The more things change, the more they stay the same. With or without Odums, the Jaguars will be formidable.
Familiarity breeds wins
Rollins, who has filled just about every coaching position during his 25-year career, says the number one task before him is building team chemistry.
“The first thing we’ve got to do is make sure we know each other,” said Rollins, who spent just one year under Odums coaching special teams and defensive backs. “Compatibility is better than coachability. We want to make sure we’re all on the same page and know exactly where we want to go.”
This is Rollins’ first head coaching assignment.
Where Southern wants to go is back to the top of the SWAC’s West Division, a spot it occupied under Odums for the previous two seasons before being beaten and unseated by Arkansas-Pine Bluff last season. The narrow 33-30 loss to UAPB was the only blemish in a 5-1 campaign in the spring.
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Southern: It’s what’s up front that counts
Certainly working to Rollins’ advantage is a talented and experienced line-up. Ten Jaguars were voted to the preseason all-SWAC team, nine of them first-teamers. Six were on offense including four of the five offensive linemen. The Jags’ fifth offensive lineman made the second team. Tight end Ethan Howard (14 receptions, 240 yards, 2 TDs) was the Jaguars’ leading receiver in the spring and is also on the first team.
SIx-five, 275-pound first team selectee, senior offensive left tackle Ja’Tyre Carter, a former high school basketball standout, accompanied Rollins to Tuesday’s SWAC Football Media Day. He’s looking forward to taking the field with Rollins at the helm.
“I don’t expect any difference under Coach Rollins,” said Carter who played three years under Odums. “He and Coach Odums were on the same page and he expects us to do the same things. I’m just excited to see Coach Rollins coach this season, doing his thing.”
‘We’ve got everybody back, offensively and defensively, but so does everybody else in the nation,” said Rollins of the extra season granted because of the pandemic. “We have also have both offensive and defensive coordinators back. So, we have continuity, but so does everyone else that played this spring. So that’s not any different from anybody else.”
Run to glory
Running back Jerrodd Sims (255 yds., 4 TDs) is also a first-teamer. Rollins also inherits two-year starting quarterback Ladarius Skelton, who is dangerous with his legs (team-best 370 rushing yards, 4 TDs) and his arm (529 passing yards, 3 TDs). John Lampley (525 passing yards, 6 TDs) is an experienced option as well. Devon Benn, who rushed for nearly 900 yards in 2019, also returns.
With the skill and talent up front and in the backfield, it’s easy to see why Southern averaged a league-best 211 rushing yards per game and scored 37.6 points per game (2nd in SWAC) in the spring. “We ran the ball well every game,” Carter said. Expect the Jaguars under Rollins to employ much of the same strategy.
But the Southern defense is just as stout. That unit led the league in scoring (19.6 points per game) and total defense (317.0 yards per game) and was second in rushing (124.8 ypg.) and passing defense (192.2 ypg.).
Jordan Lewis adds shine to the defense
The ringleader for the Jags is the league’s defensive player of the year in the spring and the preseason choice for the same award, defensive end Jordan Lewis. He had FCS-bests of 10.5 sacks and 15.0 tackles for loss en route to earning the Buck Buchanan Award as the best defender in the nation. He’s only the third HBCU player to take home the FCS award, and the first from the SWAC.
“Anytime you have a national honor and success, that means you had a great season,” said Rollins. “But it also means you had a lot of people around you that supported you that allowed you to make those great plays. And he (Lewis) would be the first one to tell you that he’s standing on the shoulders of some great guys up front and great leadership on our defensive side of the ball.
“We’re just happy to have him and bring national exposure to our university and our football program.”
Lewis’s cohort on the opposite end of the line, defensive end Jalen Ivy (4.5 sacks), also earned first team status. Ivy said the two regularly battle to one-up each other In practice and during games. Free safety Chase Carter (20 tackles, 5 pass bread-ups, 1 int.) rounds out the first teamers.