.
A former D’Iberville High School teammate of Barnes, redshirt freshman defensive end Jacques Turner, is entering his second year at USM and is ready to provide advice.
“I always keep Tyler under my wing,” Turner said. “That’s my young buck. I make sure he’s OK. He asks me everything about campus, where to be at and where to go.”
The two former D’Iberville Warriors will take the practice field for the first time at USM on Wednesday morning in the first session of fall camp.
Barnes and Turner spent the summer in Hattiesburg in the weight room and film room trying to get ready for the 2017 campaign.
Barnes is confident that his summer has been well spent.
“He helps me a lot,” Barnes said of Turner. “Since day one, he’s helped me get comfortable with the team. He’s always been there, helped a lot.”
Both players have bulked up through hard work. Turner checks in at 6-foot-1, 260 pounds, while Barnes has already packed on 10 pounds to check in at 5-10, 190.
Turner has added 20 pounds since first arriving at USM in order to be ready for his first game action as a Golden Eagle. After sitting and watching last season with a redshirt, he will get that opportunity at 3 p.m. Sept. 2 when USM hosts Kentucky for the season opener.
“I just want to get my feet wet,” Turner said. “I haven’t played college football yet. We’ll be going against some of the best competition in Kentucky. I feel like playing against them is going to set the tone for my career.”
As for whether Barnes takes the field this season or sits out with a redshirt, his playing time will be determined during fall camp. He appears likely to enter the fray at nickelback where a pair of seniors, Picasso Nelson Jr. and Kelsey Douglas, top the depth chart.
Barnes credits Nelson, Douglas and another senior, Kevin Williams, for helping him pick up the playbook over the summer.
“I’m at nickel right now, but (head coach Jay Hopson) wants us to learn every position,” Barnes said. “I’m just willing to do whatever they want me to do. If that’s coming out and playing, I can do that. If they ask me to redshirt, I’ll definitely think about it.
“Until then, it’s just competition.”
Barnes was a nasty presence in the D’Iberville secondary, breaking through as likely the best defensive player on the Coast as a senior. He registered team-leading totals of 136 tackles and four interceptions in 2016.
Barnes and Turner will look to upgrade a USM defense that ranked 15th nationally in yardage allowed (324.8 per game), but gave up far too many big plays, especially on the ground.
“We’re focused on the run this year,” Turner said. “They know we can get to the quarterback so they’re going to try to beat us with the run.
“We’ve got to stop small mistakes and focus on the little things. The little things beat us last year.”
When Turner gets his chances on the field this season, he’ll be expected to get after the quarterback.
The first man up will be Kentucky senior quarterback Stephen Johnson.
“I don’t think they’re ready for this Mississippi heat,” Turner said. “I think we’re going to be ready for them.”