The Southern Miss football team landed a large haul to begin the early signing period, signing 19 players on Wednesday.
It’s apparent that a major focus of this year’s class was to rectify an offensive line that struggled for much of the 2018 campaign with seven offensive linemen inking Wednesday with the Golden Eagles.
Three of those linemen are junior college transfers who will be expected to compete immediately for playing time — Tanner Hawthorne of Glendale (Ariz.) CC, Tre Johnson of Iowa Western CC and Khalique Washington of Dodge City (Kansas) CC.
Washington was the surprise late addition after he flipped from UCF on Wednesday. He is a 6-foot-5, 305-pound lineman who also held offers from Kentucky and Kansas.
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Hawthorne and Johnson signed with the Golden Eagles after initially beginning their college careers at Power 5 programs. Hawthorne started at Purdue and Johnson and left Miami for Iowa Western.
The main issue for USM offense in 2018 was its inability to run the ball, averaging 98.7 yards a game. All three junior college offensive linemen should add size to the line. Hawthorne is listed at 6-foot-6, 305 pounds and Johnson checks in at 6-7, 320.
Pac-12 interest for White
While USM pulled in a big group of early signees, one USM commit has decided to wait until February to sign a letter of intent — East Central High School senior linebacker Avery White.
White picked USM over South Alabama in November, but UCLA has tried to make a late push and get the 2018 Sun Herald Player of the Year on campus for a visit.
“It’s pretty cool to see someone from that far away that’s heard about you,” White said. “(UCLA assistant Daniel Fields) saw my film and said he really liked me. They asked if I would make a trip out there. He texted (this week), saying he wished I would have come for a visit because they could have got me a scholarship.”
At the moment, the 6-foot-4, 195-pound White appears unlikely to make the trip to Los Angeles.
“I think I’m going to stick with Southern Miss,” White said. “I like it there and I feel like they fit what I want to do.”
Playing close to home has long been a goal for White.
“That’s definitely a big part of my decision,” White said. “My dad loves watching me play and so does my mom. Where I committed had a big part to do with family.”
White said his decision to wait until February was mostly due to the fact that he took the ACT again and had to wait a bit before recently receiving the good news on the score he was hoping for.
White, who had 389 tackles over the last two seasons, registered seven tackles for the Mississippi squad in Monday’s Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Game that ended in a 24-20 victory for the Magnolia State.
Two more Coast high school standouts signed with USM on Wednesday — Gulfport senior quarterback T.Q. Newsome and D’Iberville offensive lineman Louis Paul Smith.
Newsome showed improvement as a passer in 2018, but he expects to make an easy transition to running back this spring.
“That’s what I’m comfortable doing,” Newsome said. “That’s my first love. I played quarterback because I kind of had to, but I’m a football player. I feel like anything I need to do I can do it if I put my mind to it. I’m excited for my opportunity.”
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Newsome has a goal of making an impact as a freshman.
“I’m hitting the weight room, getting right,” Newsome said. “I’ve got to get my body mature, get ready for that next level.”
USM’s class of 2018
Northwest Rankin RB Dee Baker — Versatile running back who can catch passes and return kicks.
Naples (Fla.) TE Luke Baker — 6-foot-5, 217-pound player who caught 36 passes for 489 yards as a senior.
Copiah-Lincoln CC LB Swayze Bozeman — 6-3, 200-pound player who chose USM over Louisiana-Lafayette and Tulane.
Highland (Kansas) CC TE Naricuss Driver — 6-3, 240-pound tight end earned second-team all-conference in 2018, features a 40-yard dash of 4.56.
Glendale (Ariz.) CC OL Tanner Hawthorne — Former Purdue offensive tackle who stands 6-6, 305 pounds.
Memphis QB Jaden Johnson — Rated a four-star prospect by ESPN, received offers from Louisville, Georgia and Memphis.
Iowa Western CC Tre Johnson — Former Miami player who stands 6-7, 320 pounds.
East Mississippi CC DL Eriq Kitchen — Registered 72 tackles with 8.5 sacks in 2018.
Houston DB Khalen Leonard — 6-3, 175-pound defensive back with a 40-yard dash time of 4.5.
Collins athlete Markel McLaurin — 5-11, 175-pound athlete who caught 37 passes for 867 yards and three touchdowns as a senior.
Gulfport RB T.Q. Newsome — 6-foot-1, 215-pound athlete who played quarterback during his junior and senior years. He had 921 rushing yards and 14 scoring runs as a senior.
Mansfield, Texas QB Chandler Rogers — Passed for 2,233 yards and rushed for 1,176 with 34 total touchdowns as a senior.
Purvis OL Matt Ryals — Son of former USM player Chris Ryals, stands 6-8, 320 pounds.
Mobile OL Gerquan Scott — 6-4, 300-pound player who lined up on defense and offense.
Clearwater, Fla., WR Chris Scruggs — Received offers from Florida, Kentucky, Louisville and Syracuse.
D’Iberville OL Louis Paul Smith — Class 6A First-Team All-State selection, three-time member of the Sun Herald All-South Mississippi Team.
Dodge City CC OL Khalique Washington — Chose Southern Miss over UCF on signing date, rated as No. 23 offensive tackle by 247sports.com.
Velma Jackson athlete Antavious Willis — All-around athlete who played quarterback, receiver, defensive back and kicker in high school.
Brookhaven OL Coker Wright — 6-4, 275-pound senior who played mostly defense in junior and senior years.