HATTIESBURG -- Twenty senior football players will be honored before Saturday's Southern Miss-Old Dominion at M.M. Roberts Stadium.
Nine of those players who will take part in Saturday's Senior Day ceremony signed with Southern Miss out of high school and have been through the ups and downs -- mostly downs -- throughout the past four years, five if they redshirted.
"The adversity that me and the seniors have been through, it's been rough, but I've stayed prayed up and I know they have, too," senior running back Jalen Richard said. "It is going to be a special and emotional night but we're going out there and play our hardest.
"It's been a blessing to come and play football at this school. This is the last time playing in The Rock."
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Richard said the season before he signed, he watched the Golden Eagles go 12-2, win the Conference USA championship and play in the Hawaii Bowl. But his freshman year, the Eagles went 0-12, followed by 1-11 and 3-9 teams.
So this season, USM is 7-3 overall and 5-1 in Conference USA. Old Dominion is 5-5 overall and 3-3 in Conference USA.
USM has won four in a row and is set to receive a bowl invitation. And this week's game sets up a Nov. 28 Conference USA West Division showdown at Louisiana Tech, with the winner advancing to the C-USA championship game.
Quite an feat for a team that suffered mightily the last three seasons. Quite an accomplishment for the seniors.
Coach Todd Monken, who took over the program after the 0-12 season, praised the seniors who stuck it out.
"They are fifth-year and fourth-year guys who have stuck with it," Monken said. "It is a true testament to them. It's been frustrating to those guys who came in with the understanding of how this program was so historic and what they were to how bad we have struggled the last couple of years. Not many guys stayed around. They didn't buy into this university or in us, but these guys did. They didn't know when it would turn or when the fruits of our labor would pay off.
"So they will always be and should be special to this university. They will always be special to our staff and this fan base for sticking by it. I'm happy for them that they will have a chance to make a run at a conference championship or the very least end their career going to a bowl game. It will be special to the players but we will have to tune out the distractions because the best gift we can give them is an eighth victory."
Few thought eight victories would be possible for the Golden Eagles. In a preseason poll by media covering Conference USA, USM was pitched to finish fourth in the West Division.
Currently, Southern Miss is tied for first place with Louisiana Tech in the West, and can finish no lower than second.
"Todd would be my vote for Coach of the Year right now," Old Dominion coach Bobby Wilder said.
"They were 12-2 two years before he got there, and then their head coach left, and they basically lost a recruiting class that year," Wilder said. "Then under Ellis Johnson they went 0-12, and he got fired, so they lost another class. So by the time he got there, he was just doing the best he could with what he had.
"They went from getting blown out two years ago to keeping the scores a lot closer last year, and after taking their lumps, these guys grew up and are really a veteran team now. It looks to me like they remembered all the teams that beat them and by how much over the last two years and are now exacting their revenge on them."
Game time Saturday is 2:30 p.m.
The game has been designated as "Sellout Saturday." The price of upper deck tickets is $10, the cost of youth tickets anywhere in the stadium is $10 and the price of lower level tickets in Sections Q and R is $20.