By Felix Cunningham
Southern University football has been picked to finish second in the Western Division of the Southwestern Athletic Conference in the preseason.
The only issue since before the media announced this news at SWAC Media Day in Birmingham was that Southern was unable to have spring practice due to ineligible data submitted to the NCAA that suspended Southern athletics from postseason play for two seasons.
Two trips to Reliant Stadium, back-to-back victories at the Bayou Classic and back to back Western Division championships routed Southern as a threat to return to prominence since 2013.
“It’s just what’s on pen and paper,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “It’s a new season with new challenges.”
Fact is, this isn’t the preseason anymore. The scrimmages have been finished and the roster has been completed. It’s time for some Southern University football and the first game is September 5 in Ruston against Louisiana Tech.
The Jaguars’ offense has some dangerous options this season.
Starting as true freshmen, Austin Howard and Deonte Shorts kept their spots as quarterbacks as they matriculated to sophomores.
Howard completed 168 of 325 passes for 2,334 yards and 17 touchdowns with only eight interceptions in 2014. The sophomore signal caller also rushed for 201 yards and four touchdowns and was named SWAC freshman of the year.
Odums speaks highly of Howard in the upcoming season, “I think Austin is the better quarterback and his ability is second to none. He plays fast and he can be as good as anybody.”
In the Southern backfield, Howard will have many weapons at his disposal.
Willie Quinn returns to the fray and amazed the crowd last season with his spark and agility, tallying 62 catches for 894 yards and five touchdowns.
Randall Menard is returning from a toe injury, but was a breakout true freshman for Southern in 2013.
Veteran Justin Morgan is a playmaker with dual roles also vying in the halfback position if needed. On the deep ball is Mike Jones. Nico Talbert, who sat out last season because of ineligibility, Bradley Coleman and Chuck Baker are some additional players at the wide receiver position.
Offensive lineman Anthony Mosley, a preseason All-SWAC selection for the second straight year, returns from ineligibility to boost the Jaguars up front. Center, Terrell Lee, is a second-team preseason All-SWAC selection. Left tackle, Eric Janeau will get the first crack at starting right tackle. Senior place-kicker Greg Pittman is expected to punt against Tech.
“We have a number of weapons on the offense, and with Howard at the tip of the iceberg, they are capable of doing a lot,” said Odums.
Both defensive tackles, Donald Phillips and Christian Allen have talent and experience to lead the defensive line.
The linebacker position has been restored since Daniel Brown’s return after an absence last season due to academic ineligibility. Demetrius Carter also returns after his 2014 performance of more than 90 tackles.
“We have battled through adversity and we can battle through more,” Carter said.
Jamar Mitchell battled freshman Demario Houston and sophomore Ki-Jana Curtis for a chance to start at the open cornerback position. Mitchell shares the position opposite of Danny Johnson. Johnson was picked to the first team in the preseason as well as strong safety Dionte McDuffy.
The Jaguars have aspirations for a SWAC championship and Celebration Bowl berth, which means Southern has to start the season strong this weekend against Louisiana Tech and cannot stop the intensity.
“We are also putting into place that in Game 1 we go full speed, and that’s what we are doing in practice because there’s no better way to teach than to practice,” Odums said.