If you take in a Southern Miss practice, you won't be able to miss new defensive line coach Derek Nicholson.
The former Florida State LB parades around practice in his cleets and is constantly encouraging and motivating his players as if he was in uniform himself. Nicholson came with Coach Hopson from Alcorn State, but he has a long history in his family with both his brother and father playing in the NFL. He also coached a season with the Louisville defense in one of their best defenses in history.
Now in Hattiesburg, Nicholson is bringing his knowledge, expertise, and enthusiasm to the Southern Miss program.
"It has been a really smooth transition to be honest with you," Coach Nicholson told GoldenEaglePride.com. "I absolutely love the city and I love the tradition of the program. It really is a dream job for me and I can't wait to see this program continue to take off with Coach Hopson.
"I've been with him and I know how hard he works and the attitude he brings to the field every day."
Coach Nicholson was eager to talk about his guys and the development of the defensive line. He was thrilled with what he saw from the scrimmage on Saturday where the defense recorded 14 sacks.
"We have really gotten after it and that is the biggest thing for this group," he said. "We don't have a ton of size but we have a lot of quickness, heart, and determination. These guys play well together and they are picking up things very fast. My seniors are leading and they love the way we are going to move around on the defensive line."
Coach pointed out three guys who have stood out above the rest when it comes to taking a leadership role along the line.
"Certainly having Wil Freeman back has been absolutely huge because he's a guy that has been around the program a long time and he has taken a big leadership role," Nicholson said.
"Dylan Bradley is another one that is just an absolute monster on the line. We have been pushing him hard because we know that he can be a dominating force. I'm very proud of the way he's come in and worked hard. He has a business like approach to everything he does."
He's also been impressed with the emergence of Xavier Thigpen on the outside.
"Paw Paw has been huge for us this spring," he said.
"He is so long and so athletic. Then, he's just got an incredible motor and tremendous instinct to the ball. He's very aggressive and we truly believe he's just now starting to understand what he can become. There is no reason he can't be a dominating guy off the end that can take over games."
Who else has stood out to Nicholson?
"I love Ladarius Harris in the middle," he said. "He's been running with the ones. He's just so quick in the middle, he's not a huge guy but he puts incredible pressure up the middle because he gets off the ball so quickly. He is so strong too in the middle that he really is able to plug things up well. To think he's only played one year is impressive, and I love what I'm seeing from him."
He also talked about candidates for the new "wolf" position that will have an impact for the defense.
"The wolf is the toughest position to learn on our defense," Nicholson said.
"You have so much going on with that position. They have to learn the defensive line calls, and they have to be able to step back into coverage or blitz from a linebacker spot. We are throwing a lot at them, but the good news is that we have some guys that can really handle the position.
"Darian Yancey is a good fit there because he has played both positions and is a very smart and physical football player. He's improved his quickness and continues to grow into the position. Also Jerry McCorvey will be a guy who can fit in there we believe. Derrick Dixon has a lot to learn and he needs to gain some good weight, but he'll be a guy that can provide some depth.
"Our biggest thing is play hard and play with passion, man. If you can't have passion and have that heart, then don't come out here. This is where the game is won and lost right here in the trenches, and we've got some guys that have the heart and who will go get it. That is part of what I love about this line. They are not the biggest, but they will never be outworked."