With hopes of making lofty preseason predictions a reality, the Southern Miss football team reports for fall camp on Thursday in Hattiesburg.
The Golden Eagles hold their first practice of the fall on Friday, giving first-year head coach Jay Hopson and his staff a good look at what they'll have to work with when the season begins Sept. 3 at Kentucky.
Hopson is confident that his players have taken advantage of their summer.
“They kids have worked hard. They really have,” Hopson said. “We've got a great bunch of kids. The season is on us now. The guys have really put in the time.”
The summer has been a fairly quiet one for the Golden Eagles.
Louisville defensive back Devontre Parnell, a transfer who can play immediately, is the biggest addition of the summer and he will spend the camp battling for playing time among a solid group of cornerbacks that includes returning starter Cornell Armstrong, Trae Collins, Curtis Mikell and Jomez Applewhite.
Hopson will also have a close eye on the health of a pair of running backs who missed the 2015 season with injuries – redshirt sophomore Tez Parks and redshirt junior George Payne. Both men are returning from knee injuries, but Hopson said recently that he feels good about their condition to start fall camp.
Senior quarterback Nick Mullens is entering his fourth year as the starting quarterback and his main goal this fall will be to improve on chemistry with his receiving options, including two East Mississippi Community transfers who joined the team back in the spring – Isaiah Jones and Allenzae Staggers.
It will be interesting to see if redshirt sophomore Jay'Shawn Washington can jump back in the mix at tight end after having his 2015 campaign come to an end due to an injury in the season-opening 34-16 loss to Mississippi State. He caught a pair of passes for 50 yards and a touchdown before he was helped off the field.
Julian Allen, a redshirt junior, is another tight end who hopes to see his first action after sitting out last year with an injury. The two tight ends who say the most playing time last season, redshirt junior Taylor Marini and redshirt senior Ricky Parks, are also back.
On defense, senior C.J. Perry will have his chance to shine with a good shot to start at middle linebacker for the Golden Eagles. His playing time has been limited the last two years after making 45 tackles in 12 games played as a freshman.
USM lost three linebackers to graduation – Brian Anderson, Anthony Swain and Terrick Wright. But Hopson feels he has good enough depth at the position with the return of senior Elijah Parker (47 tackles in '15) and Sherrod Ruff (24 tackles).
Hopson also points to redshirt sophomore Jeremy Sangster and redshirt freshman Paxton Schrimsher, a top 2015 signee who sat out last year due to a knee injury, as players who will also be called upon. Freshman Jacorey Morris, who held offers from Clemson, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Mississippi State, will have a chance to earn early playing time at linebacker during fall camp.
Another honor: Mullens was named Thursday to the watch list for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, which goes to the nation’s top college quarterback.