“He fell into our lap, but with these two guys leaving, (LaQuinton Evans) and (Jared) Green, there’s going to be a spot for him. The hint for him is learning the offense, and how fast he can move with the offense and the installs.” Jorge Baez, SU receivers coach, on Thomas Jackson
Local players were not a hallmark of Southern’s 2012 signing class.
Of the 15 signees, just three were from Louisiana, with two coming from the New Orleans area and one from Port Barre.
But that doesn’t mean newcomers from Baton Rouge won’t make an impact this season.
Wide receiver Thomas Jackson, defensive tackle Benay Pryer and running back Lenard Tillery — all of whom played high school ball in the capital area — have turned a few heads since arriving on The Bluff and have a chance to become hometown heroes if they prove themselves during training camp.
Jackson, a 6-foot-2, 211-pounder who played at Dutchtown High with SU safety Levi Jackson (no relation), took a long route to Southern but may have a short path to playing time.
Out of Dutchtown, he spent one year at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia, catching 20 passes for 215 yards and a touchdown, then joined Northwestern State in a 2009 signing class that Rivals.com rated as the best in the Football Championship Subdivision.
In two seasons with the Demons, Thomas never managed big-time production (18 catches for 170 yards). But when family issues made him look closer to home, the Jaguars were more than happy to give him a shot.
“I remember him coming out of high school when I was at Ole Miss,” receivers coach Jorge Baez said. “When he showed up, I was like, ‘Man, we’ve got to get him in here.’ ”
Even if Jackson’s stats weren’t eye-popping, his measurables were impressive.
Baez said Jackson can bench press 335 pounds, power-clean 275 and has been clocked as fast as 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Levi Jackson said he sees his second-time teammate as a tough possession wideout.
That’s what Thomas Jackson wants, too.
“I would like to be a dominant receiver, just physical and really going at it, not dropping anything,” the fourth-year junior said.
While Southern’s starting receivers are all but set, with Michael Berry, Charles Hawkins and Lee Doss, the losses of LaQuinton Evans and Jared Green have left an opening.
“(Jackson) fell into our lap, but with these two guys leaving, (Evans) and Green, there’s going to be a spot for him,” Baez said. “The hint for him is learning the offense, and how fast can he move with the offense and the installs.”
That was the tricky part for Thomas Jackson on Sunday, when a strong opening to training camp earned him playing time with the first team. But a few mistakes in a weather-shortened practice meant Thomas Jackson still has some work to do before he’s game ready.
“He didn’t take advantage of his opportunity,” Southern coach Stump Mitchell said, although he still expects Thomas Jackson will contribute. “Absolutely. Fantastic body, can catch the ball extremely well, but he has to be in the right place at the right time.”
That’s a similar challenge for Pryer, who played at Belaire High, two junior colleges and Louisiana-Lafayette before joining Southern.
Right now, defensive like coach Myron Jackson said Pryer is still learning the defense, which “is like a new language.” But one look at Pryer’s 6-foot-5, 310-pound frame, and it’s clear he can be of service.
“He’s put together well. All the measurables you would want in a defensive lineman, he has them,” Myron Jackson said. “He’ll be able to help us this year, definitely. More because he’s already experienced. Really, he’s fallen in and is getting along with the guys. He’ll fit right along in with everybody else.”
Then there’s Tillery, an invited walk-on from McKinley who didn’t take long to leave his mark.
He passed the team’s conditioning test on the first try, then made the most of his reps in practice behind starting running backs Sylvester Nzekwe and Jerry Joseph.
“Tillery, he’s exciting,” Mitchell said. “You really don’t want to play a lot of these freshmen, but if they show you — especially skill guys — that they can play, then why not let them help you?”
Two other Baton Rouge natives, freshman Jason Dykes (McKinley) and sophomore D’Andre Woodland (Belaire) worked as the third-team cornerbacks on Sunday. Woodland joined the team this week after running with the SU track team last year.