Southern Miss

Staggers emerges as key piece of Southern Miss passing game

Southern Miss receiver Allenzae Staggers returns a punt for a touchdown against Savannah State on Sept. 10 in Hattiesburg.
Southern Miss receiver Allenzae Staggers returns a punt for a touchdown against Savannah State on Sept. 10 in Hattiesburg.

Southern Miss wide receiver Allenzae Staggers was a star at Wilkinson County High School, where he was an all-state football player.

He was a star at East Mississippi Community College, where he caught 66 passes in two seasons.

And if he keeps playing the way he did last week against Troy, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound junior may soon become a star for the Golden Eagles, too.

Against Troy, Staggers caught six passes from quarterback Nick Mullens for 98 yards. One of the receptions was for a 16-yard touchdown.

“I had a nice game but we still lost,” Staggers said.

That they did, 37-31, and the receivers were partly to blame.

“We had way too many drops but, troubling, five of those came on third down,” USM offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. “Drops on third down kill you, because now you’ve got to get off the field.

“Third downs and red zone are numbers that keep drives going and get you into the end zone. So to have five drops on third down, that’s 5 of 18 (successful third downs) instead of 10 of 18. That’s the difference in the game.

“Make routine plays, that’s all we ask.”

Staggers is taking that to heart.

“It was the small things,” he said. “We messed up, like dropping passes, things like that.”

Staggers said that isn’t usually a problem for him, but dropping even one is one too many.

“My hands (are my strong point),” he said. “But I missed a catch. That was on me.”

In the Southern Miss opener against Kentucky, Staggers made two catches for 46 yards.

Against Savannah State, Staggers had only one reception for 8 yards, but he had a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown, the first one for USM since the 2011 season when Tracy Lampley ran one back 60 yards at East Carolina.

Mainly for that play, Staggers was named the Conference USA Special Teams Player of the Week.

For the season, Staggers has six punt returns for a 14.3-yard average, which leads Conference USA.

He also has nine receptions for 152 yards, a 16.9-yard average, and his 238 all-purpose yards ranks third on team, behind Ito Smith (489) and George Payne (264).

“I thought Staggers played really well (against Troy),” Dawson said. “I think Stags is a kid, in my opinion, over the course of three weeks, Saturday he showed toughness out there, he made some plays. I think you’re going to continue seeing that with him. He’s a tough player. The more he reps and makes plays, the more he’s going to feel like he’s a top playmaker.”

Although this is Staggers’ first season at Southern Miss, he said that has not been a problem.

“I fit right in,” he said. “It’s a great place.”

But Dawson said new players have to adjust to the team, the school, and to the quarterback.

“There are so many moving parts in that receiver room, we’re really pushing and searching for guys to step up and become a dependable role player,” he said. “That’s important with Nick, too. When you’re dealing with so many new faces, just the overall chemistry of that group needs to take place.”

No doubt about that, but Staggers keeps finding ways to hurry that process along.

As for this Saturday’s game at UTEP, Staggers said the secret to success is simple.

“We’ve got to execute,” he said. “We’re going to get after them. We’re going to drive the ball, push it. Less turnovers.

“We’ve got to be nasty.”

Game plan

Who: Southern Miss vs. UTEP

When: 7 p.m., Saturday

Where: El Paso, Texas


Radio: 104.9 FM