Southern Miss

Louisville’s Jaylen Smith leads large group of Coast players set to take off in FBS

Louisville wide receiver Jaylen Smith catches a touchdown pass ahead off Boston College defensive back Isaac Yiadom during Louisville's 52-7 win over Boston College at Alumni Stadium in Boston on Nov. 5, 2016.
Louisville wide receiver Jaylen Smith catches a touchdown pass ahead off Boston College defensive back Isaac Yiadom during Louisville's 52-7 win over Boston College at Alumni Stadium in Boston on Nov. 5, 2016. Associated Press

Of the top football players off the Coast to sign with FBS programs over the last few years, none appear to have made their choice as well as Pascagoula's Jaylen Smith.

Sure, Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino has a reputation as being a prickly character. But Smith has thrived in Petrino's offense the last two seasons and appears set to take off into the stratosphere as a junior.

The receiver garnered offers from Ole Miss, Nebraska, Memphis, Arizona State and Southern Miss at Pascagoula, but programs like Alabama and Florida State have to be wondering how Smith slipped through their fingers.

In 2017, Smith has a good chance to emerge as one of the best receivers in the ACC and possibly the country. Entering his junior year at Louisville, Smith is in position to take over as the No. 1 receiving option for last year's Heisman Trophy winner – junior quarterback Lamar Jackson.

Last season, Smith finished fourth on the team in receptions (27) and receiving yardage (599) while tying for second with six touchdown receptions. The three men who had more receptions than him last year have all graduated.

Smith has always seemed to step up in the clutch and he showed it again last year when he pulled in athletic 29-yard touchdown reception with 13 seconds remaining to lift Louisville past upset-minded Virginia, 32-25, in Charlottesville.

It's Smith's time to be the main option in the Louisville receiving corps and all signs point to him breaking through with a monster season in 2017. At 6-foot-4, Smith has bulked up to 220 pounds in order to take on the increased demand.

Coast players on the rise

Smith won't be the only South Mississippi product catching plenty of passes on the FBS level this season. Former Biloxi star Tevaris McCormick closed out strong last season at Troy, pulling in 35 passes for 456 yards and five touchdowns to rank third on the team in catches.

As a senior, McCormick will have a little more competition than Smith with the Trojans' top two pass-catchers back for 2017.

At Louisiana Tech, junior defensive lineman Jordan Bradford will again feature prominently for the Bulldogs. He started 13 of 14 games last year, registering 28 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Bradford, a former St. Stanislaus standout, was named preseason third-team All-Conference USA by Athlon.

Mississippi State senior cornerback Lashard Durr, who played in all 13 games last season, will again have a role in the Bulldogs' secondary after making 26 tackles last season. The Harrison Central native is in his second season after transferring from Copiah-Lincoln Community College.

Big group of 1st-year players

With 26 players off the Coast signing with Division I programs for the 2017 season, Smith and McCormick will have plenty of company on the FBS level this season.

The biggest signee of them all, St. Stanislaus quarterback Myles Brennan, may watch from the sideline this season at LSU with Danny Etling back as the starter, but several other first-year players appear set to make contributions on the FBS level.

Southern Miss could have four first-year players from the Coast seeing significant this season in freshman offensive lineman Paul Gainer (Gautier), redshirt freshman defensive end Jacques Turner (D'Iberville), sophomore receiver Trevor Terry (Long Beach) and junior defensive back Tyler Jack (George County). Two more freshmen, receiver Tim Jones of Biloxi and former D'Iberville defensive back Tyler Barnes, will also have a chance to make their case for playing time during USM's fall camp.

At Mississippi State, receiver Austin Williams of Ocean Springs and former Pascagoula defensive tackle James Jackson are hoping their early arrival for the spring semester will give them a chance to get on the field this year as true freshmen.

George County's Tyrese Fryfogle has a chance to immediately factor into the mix at receiver this year at Indiana. The season-opening opponent for Indiana is Ohio State onAug. 31 in an ESPN-televised game in Bloomington.

You also can't count out a pair of former St. Stanislaus tight ends, Chase Rogers at Louisiana-Lafayette and Darius Pittman at Purdue, as players that have the ability to get early playing time.

All of the former junior college players joining FBS programs this season seem assured a chance at playing time, including former Gulfport receiver Jonathan Nance at Arkansas and Harrison Central's Tito Windham at Memphis.

With the number of Coast players competing on college football's highest level increase significantly this season, there will be plenty to keep an eye on.

Patrick Magee: 228-896-2333, @Patrick_Magee