Southern Miss coach Jay Hopson adamant in defense of Art Briles
Two years ago, the first Wednesday in February was good reason for college football fans across the Southeast to celebrate as countless players signed their letters of intent with their new schools.
Aside from the fuss over the decision not to hire Art Briles to the Southern Miss football staff, Wednesday was a slow day for USM head coach Jay Hopson and his staff after they signed 18 players in the early signing period in December.
USM signed a total of four players Wednesday to flesh out a class of 22 with Penn State transfer defensive end Torrence Brown and East Central senior linebacker Avery White serving as the biggest names of the bunch.
The other two players to sign on Wednesday were Andrew Stein, a kicker from Northshore High School in Slidell, Louisiana, and Northwest Mississippi Community College athlete Demarcus Jones.
The 6-foot-3, 257-Brown is a graduate transfer, making him immediately eligible to play for the Golden Eagles.
“When you see Torrence, you don’t have to talk about him,” Hopson said on Wednesday. “When he walks in the door, you see that body, that frame.”
Hopson said he received a call from Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry in support of Brown before the Golden Eagles decided to give him a look.
“He called me and he said, ‘This is the best kid on our football team,’” he said. “He had a knee injury and had to sit out last year. He’s a guy we felt like as a senior has some good football ahead of him. He started at Penn State and he was a team captain. We jumped on it and got him down here. We’re blessed to have him with us. He’s an outstanding football player and an even more outstanding young man.”
Hopson described Brown as a “complete package” at defensive end that can rush the passer and defend the run.
In White, USM lands the Sun Herald Player of the Year for the 2018 campaign. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound linebacker had a 167-tackle season as a senior after making 202 tackles as a junior.
White runs a 40-yard dash of 4.5 seconds.
“We’re going to develop him,” Hopson said. “I don’t know if anybody watched the Mississippi-Alabama Game, but he was running sideline to sideline making tackles. His ceiling is so high. He’s long, athletic. He’s a young man that can develop into a great football player. Athletically, he’s ready. We’ve got to get him in the weight room and blow him up. We think he’s going to be a really good one.”
Jones is a 6-foot, 205-player who can fill a variety of roles for the Golden Eagles this season.
“He’s a guy that we’ll try to find a home for quick, whether it’s safety or running back,” Hopson said. “He’s physical and he has 4.4 speed.”
Hopson sees Stein as a kicker who can make a quick impact as a kickoff man with his ability to send kicks well into the end zone.
“He was the No. 1 kicker in our camp,” Hopson said. “He’s very consistent from 45 yards and in kicking the ball.”
Hopson acknowledged that redshirt junior receiver Quez Watkins has some academic work to do before he is eligible to play during the 2019 season.
“We’re just hoping that he’ll be ready to roll in August,” Hopson said.
Watkins was First-Team All-Conference USA in 2019, catching 72 passes for 889 yards and nine touchdowns.
Other Coast signees
White wasn’t the only Coast product to sign with a Division I program on Wednesday.
▪ Ocean Springs senior running back Micah Kelly inked with Toledo.
▪ St. Martin senior offensive lineman Brandon Cunningham signed with Mississippi State.
▪ George County linebacker/defensive back Dylan Lawrence signed with Mississippi State.