As Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson's Heisman Trophy campaign took off this season, so did the numbers for one of his top targets, Pascagoula product Jaylen Smith.
Smith is among about a dozen Coast natives who made a significant impact on the Football Bowl Subdivision level this season.
Smith's receptions haven't increased this year, but the sophomore has provided the big play all season for the No. 16 Cardinals. Smith has 27 catches for 599 yards and six touchdowns with a season-long scoring reception of 74 yards.
After averaging 13 yards a catch on 29 receptions a year ago, Smith has improved on that average by nearly 10 yards at 22.2.
Smith had his biggest game of the season at Boston College on Nov. 5 when had six catches for 123 yards and a touchdown.
Long Beach's Richie Brown had another big season at linebacker for Mississippi State with a team-leading 93 tackles. The Bulldogs finished 5-7, but likely have landed a bowl game ahead thanks to their strong APR ranking.
Brown will go down as one of the best Bulldogs to come off the Coast, making contributions in all four seasons on the field at MSU.
A teammate of Brown at Long Beach and at MSU, senior defensive tackle Nick James had 17 tackles in 11 games this season for the Bulldogs.
Former Harrison Central star Lashard Durr had a nice first season at MSU after transferring in from Copiah-Lincoln Community College. He played in all 12 games and registered 24 tackles.
You can make a strong case that the best season for college player from the state's southernmost six counties belonged to Texas A&M senior safety Justin Evans. The former Stone High star is headed to the Senior Bowl after compiling 52 tackles and a team-leading four interceptions. He also averaged 28.9 yards on 14 kick returns.
Evans was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Week following a win over Auburn in September.
Also in the SEC, Gulfport's Richaud Floyd had four catches for 94 yards in limited playing time as a redshirt freshman at Missouri this year.
The Sun Belt crowd
Troy junior receiver Tevaris McCormick, a former Biloxi star, showed up strong in his first season in the Sun Belt Conference, making 25 catches for 406 yards and four touchdowns. He had a breakthrough performance in a 28-21 win at South Alabama on Oct. 20 with four catches for 127 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown.
Troy, which cracked the AP Top 25 at one point this season, sat at 9-2 headed into Saturday.
At Arkansas State, Pascagoula's Caleb Caston made eight tackles through the first 11 games of the season. The Red Wolves (6-5) also have a bowl game to play.
Louisiana-Lafayette sophomore LaDarrius Kidd, who played at Harrison Central, was on his way to a nice year before an injury ended his season. The defensive tackle finished with nine tackles, three for lost yardage, in five games.
USM's Coast presence
At USM, senior guard Brandon Farmer closed out his career with another strong season. Farmer played a big role in last week's 39-24 win over Louisiana Tech, protecting quarterback Nick Mullens and paving the way for running back Ito Smith.
Gulfport native Stephen Brauchle took over at placekicker in the final weeks of the season for USM and converted on 3-of-4 field goals and scored 19 points total.
Also in Conference USA, Louisiana Tech defensive tackle Jordan Bradford had a big regular season as a sophomore. He started 11 of 12 tackles for the C-USA West champs, registering 22 tackles and 2.5 sacks.
The next Golden Eagles from the Coast to make an impact at USM may be defensive end Jacques Turner, who is receiving a redshirt this season, and Trevor Terry of Long Beach, a receiver who will join the team in the spring.