Jaguars seniors have much to celebrate

College football teams traditionally honor their seniors when they play their final home game, as Southern will do when it plays Clark Atlanta in its home finale Saturday in A.W. Mumford Stadium.

But the outgoing Jaguars and their teammates have made this Senior Day even more memorable than a normal football commencement.

Southern returns home after consecutive road wins to play its first home game as the freshly crowned champion of the Southwestern Athletic Conference Western Division.

If the Jaguars beat Clark, they will clinch their first winning season since 2009 before the seniors head off into the sunset with the Bayou Classic game against Grambling on Nov. 30 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the SWAC Championship Game against Jackson State on Dec. 7 in Houston.

In other words, Senior Day could be just the beginning of a lengthy celebration for a senior class that has had so little to celebrate previously, finishing 2-9 in 2010 and 4-7 each of the past two seasons.

“It’s kind of playing out the way we wanted it to play out at the beginning of the year,” senior safety Omar Cook said before practice Monday. “At the beginning of the year, we said that we wanted to go to the SWAC title game.”

But first, the 6-4 Jaguars will try to guarantee the seniors their first winning season. A few redshirted during the 2009 season when Southern went 6-5, but no one on this team has played on a winning Jaguars team.

“That would be a huge accomplishment, one of our many goals this season,” Cook said. “It’s Step 1 in the process before we go into the other games. It’s nice that we clinched early so we can enjoy the rest of our games.

“We can go into Saturday’s contest and play a complete game and get that game out of the way and go into another really big game for us: the Bayou Classic and ultimately the SWAC championship. So it’s basically how we wanted it to be, a dream season. It’s a great way to go out.”

A victory against Clark would also give the seniors their first three-game winning streak. They beat Texas Southern 31-24 two weeks ago and Alabama State 31-28 Saturday.

“Our next goal is to get to 3-0 in November,” senior offensive lineman Aaron Hall said. “It’s been a great four years at Southern, but I try not to think about it being my last time. I’m just taking it as another home game, because I know I’ll get emotional if I start thinking about it being my last time. I’m just thinking about it being the next step in the process of accomplishing our main goal, which is to win a championship.”

Southern coach Dawson Odums said he and his staff never talked to the players about a winning season or a title, focusing instead on being their best for each practice, each play, each game and always remaining positive.

“If you do that,” Odums said, “the rest will take care of itself.”

So far it has, as the Jaguars have their first division title since 2004 and can win their first SWAC championship since 2003.

“I’m happy for the seniors because they’ve endured a lot,” Odums said. “It’s great to see the seniors and this team come together. It’s a blessing to take mostly the same guys who were 4-5 with me last year (after he succeeded Stump Mitchell in the wake of an 0-2 start) and be in this position.

“We’re grateful for the opportunity and for where we are. We understand how hard it is to win football games. It’s about playing together. I’m excited that the senior class has the opportunity to go out as a winner.”

Odums said the success of these seniors and their teammates can have a long-term impact.

“I think (the division title) is a great accomplishment for this entire institution, our athletic administration and our football program,” he said. “That’s what I’m trying to create here. I don’t want to work at a place where there’s just a football team. I want to have a program. It’s great for the young men to be part of a program. When they leave, they want to give back to the program. And that’s what we’re trying to create here.

“What you’re seeing right before your eyes is a program being built.”