Allenzae Staggers wasn’t a primary character in the first season of Netflix’s hit documentary series about the East Mississippi Community College football team, “Last Chance U.”
When he earned his first chance on the FBS level last season at Southern Miss, Staggers proved to be the biggest star of them all.
He occasionally showed up on the highlight reel for “Last Chance U” as one of EMCC’s top receivers during the 2015 campaign, but Staggers didn’t become a subject of the cameras away from the field.
He left the drama and notoriety to the rest of the team.
At Southern Miss, he proved to be a lightning bolt in the receiving corps.
With 63 catches for 1,165 yards and seven touchdowns, Staggers led USM in all three categories. He was also the team’s top punt returner, averaging 9.8 yards on 21 chances. He had a 75-yard return for a touchdown against Savannah State, the program’s first since 2011.
“It just was a blessing from God,” Staggers said of his first year at USM. “Everything fell in place. I just pray he has something in store for me this season. I just work to keep getting better and better every day.”
Staggers accounted for almost half of his total receiving yardage last year in two games.
On Oct. 1 against Rice, he caught six passes for 292 yards (a USM single-game record) and three touchdowns. Against Louisiana-Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl, he pulled in a career-high 11 passes for 230 yard and one score.
No player spent more time running in the open field last year than Staggers. When there was a weakness in the secondary, quarterback Nick Mullens and Staggers always seemed to exploit it.
You can point to his breakaway speed and shifty moves as the reasons for his success in year No. 1 at USM, but Staggers is confident it all comes down to simple repetition.
“It’s just trusting in my route,” he said. “That’s something we practice every day and go over every day. Once you perfect your route, there’s nothing else that comes with it. Just catch the ball and run.”
Expectations are high for Staggers in his senior season. He made the Preseason All-Conference USA Team and was named to the watch lists for the Paul Hornung and Biletnikoff Awards.
The preseason honors are nice, but Staggers knows there are areas where he can improve.
The 6-foot-1 receiver played last season at a very light 176 pounds, but he was up to 180 to start fall camp. The goal is to hit 190 at some point.
“My focus was on getting bigger so I can help with blocking,” Staggers said.
Changes in the passing game
Staggers will be catching passes from a different quarterback this season. Redshirt junior Kwadra Griggs and sophomore Keon Howard are in a tight battle to become the starter for the Sept. 2 season opener against Kentucky in Hattiesburg.
Both quarterbacks are good athletes with strong arms. The passer who proves most efficient will get the call against Kentucky.
“They push each other each day,” Staggers said. “If one throws a good ball, the other comes back and tries to throw two good passes. They always compliment each other and we compliment them after each pass. We have good, positive energy after each pass.”
Staggers is accompanied by redshirt junior Korey Robertson and senior Isaiah Jones, another EMCC product, as the top returning wideouts from a year ago. They’re getting pushed hard in a receiving corps that should be the deepest unit on the team.
“We can be very good as long as the starters get it down pat and help the younger guys,” Staggers said. “Once the younger guys get it down pat, then we can just rotate more reps for the younger guys. If an injury happens, we can just roll. There won’t be no problem.”
As for the second season of “Last Chance U,” Staggers has some catching up to do after the July 21 debut.
“I watched a couple of episodes, but I didn’t get to finish just yet,” Staggers said. “Once I get the chance during camp I will. It’s not going anywhere.
“I love seeing Buddy Stephens, my old coach. He’s a funny guy.”