Dawson Odums, Southern aim to make a statement

Around the Southern football facility, there are signs that the Aug. 30 season opener against Houston could be more than a big payday.

One such sign is posted on the door to coach Dawson Odums’ second-floor office.

A black-and-white printout bears the logos for Louisiana-Monroe and Arkansas, and it shows the score of their game last September:

ULM 34, Arkansas 31.

“David has beaten Goliath — that does happen,” Odums said. “But it can’t happen if you don’t believe.”

Southern has bigger goals this season than simply posting an upset in the opener. But the trip to Reliant Stadium is, after all, the first order of business.

And such a tall task right out the gate, Odums said, has made it easy to enter his first fall camp as Southern’s coach with his team’s undivided attention.

In fact, most of the Jaguars who “report” to campus Wednesday will have never really gone anywhere. Odums said Southern had more than 70 players on campus during the summer, providing a resounding response to the challenge he gave them when the spring semester ended.

“Coach made a statement about how he wanted at least 50 guys to be here for the summer so we could improve our program as a whole rather than individually,” senior receiver Lee Doss said. “We took that and ran with it. Everything started working together. Everybody started to become one.”

But the real signs about where Southern is headed will be shown in the next few weeks.

The Jaguars have their first practice of fall camp Thursday afternoon in helmets and shorts. They move into full pads Aug. 5 and go through their first session of two-a-days the following day.

Picked to finish second in the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s Western Division behind defending SWAC champion Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Southern has league passing champ Dray Joseph back to lead a list of 16 returning starters.

Doss joined linebacker Anthony Balancier and defensive back Virgil Williams on the preseason all-conference first team. LSU transfer Corey White, who joined the team for spring practice, will help anchor a veteran offensive line.

The batch of incoming freshmen is led by Salmen product Chuck Baker, who was listed by ESPN as the No. 205 recruit in the nation.

“I’m excited to see where we are,” Odums said. “I’m excited to see how the old faces go with the new faces.”

Odums was 4-5 as Southern’s head man last season after being promoted two games in. By now he has had an entire offseason to leave his mark on the players and program.

When the Jaguars open practice this week, he likely will sport the sweatshirt he wore last year so that he would sweat in the August heat as much as his players.

He said his message to the Jaguars will be to push beyond the things they can’t control. That may be a dropped pass or a blown assignment. Or that may be the heat.

“We’re trying to create positive energy,” he said. “We’ve got to create that mindset during camp.”

In the offseason, Odums named quarterbacks coach Chad Germany and offensive line coach Chennis Berry his co-offensive coordinators. He said he will call the defensive plays himself and the title of “defensive coordinator” will be worn by the entire defensive staff.

Areas that should see heavy competition during camp include running back, receiver and linebacker. But perhaps the biggest question the Jaguars face is finding Joseph’s backup.

Wynton Perro played behind Joseph in the spring after moving back to offense from defensive back. Incoming freshmen Francis Kennah and Deonte Shorts will enter the fray this week.

“It’s exciting to get out there and really get the season started and to show everybody what we’re going to be able to do,” Doss said. “Everybody’s hungry to get on the field.”

Fan Day is set for Aug. 17. Classes begin Aug. 19.

Before the Jaguars know it, they will be entering their first game week with Odums as their full-time coach, staring at the matchup with Houston. They want to make sure they make the most of their time.

“I’m excited to see how the guys come out of the gate,” Odums said. “They’re eager to get ready to go. I think they’ll be ready.”