Patrick Magee

High school coaches see new Southern Miss coach Jay Hopson as 'one of us'

ROGELIO V. SOLIS/ASSOCIATED PRESS 
 New Southern Mississippi football coach Jay Hopson has built strong relationships with the state's coaches.
ROGELIO V. SOLIS/ASSOCIATED PRESS New Southern Mississippi football coach Jay Hopson has built strong relationships with the state's coaches. AP

New Southern Miss football coach Jay Hopson professed his love this week for Mississippi's high school coaches.

In speaking with some of the state's prep coaches, it's obvious that love is requited.

Hopson, who arrives at USM following a four-year stint as head coach at Alcorn State, said this week that he wants to build his program "high school first."

This means that Hopson wants to focus on the state's high schools for recruiting and that would be a distinct change for USM compared to the last two years when former coach Todd Monken and his staff relied heavily on junior college players and FBS transfers to rebuild the program.

Monken's method, with the help of former staff member Jon Williams, proved effective in a 9-5 season in 2015.

Hopson wants to go back to the days of USM coaching legend Jeff Bower, who relied on high school players overlooked by the region's college powers.

Junior college players are often a quick fix, but a consistent winning program is built on players who are in school for four or five years.

Hopson, who admits he'll bring in the occasional junior college player, has a reputation that will allow him to get the necessary high school talent in Mississippi and the surrounding states.

That reputation is built on long and trusting relationships with high school coaches in the state of Mississippi.

"I think we've got the greatest state in the country as far as that's concerned," Hopson said of the quality of high school athletes and coaches in the state. "One thing we want to make sure is we can get our local guys and not just in the state of Mississippi."

Hopson, a Vicksburg native and Ole Miss graduate, will also rely on USM's traditional recruiting grounds in South Louisiana and Alabama.

As the new Southern Miss head coach, Hopson has instant credibility among high school coaches.

Laurel coach Todd Breland described the hiring of Hopson this week week as a "grand slam."

"I think they could have searched for months and not got a better guy," Breland said.

Pascagoula coach Lewis Sims, who has coached some of the Coast's top talent in recent seasons, called the selection of Hopson "a great hire, a phenomenal hire."

The biggest family in Mississippi high school coaching at the moment happens to be the Petersons.

Chris Peterson is the head coach at Gautier and his brother, Brad, is the head coach at Class 6A power Madison Central. A cousin, Troy, is the head coach at Brandon and another cousin, Chad Peterson, is on the staff at Kosciusko.

Chris Peterson may have best explained this week why Hopson relates so well to coaches on the high school level.

"In my opinion, he's one of us," he said "He hasn't coached at the high school level, but he's recruited our kids hard in Mississippi for years and years. He has connected with the coaches. He's a product of Mississippi.

"He's gotten to know so many of the coaches. He's just one of us and that's what we love about him. I'm so happy for Southern Miss personally. They've got a Mississippi guy."

Contact Patrick Magee at pmagee@sunherald.com and follow him on Twitter at Patrick_Magee.

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