By Chelsey Williams
Last year’s Golden Eagles ended their season with a 9-5, 7-1 record, Southern Miss has re-established their legacy of winning. It came as a surprise to have a head coaching change after such a productive season. However, new head coach Jay Hopson has established a motto “11 brothers are hard to beat”; with sixteen returning starters the Golden Eagles hope to be unstoppable.
These are the four most important people for the 2016 Golden Eagles.
QB – Nick Mullens (6-1, 196, Sr) – Mullens is a four year starter and the reigning C-USA Offensive Player of the Year. Mullens is coming off a record breaking year where he threw for 4,476 and 38 TD’s. This will be Mullens final season as a Golden Eagle and he is looking to finish his career with a C-USA championship. The biggest concern will be how well Mullens meshes with new OC Shannon Dawson. returning senior who’s ready to complete what he started with Southern Miss. Last year, Mullens won C-USA offensive player of the year while breaking school records. He was second in the league with 4,476 yards and 38 touchdown passes. Mullens plans to stay the humbled quarterback his team is accustomed to seeing while giving his all one last time as a golden eagle.
RB – Ito Smith (5-9, 195, Jr) – Smith led the team with 1,128 rushing yards and was second in attempts. The junior will be a serious threat in all facets of the game as he ended the season with a team-best 139.5 all-purpose yards per game. Smith is short in stature but his footwork and ability to break tackles allow him to play much bigger than he really is. After gaining 1,876 all-purpose yards as a sophomore, Smith has a stranglehold on the RB position for the next few years.
WR – D.J Thompson (6-3, 200, Sr) – Thompson is the leading returning receiver this year and was third on the team last season. Thompson was able to make a mark while playing with Casey Martin and Mike Thomas last year. He caught 55 passes for 779 yards and six touchdowns in 2015. Now in his senior year, Thompson will be the leader of a fresh group of receivers.
Safety – D’Nerious Antoine (6-0, 215, Sr) – Last year, Antoine led the team with 75 solo tackles and was second in interceptions. Antoine was a linebacker last year, and is converting safety this season. His experience at linebacker should help when providing run support. The experience of his secondary mates should help ease his transition during pass coverage.
Head Coach – Jay Hopson – Hopson was formerly the head coach at Alcorn State, leading the Braves to a 32-17 record and SWAC championships in his final two years. Hopson has two previous stints coaching at Southern Miss. From 2001-2003 he was the DB Coach and from 2005-2007 he was the LB and DC.
Hopson will dvelop a team that is determined to win. His love for the alumni along with the successful mindset from the previous school will allow Hopson to build off of last year’s successes.
Southern Miss has a lot to look forward to in the coming season that will continue their climb to bowl game heaven. This team seems to have bought into Hopson’s system and they are looking to win another division title as well as challenging for the conference crown.