If there's one Southern Miss player who can go from spot duty a year ago to all-conference in 2017, it's senior safety Tarvarius Moore.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound native of Quitman transferred to USM from Pearl River Community College for the 2016 spring semester and gradually found an increased role on the Golden Eagle defense in his first season.
Moore didn't receive a start last year, but took the field in all 13 games. He finished with 17 tackles and tied for the team lead with a pair of interceptions – one against LSU and the other in USM's 28-21 win over Louisiana-Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl.
Moore stacks up as one of the best pro prospects on the team.
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"The guy ran a 4.3 in the 40, has a 41-inch vertical and an 11-4 broad jump," USM head coach Jay Hopson said. "That tells you he's pretty athletic. At the end of the day, those are great numbers. We're fast on the back end and he's got a world of ability. All those tool sets are what the NFL guys are looking for."
It was in the New Orleans Bowl against Louisiana-Lafayette when USM fans got a glimpse of what they can expect from Moore this season. He had four tackles and an important interception that stopped ULL's final drive of the first half at the USM 22.
"When I got my time, I just seized my opportunity," Moore said.
The performance gave Moore the momentum he needed headed into the 2017 campaign. After a strong showing in the spring, Moore is one of a handful of players on defense who appear to be locked in as starters headed into the Sept. 2 season opener against Kentucky in Hattiesburg.
Moore's summer was spent simply trying to perfect his fundamentals.
"It was just watching film and fixing the little things I had wrong," Moore said. "One of the biggest mistakes I had last year was technique. It was just making sure I'm lined up in the right spot and using the proper technique they teach us."
USM lost both of its starting safeties from a year ago following the graduations of D'nerius Antoine and and Devonta Foster.
Moore has settled in at one safety and sophomore Demetrius Market appears on track to get significant playing time at the other safety spot. Senior Picasso Nelson can also play the safety, but he's just as likely to line up at the nickel. Redshirt senior Kelsey Douglas, redshirt senior Jomez Applewhite, redshirt junior Xavier Marion and freshman Tyler Barnes, a D'Iberville native, are among the players looking to provide depth on the back end.
"We're very fast in the secondary," Moore said. "I'd say we all run at least (4.4-second 40-yard dashes) and we'll use that speed to our advantage. The faster we are, the better we can cover. That just helps out the defensive line and linebackers."
It will be to Moore and the rest of the secondary to find a way to create more turnovers after collecting just 10 interceptions as a team a year ago.
After the USM defense gave up far too many big plays in the ground game last season, Moore is confident that he and his teammates on that side of the ball will take a significant step forward in Tony Pecoraro's second season as defensive coordinator.
"The first year, it was a struggle learning a whole new defense," Moore said. "In year No. 2, we're all clicking as far as learning the playbook. If anybody has a problem, we can easily make adjustments between the defense ourselves and not even going to the coaches. Everybody being on the same page definitely helps."