Energy and excitement filled M.M. Roberts Stadium as Southern Miss concluded its first spring practice under new Head Coach Will Hall’s leadership.
“We want to give people a reason to believe in something,” Hall said. “You see people working together because they love each other. That’s what we’re trying to build here. It was a great spring building that, obviously football-wise. We got a lot better at a lot of things. There are some things we’ve got to improve on, but all in all, we’re better today than we were on February 23.”
The team practiced and improved game situations throughout each practice leading to its annual spring game. After 15 practices this spring, Hall said the team knows its strengths and weaknesses.
“We know what kind of ingredients we have now,” Hall said. “We know what we can do and what we can’t do, what pieces we might want to add over the offseason and what we feel pretty good about.”
All eyes were on quarterback Trey Lowe III during practice. Lowe threw two touchdowns and three interceptions in four games last season after Tate Whatley was injured and Jack Abraham opted out of the season. Now, Lowe gets a chance to start for the Golden Eagles in 2021.
“I think we had a really good spring[,] so I’m just excited to get the season going, to be honest. We’re going to have a really good offseason. We’re going to keep pushing and keep going hard. We know we want to win 12 games,” Lowe said.
Lowe said he wished he made more passes during the spring practice game. He threw two interceptions during practice, but connected multiple times with wide receiver Jason Brownlee, including a dart on a slant route and a touchdown pass.
“I think Lowe came on as a leader and his attention to detail is unbelievable,” Hall said. “He had a great spring throughout.”
Freshman quarterback Tee Webb, who recently transferred from Louisville, also displayed his talents in the scrimmage. Webb connected with wide receiver Matt Pleasant for a thirty-yard gain on one of the first plays.
“Tee really got better every day,” Hall said. “I thought he had a nice day. You can really see the touch that he has on his passes. He’s got smooth delivery and he’s only going to get better as he grows.”
Jake Lange and L.J. Leonard also played during the scrimmage and performed well. Hall said that his staff will assess the starting position before the season begins.
“We’re going to go back and evaluate all 15 practices and make a decision based on data,” Hall said. “But I feel really good about both of them [Lowe and Webb] as long as they keep progressing.”
Southern Miss’s defense ranked eleventh in defensive efficiency last season and allowed the third-most touchdowns in Conference USA, but the unit stole the show with big plays during the scrimmage.
“We’ve got some dogs, we’ve got some guys that really stepped up and I give my hats off to Coach [Brandon] Lacy,” defensive lineman Jacques Turner said. “He’s done a good job with us. This is the best I’ve ever seen the defensive line production-wise.”
After stepping away from the program in 2020, Turner is returning to play for the Golden Eagles this season.
“It feels like a fresh start. Everybody feels like it’s a fresh start around here,” Turner said. “It’s like being a freshman again.”
Turner said that he’s been working to get back in game shape after taking the year off and, compared to last season, has seen the defensive line stepping up during spring.
“From stepping back, I’ve seen guys like [defensive lineman] Tahj Sykes taking on bigger roles and being that alpha male on the D-Line and I tell him every day, ‘You’ve got to be a dog and a leader because other guys are looking up to you,’” Turner said.
Linebacker Zach Portlock was everywhere in the scrimmage, breaking up a pass, grabbing an interception and making a hard hit. Portlock first showcased his talents last season with an eight-tackle and one-sack performance against WKU.
“Zach is always a guy that’s ready. He’s been showing up big time […] and doing that every day this spring,” Turner said.
Cornerback Natrone Brooks also grabbed an interception in the endzone on a pass from Lowe during the practice, showing how the team has continuously improved.
Southern Miss’s offense has its fair share of playmakers at the skill positions, including freshman running back Frank Gore Jr., who looks to carry on his success from his first year.
“I’m looking to be faster, stronger, more explosive and just being able to take more hits to become an every-down running back,” Gore said.
Gore finished fourth in the conference with 708 yards on 121 rushing attempts for two touchdowns.
Running backs Darius Maberry and Dee Baker also rushed during the spring practice, and the latest redshirt freshman Antavious Willis, or “Rambo”, also took carries.
“Maberry’s played a lot of football here, and he’s got a chance to do some things,” Hall said. “Rambo and Dee are learning every day. Rambo probably had his best three days of practice last week.”
On the offensive line, Hall said he believes senior Khalique Washington has pro-potential after improving during the spring. Hall also noted the potential of lineman Gerquan Scott in practice.
While the team lost its senior receiver Tim Jones at the end of last season, the team added four freshmen to its roster, and has veterans who aim to increase their production. In his first season at Southern Miss, Brownlee led the team in all receiving categories with 34 catches for 610 yards and 5 touchdowns. Hall noted Brownlee’s potential.
“Jason Brownlee’s got a chance to be one of the best players I’ve ever coached,” Hall said.
Southern Miss has four months until its season opener, which is an away game at South Alabama on Sep. 4.