Hotard: Southern has work to do for 2013

By Scott HOTARD

Advocate sportswriter

Tuesday afternoon, Southern football begins its first spring practice under Dawson Odums, with the spring game set for March 23. Here are some story lines worth noting as the Jaguars, who finished 4-7 last year, look to rebound from their third straight losing season.

Finding the edge: In an effort to give his team what he calls “the mental edge,” Odums had local Marines on campus last week to put Southern through one of their workouts.

The decisive moments of the next big game are seven months away, but the Jaguars must begin right now working to develop chemistry, trust and endurance.

That can make all the difference for a team that has struggled in recent seasons to win the fourth quarter.

Last year, Southern lost three games by a combined five points and had four losses decided by six points or less.

The year before, it was beaten four times by a combined 13 points, with all four of those losses decided by five points or less.

Identifying a feature back: One reason Southern finished 2012 with some flair was the emergence of senior running back Sylvester Nzekwe, whose string of 100-yard performances balanced out an offense that featured SWAC passing leader Dray Joseph behind center.

But Nzweke is gone, along with Jerry Joseph.

Redshirt freshman Leonard Tillery leads the group of up-and-comers who hope to be the next Jaguar to carry the rushing load. He earned first-team All-District 5-5A recognition at McKinley in 2011 and played in the U.S. Army Red Stick Bowl.

Improving the kicking game: Southern again struggled in the kicking game last year as kickers Matthew Hill and Greg Pittman combined to go 25-of-28 on extra points and 7-of-13 on field goals. Both are due back in 2013 with a chance to improve on those numbers.

Also due back is sophomore punter Chase Tuten, who must improve on his 36.1-yard average on 55 punts.

A strong spring is the place to start.

Making an impression: Players shouldn’t need to spend much time in transition mode since Odums went the final nine games last year as Southern’s interim head coach after being promoted from defensive coordinator.

For his part, Odums said he wants to make sure the Jaguars enjoy the work they do.

“I don’t think you should be able to play this game or be a part of this game and not have fun,” Odums said. “We understand we have to work hard, but I think in the process of that, it’s still supposed to be fun.”

Odums has plenty of time to get the Jaguars ready for a 2013 season they hope will put a smile on everyone’s face.

The main goal during spring practice, he said, is to avoid injuries.

“We really want to get better at the fundamentals and not really beat our guys up and hurt each other,” Odums said.

“We want to come out of this thing as healthy as possible.”