Southern football team takes first step toward season

There soon will be all sorts of signs that football is back at Southern.

Coach Dawson Odums will be wearing the sweatshirt he sports every August to make sure he sweats as much as his players.

Quarterback Dray Joseph will be throwing darts to Lee Doss on third-down crossing routes.

A crowd of fans — the same usual faces — will be gathered to watch the Jaguars practice.

“In their spot over there by the tree, right there between the Subway and the practice field,” Odums said.

The scene Wednesday was the surest sign yet that football is back: droves of burly young men in T-shirts and shorts toting appliances into their Southern dorm rooms.

On the day before they would hit the practice field for the first time, the Jaguars welcomed 95 players who checked into their dorms and reported for fall camp.

“It’s an exciting time,” Odums said. “Everybody’s been asking the question, ‘Coach, are you excited being close to football?’ I really think today is where all the excitement starts, getting a chance to watch all the young men move in and really realize it’s football season.”

Preseason camp in college football is always a time for teams to forget their past and dive headlong into the promise of tomorrow. But the excitement at Southern carries a bit more of a buzz this year.

For starters, Odums is entering his first fall camp after running the program for nine games in 2012 on an interim basis.

What’s more, the team he inherited, despite going 4-7 last year, has the look of a Southwestern Athletic Conference contender.

Only a year after entering fall camp in a battle for the starting job, Joseph is back for his senior year as the unquestioned leader of the Southern offense. He hopes to build on a junior campaign in which he led the SWAC in passing.

“I want to go out on the first day of camp and make a statement and let these guys know that it’s go time,” Joseph said.

Joseph is one of eight returning starters on offense. Seven more starters are back on defense.

Combine that with the fact that Southern had more than 70 players stay in town to take part in its summer conditioning and weight program.

Odums expects little in the way of rust when Southern hits the field at 4:30 p.m. Thursday for its first practice of camp. Conditioning tests for all players will be conducted at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

“It was exciting to watch some of the older guys come in and just have a different bounce about their step and walk with some confidence,” Odums said. “We’re just ready to get this thing going and looking forward to a really exciting fall camp.”

Because the Jaguars have so many veteran players, Joseph said they shouldn’t have as much trouble as some teams managing common training-camp obstacles.

“The days are so long, and they feel like they run together,” he said. “During camp, you lose track of the days and the date. But we have a veteran nucleus. We adapt to the heat and the atmosphere and understand what it takes to get it done. For the younger guys and the guys from out of state who aren’t used to the heat and the temperature, the main thing is making sure to stay hydrated.”

Fall camp concludes Aug. 17 with a scrimmage and fan day.

Running back, linebacker and wide receiver are positions where Odums expects to see heated competition for playing time.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to see what we’ve got,” he said.

“Try to put the new faces with the old faces and just try to recognize what we’re trying to get done in this camp.”