There’s good reason for optimism for Southern Miss football in 2016, but there are also several seniors that head coach Todd Monken will have a hard time replacing.
Here are five players that will be the hardest to replace from this year’s 9-5 squad:
1. Senior running back Jalen Richard: It’s going to be difficult replicating the ground game that USM had this season with both Richard and sophomore Ito Smith clearing 1,000 yards rushing. Tez Park’s recent knee injury also complicates things. Smith will be the clear No. 1 entering next season with junior George Payne and redshirt freshman Patrick Brooks both likely to see touches.
2. Senior receiver Mike Thomas: The Chicago native put in the best season by a receiver in USM history in 2015. He set school marks in receiving yardage (1,391) and touchdowns (14) and caught 71 passes to rank second all-time at USM, only behind teammate Casey Martin, who had 80 this year.
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3. Senior linebacker Brian Anderson: No player was more improved in 2015 than Anderson, who finished with 83 tackles, including 13.5 for lost yardage. USM will have to find a way to improve depth at linebacker with both Anderson and Anthony Swain out of eligibility.
4. Senior cornerback Kalan Reed: With 56 tackles and four interceptions, Reed was likely the best player on defense for USM this season. The Golden Eagles have decent depth at corner, but Reed leaves big shoes to fill.
5. Senior left tackle Rashod Hill: Possibly the most underrated Golden Eagle over the last two or three years, Hill was a standout at left tackle this season. It may be up to junior college transfer Tyler Stutzman to replace the 6-foot-6, 309-pound Hill, who deserves a close look from the NFL.