Southern Miss offensive line coach Erik Losey may be forced to play as many as four freshmen this season.
That’s reason for heartburn for just about any position coach, but Losey is no stranger to rolling with youngsters on his offensive line. He served for three years as the offensive line coach at East Tennessee State, an FCS program that was reinstated in 2015 after laying dormant for 11 seasons.
“That was all freshmen,” Losey said. “That was a start up program so that was all I had for the last three years. I’m talking about babies. I didn’t have one junior or senior in that bunch until my last year when I had finally gotten a junior.”
ETSU, which is coached by former Mississippi State defensive coordinator Carl Torbush, went 2-9 in 2015 before improving to 5-6 in 2016.
When Jack Wright left USM after one season as the offensive line coach, Losey was a natural fit to replace him.
He worked for USM head coach Jay Hopson as the offensive line coach at Alcorn State during the 2014 campaign. Losey also brings a fiery and direct attitude that was badly needed.
Arvin Fletcher, who received a redshirt last year, is likely the lone freshman who will be starting for the Golden Eagles to begin the season. The 6-foot-3, 310-pound product from Germantown in Madison County appears to have All-Conference USA honors in his future.
There are three true freshmen likely to fill in if any of the starting line goes down — right tackle Woodlyson Alcius (6-4, 309), guard Bryce Foxworth (6-3, 316) and Gautier’s Paul Gainer, who is a 6-foot-3, 287-pound left tackle.
Gainer is a little undersized for left tackle at the moment, but Losey likes what he has seen out of a player considered one of the top signees for USM’s class of 2017.
“The good thing about Paul is you can’t talk about his work ethic,” Losey said. “He’s come in every day and worked extremely hard. The speed of the game is a little new to him.
“What’s been encouraging is from Day 1 until now, he’s not making the mistakes that he was. That shows he’s all in and willing to work for it. Those are all positives.”
Gainer was a Sun Herald All-South Mississippi selection during his junior and senior seasons. On signing day, he chose USM over Tulane and Louisiana-Lafayette.
“Paul, his best football is ahead of him,” Losey said. “He’s gaining my confidence to where in a couple of weeks if he keeps progressing at the rate he’s at, he’s going to be ready to rock.”
The top five
The starting offensive line has solidified pretty well during preparations for the Sept. 2 season opener against Kentucky: Left tackle — redshirt sophomore Drake Dorbeck (6-6, 320), left guard — Fletcher, center — redshirt senior Devin Farrior (6-4, 304), right guard — redshirt senior Jerry Harris (6-3, 302) and right tackle — redshirt sophomore Ty Pollard (6-6, 315).
Redshirt senior Tyler Stutzman (6-4, 275) was expected to be the starting center leaving spring practice, but he battled through an illness early in fall camp and now sets up to be a versatile sub who can fill in at a variety of positions.
However, don’t expect Losey to work a heavy rotation on his line this season.
“I’ve always been a five best guy,” Losey said. “My five are going to be my five. The (second team) has got to be ready to pull the trigger whenever they’re called up.
“When we get a little later in the season and when we’ve had a few weeks to develop the freshmen, that’s when you can start rotating those guys. I’ve never been a big rotating guy. I do it at practice just in case because you never know.”
With a second-string loaded with true freshmen, Losey has to hope he never gets to the “you never know” phase.