While most Southern Miss football players maintained an intense focus on Kentucky this week, one Golden Eagle kept an eye on his hometown in Texas.
USM redshirt senior defensive back Kelsey Douglas stayed in close contact with his family in Missouri City over the last week. Hurricane Harvey inundated the Houston suburb along with the rest of the region, dropping as many as 50 inches of rain in some areas.
The flood waters never quite reached his family’s house, but it was difficult for them to get around as the rain continued to fall.
“I’ve been through two hurricanes,” Douglas said. “I kind of know what they’ve been going through.”
When Harvey moved east to Louisiana, Douglas’ family managed to escape the fate of many Houston residents who face a long road to recovery.
“Everything is good,” Douglas said.
With Harvey no longer serving as a distraction, Douglas is set to take the field in his final season opener when USM hosts Kentucky at 3 p.m. on Saturday.
It’s not always been an easy path at USM for Douglas, who suffered a season-ending knee injury five games into his sophomore campaign. The injury was so severe that he had to sit out the entire 2015 season.
In 2016, he found his way back onto the field and made 16 tackles, earning a start in the 39-24 win over Louisiana Tech in the regular season finale.
Knowing he has one final season to make a mark at USM has provided ample inspiration.
“It’s just becoming a student of the game — taking all the little coaching tips and watching more film,” Douglas said. “(I’ve tried) to be more precise on little things as far as becoming a better player and a better DB. I’ve been working on my man technique, little things like that.”
Douglas is set to play a significant role on the USM defense as he and fellow senior Picasso Nelson Jr. appear on pace to split snaps at nickelback.
The 5-foot-11, 192-pound Douglas should receive his most action since registering 68 tackles as a freshman in 2013.
“I thought he played well last year,” USM head coach Jay Hopson said. “Picasso didn’t go through the spring so he got a lot of reps. He had a good camp. He’s a young man who is very dependable.
“He’s an assignment football player. To me, he has proven he can make plays. He’s just a guy who is a real knowledgeable football player. We have two starters at that position. We have two guys we feel good about.”
USM topped Kentucky 44-35 in Lexington last year so the defense has confidence in familiarity with the Wildcats’ personnel, but there will be some changes on that side of the ball.
Senior Stephen Johnson, a dual-threat quarterback, has taken over as the starter at quarterback for Kentucky, which relied much more on the ground game later in the season.
Johnson completed 54.7 percent of his passes for 2,037 yards, 13 touchdowns and six interceptions after taking over for injured starter Drew Barker.
Kentucky had two running backs surpass 1,000 yards last year – Stanley Williams (1,170) and Benjamin Snell Jr., who ran 186 times for 1,091 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Snell, a 5-foot-11, 223-pound sophomore, should be a focal point of the Kentucky offense on Saturday in Hattiesburg.
“I feel like they do a lot of the same things,” Douglas said. “They definitely started to run the ball more after they played us. That might have been due to the quarterback change. They made it a lot more simple for the new QB. They definitely started to run the ball and that helped a lot of their success.”
Douglas is part of a USM defense that appears to be significantly deeper than a year ago, especially on the defensive line and in the secondary.
“I feel like we can be very good as long as we go out there every week and everybody is focused on their assignment,” He said. “If we limit big plays, I feel like it’ll be tough to get past us.”
Who: Southern Miss vs. Kentucky
When: 3 p.m., Saturday
Where: Roberts Stadium, Hattiesburg
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: 104.9 FM