It’s not like South Mississippians needed MORE reasons to tune into Southeastern Conference football games this year. However, if you’re clicking around and stumble upon a random SEC game and are wondering who to root for, there’s plenty of Coast connections scattered across the league.
Only Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt are without any Coast flavor on their rosters heading into the 2017 college football season.
Here’s a rundown of which South Mississippi prep and junior college standouts have landed in the SEC:
Former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College standout Isaiah Buggs signed with Alabama in December. Originally without a major D-I offer out of Ruston, Louisiana, when he signed with MGCCC, Buggs rapidly ascended JUCO rankings while in Perkinston and appears to be holding his own in Tide camp. Most reports have Buggs on the two-deep. Although his athleticism is obvious, Buggs reportedly took a little while in the spring to get a greater grasp of his responsibilities in Alabama’s 3-4 defense. Now he’s poised for serious playing time.
Former Gulfport standout Jonathan Nance and MGCCC teammate Brandon Martin are sticking together with Arkansas. Both should factor into the Hogs’ passing attack. Although Martin has reportedly been dinged up in fall camp, Nance has earned the trust of Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen.
“He’s just a good football player,” Allen told WholeHogSports.com. “He understands coverages, he understands leverages. That’s kind of like a Drew Morgan-type deal where he understands (if) the guy is heavy inside, I’m going to jab this way, go out. He can get open against any type of coverage and when he gets the ball in his hands, he’s pretty special.”
Former MGCCC quarterback Jason Smith has worn many hats at Auburn. After working in the return game and at receiver, Smith is back in the secondary, where he hasn’t played since he was a high schooler at McGill-Toolen in Mobile, Alabama.
“He’s sharp, he works at it,” Auburn DB coach Greg Brown told AL.com. “He puts in the time. He’s certainly very willing.”
In his first two seasons on The Plains, Smith rushed for 37 yards and a touchdown on seven carries and also caught 17 passes for 263 yards and two scores.
Second-year Georgia coach Kirby Smart said former MGCCC lineman D’Marcus Hayes got off to a slow start during the spring, but he has started to make progress during fall camp.
“We’ve challenged D’Marcus because he’s got some talent,” Smart said. “We hope he can help us.”
Smart is currently on the second team at left tackle.
There’s been plenty of coverage of Myles Brennan this summer, and rightfully so. The former St. Stanislaus quarterback wasn’t able to enroll early at LSU but he reportedly didn’t waste any time getting caught up with the other Tiger QBs. Brennan worked predominantly with the second team during fall camp but did receive some reps with the ones.
“He gets the ball out quick. It comes fast, and it’s always a catchable ball,” senior receiver D.J. Chark told The Advocate. “It’s never a fast, out-of-control ball. That’s something that’s rare in a young guy. Usually they get out there and throw the ball and it’s too high, too low, randomly by everyone.
“He has it on a line, gets it where it has to be, makes great reads.”
LSU coach Ed Orgeron has said he’s not trying to put too much on Brennan as he gets acclimated to college life and LSU’s playbook, but he sees a future starter in the former Rockachaw.
“Does he have the ability to be a first-string quarterback as a freshman? Yes, he does,” Orgeron said. “Is he ready? Not yet.”
Orgeron announced last week that Brennan will serve as Danny Etling’s primary backup.
The big Coast connection in Oxford is obviously former Gulfport product Matt Luke, who was elevated this summer from co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach to head coach after the abrupt resignation of Hugh Freeze just before fall camp.
Luke called the promotion a “dream job” and said he’s been preparing all of his career for the opportunity. Will Luke be the Rebels’ head coach beyond 2017? It’ll be tough, but if he guides the Rebels through a treacherous SEC campaign he’ll certainly give himself a shot to remove the interim tag.
Biloxi’s Kweisi Fountain and Moss Point’s KeShun Wells are also listed on Ole Miss’ roster as depth players.
Once again Mississippi State has the biggest Coast connection, with four former prep standouts (Lashard Durr, Harrison Central; James Jackson, Pascagoula; Brad Wall and Austin Williams, Ocean Springs) and Gulf Coast lineman on the roster.
Durr should once again see significant playing time in the secondary after recording 26 tackles with a pass breakup and pass defended in 2016. Wall was MSU’s lead kickoff specialist a year ago, recording 10 touchbacks on 32 attempts. Rankin played in all 13 games and has been projected by some prognostications to be a high NFL Draft pick this year if he continues to improve. Jackson appears to be on track to receive a redshirt, but Williams could see time at receiver after enrolling at MSU in time for spring drills.
If there’s one Coast player poised for a breakout in 2017, it may be former Gulfport athlete Richaud Floyd. After redshirting in 2015, Floyd caught just four passes for 94 yards. With another year under his belt, reports out of Mizzou have been promising. St. Louis Post-Dispatch beat reporter Dave Matter went as far as to say Floyd’s in the running for “Most Improved” Tiger.
“He’s a workaholic,” fellow receiver Johnathan Johnson told STLToday.com. “He’s always working to get everyone better. He’s always getting better. Richaud is the X-factor of the receivers. Everybody else might get the spotlight, but he’s definitely the best one.”
Former PRCC running back Caleb Kinlaw is a walk-on at USC.