Southern Miss

‘Speedy’ Mikell flashes big play ability for Southern Miss

Southern Miss kick returner Curtis Mikell (19) brings the ball upfield against Mississippi State in Hattiesburg on Sept. 5, 2015.
Southern Miss kick returner Curtis Mikell (19) brings the ball upfield against Mississippi State in Hattiesburg on Sept. 5, 2015. Associated Press

HATTIESBURG — You’ve seen Curtis Mikell on the field on offense.

You’ve seen him out there on special teams.

And you’ve see him on defense.

Oh, mercy, did you see him on defense last week, when he led Southern Miss to a 34-7 Conference USA victory over UTEP with two interceptions, one of which he returned coast to coast, 100 yards, from one end zone to the other.

He doesn’t start, but he’s on the field a lot, playing “nickel” or “dime” as an extra defensive back when the opposition is expected to pass.

And now, after last week, after the “Pick 6,” he’s a star.

“It’s been pretty crazy,” the 5-foot-8, 170-pound junior from Bassfield said. “One game can change your life. They (family and friends) were just happy. Coach gave me the chance to get out there and play ball, and that’s all I’ve been waiting on.”

Mikell played mostly defense in high school, although he did score a touchdown when the Yellowjackets won the state championship game.

He played in all 12 games as a true freshman at Southern Miss, catching six passes as a receiver and making five tackles as a cornerback.

Last year, he played in all 14 games, on special teams, defense and offense. He made 30 tackles and caught two passes.

This season, Mikell has run back seven kickoffs for a 16.6-yard average and has played defense, making seven solo tackles and one assist.

“I like to say we have three starters at corner,” Southern Miss coach Jay Hopson said. “Curtis, Trae (Collins) and Cornell (Armstrong), all three, are considered starters with me. We’re not going to miss a beat with Curtis in there.”

Well, maybe one beat on the interception return. But Hopson got over the skipped beat a few seconds later.

“When the (UTEP) quarterback threw it up, I said, ‘I think we might get this one,’” Hopson said. “I thought at first Picasso (Nelson Jr.) was going to get it.

“Then I saw Curtis flash in the picture and once he picked it off, I was, ‘OK, we got it and got a touchback.’ Any time you take it out of the end zone, your heart skips for a beat. But once he got past the first guy at the 1, or wherever it was, I knew then, ‘He’s gone.’ There was nobody in his path. He took off and went the distance.”

Mikell said bringing the ball out of the end zone wasn’t that difficult of a decision to make.

“I had it measured all the way,” he said. “I was looking at the ball the whole time. I couldn’t believe he threw it because me and Picasso had him covered.

“As soon as I caught it, I turned around, and kind of knew I was gone. Wasn’t nobody about 10 yards near me, so if you ain’t close, you’re probably not going to catch me.”

Hopson knew that, too.

“We call him ‘Speedy,’” Hopson said. “Curtis is one of those guys, when he gets past you, he’s going to be a hard man to catch.”

Mikell picked up a small convoy of blockers en route to the end zone.

“They just wanted to run a little bit to celebrate with me,” Mikell said.

They all slowed down toward the end of the play, though.

“I got tired,” Mikell said.

Most of Bassfield probably rejoiced when he crossed the goal line, because they love their football in Bassfield.

And Mikell isn’t the first fast guy to come from the small town in Jeff Davis County.

“They say it’s in the water,” he explained. “There’s nothing to do in Bassfield so I feel like we train a lot. We play a lot of football. If we’re not playing football, we’re working out, playing each other 7 on 7, just working to get better.

“Too many people don’t make it out (of Bassfield). They just love for people to make it out and be successful and do big things at a school like this.

There are a lot of good guys in Bassfield.”

In addition to his two interceptions, Mikell also made three tackles in the 34-7 win over UTEP.

He’s an integral part of a Southern Miss defense that is No. 1 in total defense, No. 1 in pass defense and No. 1 in scoring defense in Conference USA.

This Saturday at 6 p.m., the Golden Eagles host Rice.

“It feels good to be on a great defense,” Mikell said. “Just got to do your job. I think everybody has been doing their job to keep the defense how it was.

“I like defense. I can catch people and catch interceptions.”

Game plan

Who: Southern Miss vs. Rice

When: 6 p.m., Saturday

Where: Hattiesburg

Radio: 104.9 FM

TV: None