Southern’s Dawson Odums is seeking that killer instinct

Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD -- Southern coach Dawson Odums Show caption
Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD -- Southern coach Dawson Odums

Maybe it’s fitting that the Southern football team will open its 2013 season on a Friday. Too bad it’s not Friday the 13th.

To relate a camplong message, coach Dawson Odums reached into the wayback machine and pulled out the villain from a famous 1980s horror franchise.

“He told us he needed a bunch of Jasons on defense and to be relentless,” Southern defensive back Virgil Williams said, referring to Jason Voorhees from the “Friday the 13th” movies. “That’s our goal in this camp and going into the season.”

If Southern fans start wearing hockey masks to games, it would mean the message got through and the Jaguars are playing just the way Odums wants.

It may also mean a streak of three straight losing seasons is dead and buried.

“What we try to explain to our guys is, you have to always play the next play,” Odums said. “You have to keep coming. We want them to understand that whatever happens in Act I can’t affect Act II. Just continue to play the next play.”

The official start of the Odums era at Southern — set for 7:30 p.m. Aug. 30 against Houston at Reliant Stadium — is not the opening act.

Two games into his second season as an SU assistant, Odums was promoted to interim head coach last year when Stump Mitchell was shown the door after a dreadful 6-0 loss to Mississippi Valley on national television.

The Jaguars responded immediately, upsetting Jackson State and Florida A&M in back-to-back games.

A four-game slide late in the season ended Southern’s hopes of a winning season, but the Jaguars knocked off Grambling in the Bayou Classic — their first Classic win in five years — to finish 4-7 overall and 3-6 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, salvaging a share of second place in the Western Division.

It was enough to land Odums the full-time job.

“I’m not interested in just being a good team,” he said. “I think Southern should have a great program. My quest is, I want to build a program.”

Over the winter, Odums made good on his promise to keep talent at home when his first recruiting class included 15 signees from Louisiana.

During the summer, about 70 players remained on campus to take part in Southern’s weight and conditioning program.

But Odums ultimately will be judged on how many games he wins in the fall. Fifteen starters return to a team that was picked to finish second in the West in the preseason coaches poll.

Quarterback Dray Joseph is back behind center after leading the SWAC in passing as a junior, and All-SWAC receiver Lee Doss again will be his favorite target. Linebacker Anthony Balancier and defensive back Virgil Williams are preseason all-conference selections, too.

A key will be improving a running game that last year averaged just 79.5 yards per game. The Jaguars added LSU transfer Corey White to an offensive line that returns four starters.

Joseph had a message for fans who have grown tired of watching Southern lose and have stopped coming out on Saturdays.

“You should come back,” he said. “This is going to be a show. We’re just waiting to explode. Guys are tired of losing. I think this is the year we’re going to do great.”

The Jaguars haven’t been that far off. Southern’s record in 2012 could have been 8-3 overall and 7-2 in the SWAC had it won each of the four games it lost by six points or fewer. The same goes for 2011, when Southern lost four games decided by five points or fewer.

“It just tells you we were that close,” offensive lineman Dwayne Houston said. “It just tells you we had maybe a few things to fix.”

If he were a football player, Odums figures Jason Voorhees would win the close ones.

“When I was growing up, you could count on another episode coming,” Odums said. “I would be watching the credits roll, and you’d always see a scene where his eyes popped back open. It was always hard to kill that guy.”