Pick any cliche a fan base might use to describe the ups and downs on signing day...
"You win some you lose some."
"There's always next year."
"Live to fight another day."
In the world of flips and decommits, national signing day can have its share of roller coaster rides. For Southern Miss fans, you can toss any of those old cliches out the window as NSD for the class of 2017 proved to be an outstanding day that just kept getting better. If I may steal another cliche, NSD was simply the "gift that just kept on giving."
Southern Miss started the day with a flurry of activity as the names they expected starting to come across the board. One big one came early in Travion Clayton, perhaps the only commit who seemed like he was entertaining another offer. Clayton visited Georgia State the weekend before his official visit to USM, and even expressed some uncertainty about the offensive line coaching change on twitter. After his official visit to USM, however, the big man was fully convinced. He came across the board very early.
Then, it was a big flip by Wydale Flott that seemed to get the party started for the Golden Eagles, and they never looked back.
Flott was committed to South Alabama, but had an in home visit with the Golden Eagles about 10 days ago that he reported went really well. The staff was hoping he'd come in on an official visit but Flott was off to FAU and it appeared the Eagles might have been out of the picture. This staff's stubbornness and relentless effort paid big dividends though, and Flott was announced for USM mid morning.
After a bit of a lull, more came on board that were anticipated, but every one was met with a fist pump from Southern Miss fans. After the beating the Eagles took a few years ago with Coach Monken's first signing class, getting the guys the staff had committed never has felt like a given.
Think about it. Southern Miss did not lose a single commitment that was expected to sign with Southern Miss to another school. That just doesn't happen in today's college football landscape. Guys that had committed back in the early spring and summer to Southern Miss, were landing with them on signing day. And, all that with little to no wavering, no less.
One of the exciting aspects of the Jay Hopson hire was his connections in the state of Mississippi and how that would play out in recruiting. In all, Southern Miss signed 11 players from in-state, with three of them being JuCo transfers from Mississippi programs. Five of those were ranked in the top 40 of overall in-state prospects in the state of Mississippi by Scout.com.
“Well what’s happened is that we have to build from the ground up high school wise," Coach Hopson said at today's press conference.
"That’s a must. I believe in this city. I believe in this area. I’m a Mississippi born myself so at the end of the day; I just believe that the guys in this state can play football. I always will until you put me in a coffin. I always talk about Mobile, Panhandle and Florida, we consider that just a still home print for Southern Miss. You have a great one, Lee (Roberts), who’s a great one from the Panhandle. The reality is that’s a Southern Miss home territory. We have a lot of Golden Eagles down there that not only played here but coach high school ball in the area. That’s something that is a special area that is unique to us.”
One aspect of this class that really stood out was the number of prospects the Eagles nabbed from the talent rich state of Florida. From the very beginning, Coach Hopson and staff went after prospects in the state of Florida, from the panhandle to south beach. They left no stone unturned in the sunshine state, and it paid huge dividends. USM signed 8 on the day from Florida, including 2 QB's and some serious upgrade in speed in Bubba Fludd on offense.
Two QB's of the future also inked with the Eagles, in Marcelo Rodriguez and Steven Anderson. Rodriguez has been ready for this day for a long time. He committed to USM in the summer after being on campus and being spotted by the coaches in an Elite camp. He was extended an offer, went home, and made his decision for USM. "I've never been so excited, I've been ready to officially be a Golden Eagle for a long time," he told GoldenEaglePride.com this morning. "Just can't wait to get there."
The great day was capped, however, with two big time signings that brought this entire class together. Paul Gainer, who on January 4th decommitted from Mississippi State, had his announcement set for mid afternoon of NSD. One of the state's top offensive linemen, Gainer had narrowed his decision down to Tulane, Southern Miss, and ULL. He visited all three places, and in the end gave the USM fans the news they had been dying to hear.
"I had all my options open and wanted to take all my visits before I made my final decision," Gainer told GoldenEaglePride.com. "The way the coaching staff kept recruiting me even when I was committed to Mississippi State really meant a lot to me. It stood out about them. They always had my best interest in mind." Gainer now gives USM an anchor along the offensive line for years to come.
As if the day could get any better, it somehow found a way to improve when the staff received word that Birmingham (AL)'s standout Jaylond Adams came across the board late into the evening. Adams, an explosive playmaker, had an interesting road that led him to Hattiesburg and in the end the Eagles won him over. It was truly a great ending to a very successful day for USM.
In the end, Jay Hopson found "Southern Miss guys." That, to him, is what this process was all about.
“Well we’re looking for a Southern Miss guy," he said.
"We’re looking for that guy that believes in this University, believes in who we are. The defensive guys who believe in the nasty bunch or offensive guys who believe in black attack. It’s an attitude. It’s who we are. We’re built on two or three-star players that have a chip and that’s who we’ll continue to be. At the end of the day, we’re going to find those guys that over the years not only have produced a lot of NFL players, a lot of all-pros, a lot of Hall of Famers or NFL MVPS. We’ll try and stick to that course because that’s a course that proves to be the right course.”
The program has certainly been through a lot over the past 10 years, and it deserved a day like today. There will be no rest for the weary as work for the class of 2018 is already well underway. But, make no mistake about it, this staff will celebrate the hard work that has been done to sign such a quality class.