NEW ORLEANS — Southern Miss football coach Will Hall took the podium for the first time since the Golden Eagles made the move to the Sun Belt.
Here’s what the second-year head coach had to say during the Q&A portion of his Sun Belt Media Days session.
On reports that linebacker Hayes Maples is out for the season and how that impacts things:
“That is true. Hayes got injured during the summer at offseason workouts. Tough deal. Hayes is a great young man, from Oak Grove, Mississippi. He does everything that you ask every day. That’s the reality of life. Bad things happen. And a lot of times in life, bad things happen to good people, and this is one of those situations. We use it as a teachable moment with our players.
“The silver lining in it, I guess if there is one, is that it’s the one position on our team where we’ve got a lot of depth. We’ve got Swayze [Bozeman] right here, who’s played a ton of really good minutes in college football. We’ve got Santrell Latham, who’s played a ton of great football. We’ve got TQ Newsome, a young guy from Gulfport, Mississippi. He’s coming on and played some good football for us last year. We signed a young man, Daylen Gill, from Louisville, Mississippi. He was an all-stater and then was a junior college All-American at Jones Junior College. We brought him in and he was here in spring ball.
“So we’ve got some depth right there, we feel like we can overcome that with how we’ve recruited. But we certainly hate it for Hayes. He’s attacking rehab with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind, just like he does everything. We hate it for him, but he will be back, and that’s his status going forward.”
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Q: On excitement driven by the local programs Southern Miss will play in the Sun Belt:
“I’ve not run into anyone that’s not just ecstatic about joining this league, and that’s not just standing up here and talking to you through rose-colored glasses. I mean, our fanbase is extremely excited because when they wake up on Sunday and Monday morning and they’re drinking coffee at the coffee shop, now we’re playing Troy, we’re playing [Louisiana] Monroe, we’re playing [Louisiana], South Alabama, Arkansas State.
“They know those teams. They’ve played them before. There’s some type of instant recollection from their past of playing those teams that they can remember. They know where they’re at. And man, that matters, and anybody that thinks it doesn’t matter is wrong.
“In a day and age where college football is kind of moving away from that at the autonomy level, down there where we are, I think it’s been really smart by our commissioner and everybody that’s in charge to get back to this geographic footprint with a lot of schools that really care about football. We’re excited to be joining it, but I know our fans are the ones who are going to benefit the most.”
On Southern Miss’ QB situation:
“Everybody knows what we went through last year, which I wouldn’t recommend to anybody. But we made it through and now we’re tougher because of it. We got a young man that started three games and played in four who was a highly recruited kid and had one of the greatest high school careers in Mississippi history in Ty Keyes.
“…Ty had a great spring and a great summer. He’ll be our starter going into fall camp. Really talented young man who we think has the it factor. We think there’s a lot of reasons to have a lot of high hopes for him. Now, he’s young. Every young quarterback has growing pains. We’ll go through those together. We feel very good about the trajectory of our room with Ty running it. Behind him, we got a young man in Trey Lowe who was great for us at the beginning of last year and got hurt. He’s back and fully healthy. And we got a young man in Zach Wilke who was the No. 1 quarterback in the state of Mississippi last year…We’re in a much better situation quarterback-wise.”
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On the Sun Belt West and it potentially being wide open this season:
“As far as the Sun Belt West, I think everybody thinks it’s wide open because there’s so many programs like us that are in year two with their coach or in year one with their coach. But it’s a lot of coaches that have unbelievable track records, a lot of coaches that have been head coaches before…We’re excited to be in the West, it’s going to be highly competitive, and we look forward to doing our part to add to that.”
On the transfer portal and NIL:
“When I was in DII for 14 years and as a head coach for six years, man, we were living in the portal before there was a portal. Because it used to be that a kid from a Division I school had to transfer down to be immediately eligible. So we’d build programs with high school kids and transfers forever and ever.”
“So it’s not too unfamiliar for me and where we come from. What we wanted to do from the moment we got to Southern Miss is we wanted to get back to owning our footprint. And what is that? Well, that’s Mississippi, lower Alabama, Southeast Louisiana and the panhandle of Florida. That’s been good to Southern Miss for a long time. We want to get back to recruiting those areas with a lot of intensity and so we’ve done that. That’s high school kids, that’s junior college kids, that’s portal kids, that’s all of them.
“All the portal kids we took were from that footprint. So we felt like we knew them, we felt like we knew their high school, knew where they were from and we felt like we knew a lot about them.
“Look, man, the day’s coming where the portal is not going to be kind to us. We recognize and understand that. But that’s part of it
“As far as NIL goes, we’re all familiar with it at Southern Miss. It’s another thing that’s not going away, so we might as well embrace it and use it to our advantage. We do have a real fanbase that’s passionate, so we’re all running with it and hope to continue to grow it to help our student-athletes.
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On getting back to Southern Miss grit:
“Most fanbases want to see touchdowns, they want to see flash. At Southern Miss, they want to see you play defense. The Nasty Bunch slogan has been around a long time, we’ve won a lot of games with it. That’s one of the things that we’re proud of in year one. We’re working defensively to start getting that Nasty Bunch slogan back. We gave up 23 touchdowns in 11 games. We gave up 30 total, but we have up seven to Alabama and they score a lot of touchdowns on everybody.
“We felt like we took a big step forward to getting that defense back. Swayze coming back, most of our linebackers back, all our secondary back, we’ve had good progress on the D-Line. We feel like can be really good defensively this year.”
On the fundamental things they’ve been working on this offseason to improve:
“I think one of the things we talked about as a staff, when you’re building a program and you’re trying to go from a program that has not been winning to get to where you can win, you’ve got to first stop doing things that cause you to lose. Most football games are lost. They’re not won. That’s one of the things I was pleased with last year.
“Towards the end of the year, we quit doing those things that cause you to lose games, which allows you to win it at the end. We were able to win our last two, which was good. I feel like a lot of our young kids realize that and bought into that.”
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On what he’s hoping to get out of his transfers:
“I feel like we’re going to get a lot out of it. We enrolled 26 kids in mid-year, which is an astronomical amount for a Division I football program, but that’s where we were at. We played the season with 62 scholarships, we’re at 85 here in year two. So we’re excited about being fully funded and being ready to roll with that.
“As far as some guys who we’re really looking forward to seeing, all those D-Linemen we brought in will play significant roles, they all had really good springs. Tylan Knight’s a young man in the secondary and on special teams who we’ve got a lot of high hopes for. We’ve got some O-Linemen who are going to play major parts in that, and we also added some depth at running back, which we needed.
“I don’t think any of them won’t play a significant role because of where we’re at. We had some good players last year. We just didn’t have enough. We were like a 3A school playing a 6A schedule.”
On what is different about his offensive line this year that gives him confidence it can improve:
“The first thing we did when we went into the offseason is hire Sam Gregg as our offensive line coach. Sam’s one of the top offensive line coaches in the country. We hired him from Liberty. Sam’s been with me for 14 years through the whole DII run. We’ve had a lot of success together, a tremendous molder of young men.
“We’ve added seven scholarship O-Linemen over the course of a year which is a lot, and we got a lot of them coming back. They’ve got another year older, a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger. So I wouldn’t say we’re a finished product there by any means, but I think we’ll play a lot better than we did last year.”
On playing superbacks at quarterback and whether it might continue going forward:
“Desperate times call for desperate measures, right? The last three games of the year we didn’t play a quarterback. We snapped it to a running back and rotated in. We got a lot of attention and we were able to win our last two games of the year, which was great. We were shorthanded with our roster, to the point where it was almost unhealthy to play a whole college football game with that amount of players.
“So, what we did was we milked the [play clock] down to one second and reduced the whole football game by probably about 20 snaps total…which gave our kids a chance. What we found was we’d get to the second half of a lot of games and we were in it, but we just got tired. We didn’t have the bodies. We don’t want to have to do that again.
“We’re going to use the superback offense each week, but we’d like to get back to being a quarterback driven program…and we think we’re on our way to that. Now, they’re young, but they’re young and talented, and we’re molding them every day.”
On Ty Keyes’ development:
“Ty has worked extremely hard. He came in at 196 pounds, got to us at the end of May last summer. He was 218 before he left yesterday. He’s a lot more physical, he’s gained some weight. He looks a lot better. He’s been able to lift weights for a year for the first time in his life. Like I said, he’s young. We’ve got to play well around the quarterback. We can’t just put it all on him. But we’re excited about his debelopment and his future.
On the transfer portal and SEC transfers:
“We told them from day one, we’re not going to become you, so you’ve got to become us. And they have. We’re a little old school in how we run our program, we’re very personable. Maybe it’s my small college background. We’re not a business in any way.
“…They had good springs and we’re excited about it. All of them are in that footprint…We’re excited about bringing them into our program. They’re excited about coming back home, if you will. We think they’re going to be great additions to what we’re trying to get done.”
Reach Southern Miss writer David Eckert at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @davideckert98.