Southern Miss

Keon Howard's late commitment boosts Hopson's first USM Class

AMANDA McCOY/SUN HERALD 
 D'Iberville senior Jacques Turner attends a Signing Day ceremony at D'Iberville High on Wednesday, February 3, 2016. Turner signed a National Letter of Intent to University of Southern Miss.
AMANDA McCOY/SUN HERALD D'Iberville senior Jacques Turner attends a Signing Day ceremony at D'Iberville High on Wednesday, February 3, 2016. Turner signed a National Letter of Intent to University of Southern Miss. SUN HERALD

HATTIESBURG - New Southern Miss football coach Jay Hopson was on the job only three full days entering National Signing Day on Wednesday, but he had a good familiarity with the group of 17 set to join USM for the 2016 campaign.

In familiarity, he found comfort.

"I'm excited about this class, top to bottom," Hopson said, echoing the cliché quote of nearly every other coach in America.

Hopson's work on the recruiting trail in his former job at Alcorn State served as a nice introduction to many of the players that the Golden Eagles signed Wednesday.

Hopson admits there wasn't a whole lot of work left for him to do after he was hired on late Saturday, but he did help convince arguably the best player of the class, Laurel quarterback Keon Howard, to sign with USM.

Howard is rated as a three-star prospect and the top quarterback in Mississippi for the class of 2016. He committed to USM Tuesday night and signed on Wednesday.

"Keon and his parents came over Sunday and we had a long talk," Hopson said. "Tuesday, he wound up committing. That was great news last night. He's a great guy, great athlete and a good football player."

Howard, who decommitted from Memphis on Sunday, threw for 3,317 yards and 43 touchdowns while rushing for 456 yards and three scores as a senior.

The latest addition to USM's class of 2016 was Canton defensive lineman Demarrio Smith, who is listed at 6-foot-2, 264 pounds.

He was one of the players that Hopson liked to describe as a "Southern Miss guy."

"He's coached by one of our former players, Antoine Cash," Hopson said. "He's going to be an outstanding football player."

Hopson saw several of the new signees fitting the mold of past Southern Miss greats who have may have been unheralded out of high school.

"I can remember the year I recruited Austin Davis here when I went to Meridian High School and the whole world was in Meridian with (former Mississippi State star) Tyler Russell, who was an outstanding, great player," Hopson said. "I remember I get in my car and drive up to Collinsville and Austin had us, Gulf Coast and Jones recruiting him.

"We've got to look for good Southern Miss football players, guys with a chip on their shoulder and an edge. You see that athletic potential. When I find a Southern Miss football player, I don't care if he's got a circle by him. I want him."

Hopson listed South Panola cornerback Demetrius Market and Pisgah athlete T.J. McGinnis among players who fit that "Southern Miss football player" mold.

The lone Coast product among this year's USM signees was D'Iberville defensive lineman Jacques Turner, who chose the Golden Eagles over UTSA.

The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Turner also received offers from Purdue, Marshall, UCF and Louisiana Tech.

"He's quick, fast, physical," Hopson said. "I'm excited about him."

On Thursday, Hopson will begin the process of deciding how to piece together his staff.

Running backs coach John Simon has already left USM to join the staff at Louisiana-Lafayette, according to SportsIllustrated.com.

"We'll move on to staff interviews and interview everybody tomorrow and begin that process," Hopson said. "I've got to find guys that are the right fit to Southern Miss and will be loyal to the program."

With the recruiting class set and plenty of work still ahead, Hopson admits that the last few days have been a blur.

"It's been so fast, Hopson said. "It's not quite as bad as inheriting a team in June and having a staff on July 15, practice on Aug. 5 and a game on Aug. 29. That's what we did at Alcorn State. But it's still fast, very fast."

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