Southern Miss began its countdown to the 2016 football season Friday morning, going through the first practice of fall drills, which also was the first fall workout under new head coach Jay Hopson.
“They always are fun,” Hopson said about getting back on the field in preparation for a season. “You’re kind of picking up things and learning things. It’s always good to get the guys back out and going to work.
That’s what we’ve got to do. Like every practice, there were some positives, there also were some negatives.”
What did Hopson like?
“I thought we did some good things execution-wise.”
What did Hopson not like?
“I thought we need to get in better shape.”
Friday’s practice marked the beginning of a new era in Southern Miss football. Former head coach Todd Monken, who spearheaded the Golden Eagles’ rise from the depths of college football (0-12 in 2012) to great heights in 2015 (a 9-5 overall record, the Conference USA West Division championship and a berth in the Heart of Dallas Bowl) departed to become the offensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Bucs.
In came Hopson, a former USM defensive coordinator who led Alcorn State to two straight SWAC championships the past two seasons.
Then, two weeks ago, media members predicted the Eagles would repeat as West Division champions, following the lead of senior quarterback Nick Mullens, who passed for 4,476 yards and 38 touchdowns last season.
Still, the theme of Friday was not to rejoice in past glories or what anybody predicted this season, but to get back to blue-collar work, to practice hard, in order to have success this season.
“Nobody’s going to give us anything,” Hopson said. “Last year was a great year. It’s in the past. We want to win a championship.
“I told them, 'On that Eagle Walk, they only put the champions up there.'
It’s been since 2011 since we won the championship, so that’s our goal. We’ve got to work hard to achieve that goal.”
Mullens said the offense looked pretty good for the first day of practice.
“I thought it was a great start,” the senior quarterback said. “Getting plays in and out, subbing, very smooth. The receivers worked hard all summer so it was really cool to see how that work and that chemistry built in the summer kind of transfers to fall camp. It was great day.”
Mullens did say that one defensive player kept him on his toes.
“The defense is always going to give us challenges, especially (linebacker) Elijah (Parker),” Mullens said. “Every play is a puzzle match with him.”
Parker, who had 47 tackles a year ago, is a former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College standout.
Southern Miss will hold 20 practices this fall, including two-a-days four times. The next one is scheduled for 8 a.m. Saturday.
Scrimmages are set for Aug. 13 and Aug. 20.
The annual Eagle Fanfare is scheduled for 2 p.m. Aug. 13 at the Lake Terrace Convention Center. Tickets are $5 per person or $20 per family.
USM’s first game will be Sept. 3 at Kentucky.