Southern Miss

Southern Miss has 5 quarterbacks and no sure starter. Who will win the battle this spring?

Southern Miss redshirt junior quarterback Kwadra Griggs tosses a short pass during the Independence Bowl against Florida State University on Dec. 27, 2017.
Southern Miss redshirt junior quarterback Kwadra Griggs tosses a short pass during the Independence Bowl against Florida State University on Dec. 27, 2017. Special to the Sun Herald

Jay Hopson has gotten into the business of collecting quarterbacks, after dealing with injuries at the position throughout his first two seasons as the Southern Miss head coach.

There are currently five players on the USM campus who hope to be the starting quarterback when the 2018 campaign begins on Sept. 1 against Jackson State in Hattiesburg.

“If we’re going to compete at defensive tackle, we’re going to compete at quarterback,” Hopson said this week after wrapping up his third signing class at USM. “We’ve got to compete at all positions. Whoever comes out of the battle as the starter is going to be better. It’s going to be an intense battle and I don’t really care who the starter is. I could care less.”

When there’s such a long list of players at one position, it’s often easy to dismiss a couple of the options as long shots.

When it comes to the USM quarterbacks, there is no such long shot.

Strong comparisons

The one quarterback that seems to face the longest odds of taking the field this year is the newest signee, Tate Whatley. The Lakeland, Florida, product suffered a knee injury midway through his senior year and won’t take part in spring practice after enrolling in classes at USM last month.

While Whatley isn’t quite 100 percent healthy, that didn’t stop Hopson from comparing him to one of the best quarterbacks in USM history — Austin Davis — for his combination of arm and athletic ability.

When mentioning the other new USM quarterback, Northwest Mississippi CC transfer Jack Abraham, Hopson compared his passing abilities to another Golden Eagle great: Nick Mullens.

Whatley and Abraham join redshirt freshman Marcelo Rodriguez, junior Keon Howard and redshirt senior Kwadra Griggs as USM’s quarterbacks.

Hopson said he had a long talk with all five players about what’s to be expected over the next few months.

“I think we’ve got a bunch of competitors,” he said.

Griggs and Howard essentially split time behind center last year. Griggs battled through multiple injuries and beat out Howard to be the No. 1 man down the stretch, starting seven games overall. While he sometimes proved erratic as a passer, Griggs threw for 1,879 yards, 16 touchdowns and only two interceptions.

If any of the other four quarterbacks are to be the starter in 2018, they’ll have to beat out Griggs.

Rodriguez, a Miami native who sat out last season, can’t be counted out of the mix. He threw a very pretty ball during fall camp last year.

Power 5 offers

One thing that stood out about USM’s signees this year is the number of players who also held Power 5 offers.

There were six Southern Miss signees who received offers from the five most wealthy conferences:

▪  Cornerback Curry Benn — Arizona.

▪  Defensive tackle Shannon Carswell — Florida.

▪  Defensive lineman Nick Dawson — Arizona.

▪  Defensive end Ethan Edmondson — Rutgers.

▪  Defensive end Deuntra Hyman — Ole Miss, Florida State, Kentucky, Kansas, Mississippi State and Tennessee.

▪  Cornerback Jemaurian Jones — Mississippi State, Arizona, Florida State, Georgia, Louisville and Oklahoma.

Linebacker Freddie Hartz, who signed with USM in 2017, will be counted against this year’s class after receiving a grayshirt last season. Before sustaining an injury during his senior year of high school, Hartz held offers from Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State and Ole Miss.

That gives this year’s group 20 Power 5 offers total, including 10 from the SEC.

Hopson said he believes the quality of this year’s class can be chalked up to his staff’s ability to get players to buy into Southern Miss.

“They know we mean it,” he said. “You have to ask the kids, I think they understand we believe in Southern Miss and what Southern Miss stands for.”

Patrick Magee: 228-896-2333, @Patrick_Magee