BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Southern’s players jokingly chide Dray Joseph after the senior utters a line during summer workouts.
As they pant and sweat under the sweltering sun, the senior quarterback will offer a refrain borrowed from a familiar source.
“We all can make this journey,” he says.
Chuckling and smiling, his fellow Jaguars offer a quick retort: “You sound just like Coach Odums.”
Relaying the anecdote to coach Dawson Odums, he only offers up a contended grin at the mind meld taking place to help Joseph evolve from the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s best passer into a field general mastering a West Coast scheme as the Jaguars try to end a stretch of three consecutive losing seasons.
“It’s great to see the leadership he’s displaying on and off the field,” Odums said Monday during SWAC Media Day. “It’s a tough position, and you want to be accepted as an individual, but it takes a quarterback to say, ‘I’m not really like everybody else.’ He’s accepted that pressure.”
Last season, Joseph locked his grip firmly on the starting job by posting a SWAC-leading 2,511 yards through the air with 25 touchdowns while ranking second in the conference with a 133.6 passer rating. Yet Joseph, tabbed a second team All-SWAC pick, ascended largely as SU’s run game tumbled — posting a paltry 79.5 yards per game. Considering leading rusher Sylvester Nzekwe graduated, pressure to produce still exists.
That’s where Joseph politely differs.
Senior Darius Coleman, who averaged only 26.1 yards per game, “has lost a couple pounds” and is “definitely going to be more agile,” Joseph said. Redshirt freshman Lenard Tillery’s 111 yards on 18 carries in the spring game has the quarterback convinced coordinator Chad Germany’s offense will find balance.
“Those are the types of guys that are going to help us,” Joseph said. “They’re hard workers, don’t mind being under the radar. They’re quiet, don’t complain and really just try to get better.”
Entrenched atop the depth chart, Joseph’s focus shifted to white boards and projector screens. Germany put the Edgard native through his paces to dissect coverages and recognize blitzes.
Ideally, Germany’s quarterback’s would have a redshirt season to learn. “I was thrown into the fire and had to figure it out quickly,” Joseph countered. Now he feels confident in adopting a tone of authority.
“Those are the types of thing that rub off on me,” Joseph said. “(Germany) teaches me and drills me to perfect my craft, but off the field that’s the thing that helps me get better.”
All this sounds perfect to Odums, who thinks Joseph established credibility through his work ethic. All that remains is translating it into action during the balmy August days of fall camp.
“It’s about doing film study, becoming a field general, a great manager of the game and understanding the risks versus the rewards,” Odums said. “Understand we don’t always need the big play, but the best play. He’s getting better at that.”
And it leaves him repeating an Odums mantra, even if it’s paraphrased.
“Those tedious things make you better,” Joseph said. “It helps decide how you’ll be judged.”
Follow Matthew Harris on Twitter at @MHarrisAdvocate.
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