Southern Miss

Southern Miss’ Paxton Schrimsher takes to new position ‘like a duck to water’

Southern Miss redshirt sophomore Paxton Schrimsher (30) and redshirt junior Walden Davis celebrate a defensive play against Kentucky on Sept. 2 in Hattiesburg.
Southern Miss redshirt sophomore Paxton Schrimsher (30) and redshirt junior Walden Davis celebrate a defensive play against Kentucky on Sept. 2 in Hattiesburg. File

Paxton Schrimsher played safety in high school, lined up at linebacker when he first came to Southern Miss, moved to the “wolf” position during his freshman season and last week at UTSA, bounced back to inside linebacker.

And what did Southern Miss head coach Jay Hopson say about it?

“A guy I thought played real good was Paxton Schrimsher,” Hopson said. “We actually moved Paxton from outside to inside and he took to that like a duck to water. He was all over the field and did what we asked him to do. I thought he played extremely well inside.”

Schrimsher, a 6-foot-3, 231-pound redshirt sophomore from Athens, Ala., made five solo tackles against UTSA. For the season, he has made 10 solo tackles and assisted on five others.

The wolf may line up on the line of scrimmage, in a three-point stance, or may drop back, depending on the defensive play call. So dropping back to linebacker wasn’t too difficult for the guy who coaches call a “smart player.”

It was all predicated by injuries to linebackers Sherrod Ruff and Walden Davis.

“Monday morning (before the UTEP game) I got a text from Coach Nick (defensive line coach Derek Nicholson) and he said, ‘Come by my office,’ Schrimsher said. “I thought we were going to talk about the game and he’s like, ‘We’re down two linebackers and you’re going to have to fall in the inside linebacker rotation.’”

And he only had four days to practice for it.

But because Schrimsher had played there before, it wasn’t too difficult an adjustment.

“I was a little nervous at the beginning of the game but I knew once I got that first lick in, I’d be all right,” he said.

Actually, UTSA played right into his hands.

“It was a fun game to play in,” Scrimsher said. “Coach Nick and Coach Pec (defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro) were talking about it, as an inside linebacker, in 21 personnel (two running backs, one tight end), you can’t ask for a better team to play. We knew they were going to be trying to run, not throw.

“We knew they’d be trying to run it down our throat, throw a couple bombs here and there. We knew we were going to have to stop the run. So I was looking forward to it.”

It didn’t take long for Schrimsher, who started the first four games at wolf, to make his presence felt at inside linebacker.

“(My) first play happened so fast, it was surreal, I got a tackle for loss,” he said. “The first half was when I made the majority of my plays. I remember thinking I made two or three tackles back to back to back, I was like, ‘This is going to be a long game.’”

Schrimsher was in there to the end, although Jeremy Sangster also played well at the position when he was in there.

The game came down to a two-point conversion for UTSA with 48 seconds remaining following a 24-yard touchdown toss from Dalton Sturm to a wide open Marquez McNair.

“(Cornerback) Cornell (Amstrong) said, ‘Everybody calm down, they’ve still got to go for two to tie it up,’” Schrimsher said. “We did a good job staying calm and trying to execute that last play.”

The Golden Eagles (3-2, 1-1 in Conference USA) were successful, and a couple of offensive plays later, had their first C-USA victory.

As for this Saturday’s homecoming game against UTEP (0-6, 0-2), odds are that Schrimsher will be playing linebacker for Southern Miss. The Eagles are hoping Davis will be back in action, but not sure about Ruff.

That doesn’t matter to Schrimsher.

“Honestly I don’t know,” he said Monday on what position he would play against UTEP. “But whatever they put in front of me, I’ll be ready to take on. I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge.”

Pecoraro, trying to find the best possible combination, is glad of that.

“We’re definitely glad we have him on the football team,” Pecoraro said, “no question about that.”

Game plan

Who: UTEP vs. Southern Miss

When: 6 p.m., Saturday

Where: Roberts Stadium, Hattiesburg

TV: Stadium (Available on Twitter, Pluto TV app)

Radio: 104.9 FM