With footballs flying, coaches yelling and cleats tearing into turf, the return of Southern football was evident for anyone near campus on Friday morning.
Well, there was one difference.
When the Jaguars kicked off fall camp with their first practice, they took the field in plain white helmets, the foundation for a new look they’ll show off this season.
Just before the Sept. 1 season opener at New Mexico, the new lids will be buffed and decals added — an SU logo with no mascot — to get them game-ready.
By then, Southern coach Stump Mitchell is hoping his team will only need the few final touches as well.
There’s a lot of work to do before that day comes, and it began Friday.
In helmets, jerseys and shorts, players went through position drills, receivers ran one-on-ones against defensive backs, and the team finished with offense-versus-defense, but without a full roster.
Mitchell held 16 players who failed their conditioning tests out of practice, instead having them work out with strength and conditioning coach Corliss Fingers on an adjacent field. The diminished numbers make it tougher for the team to progress, but Mitchell sees it as a necessary step to getting the Jaguars ready.
“We have to make some changes because we need those guys, but we need those guys in shape,” he said.
As for the players who worked with Fingers during the summer, Mitchell has seen immediate improvement.
“It’s not even close. It’s night and day,” he said.
That made it easier for those players to handle the added reps that came with being short-handed.
“Intensity was as high on the first day as it’s ever been since I’ve been here,” cornerback Virgil Williams said. “I feel a big difference.
“Coach Fingers busted our butts all summer. The first day just felt like a regular day back in spring to me. I came back ready.”
QBs ‘so-so’ on first day
Mitchell summed up the performances of Dray Joseph and J.P. Douglas — the two players vying for the starting quarterback job — as “so-so.”
“It’s the first day. Accuracy wasn’t there for either one of them,” Mitchell said. “I though Dray had a little more spunk than J.P. today. We’ll see what happens tomorrow, but one of those guys is going to be our starting quarterback and have a very successful year.”
During 7-on-7 drills, both were able to hit wide-open receivers, but placement was off on several tightly covered throws that went for incompletions. The highlight came via wideout Lee Doss, who ran a fly route and adjusted to an under-thrown pass from Joseph to snatch the ball from a defensive back and run for a score.
Mitchell said he and his staff are counting reps and will make sure that both get an equal chance to prove themselves.
“Neither one of them will say they didn’t get enough reps to compete,” he said. “We’re going to have one clear-cut winner.”
Mitchell added that he will choose a starter the week before Southern’s season opener.