2015 Football Seniors: Journey To The Top
Southern Miss honors 20 seniors on Saturday before the final home game of the season against Old Dominion. The Golden Eagles, who kickoff at 2:30 p.m. against the Monarchs, control their own destiny in their quest for the program's sixth Conference USA Championship.
For many of the seniors, the game and, more importantly this season, means so much more.
Seven of the 20 seniors that will be recognized on Saturday joined the team during Southern Miss' 2011 C-USA Championship season. They redshirted, watching friends and teammates make plays, secure victories and celebrate a championship.
The signing class that season included four incoming players committed to Southern Miss and its winning tradition. They came to Hattiesburg to play football. They came to Hattiesburg to win games. They came to Hattiesburg to win championships.
Over half of the players being honored this weekend set out on a journey in 2012 that none of them could have foreseen and none could have imagined. Prior to the season, the team welcomed a new head coach and with optimism began one of the longest stretches in program history.
The 2012 team finished the season 0-12. The team battled injuries; battled heartbreak; and, for the first time in years of Southern Miss football, battled failure.
In December of 2012, however, Todd Monken was introduced as the 20th head coach in Southern Miss history. The former offensive coordinator at Big 12 power Oklahoma State came to Hattiesburg with a desire to prove himself; a desire to win; and a desire to bring Southern Miss back to the top.
The first year for Monken was difficult, who losing streak amassed to 23 straight losses.
With nothing to play for except Golden Eagle pride, Monken and a team led primarily by underclassmen took to historic Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala. The team fell behind 21-13 at halftime.
However, Southern Miss responded. The Golden Eagles scored 28 points in the third quarter -- more points than the team had scored in an entire game that season -- rallying to post a 62-27 victory to break the dreaded streak.
With one victory in two seasons, human nature got the better of some players and they decided to go elsewhere. Monken and his staff brought in more players. Freshmen. Transfers, including five of this season's seniors. Players who Monken believed would make the Southern Miss football team better. Players who believed they could make Southern Miss better.
The 2014 season saw improvement. The one win turned into three wins with a few near misses. Injuries and lack of depth hurt the Golden Eagles, but improvement was evident. The seed, which had been planted by that junior class two seasons before, was starting to grow.
After another signing class, which brought in four senior transfers, Southern Miss entered fall camp with the 20 seniors being honored this weekend and a confidence not seen since the 2011 season.
Energy was high. Hopes even higher.
After a competitive loss in front of a sold out stadium at home against Mississippi State (L, 34-16), the Golden Eagles posted an impressive 52-6 victory over Austin Peay. The team moved to above .500 for the first time in four years with a road win at Texas State (W, 56-50). Southern Miss then split the next two games, defeating North Texas (W, 49-14) before falling to Marshall (L, 31-10) on the road to move to 3-3, matching the previous year's win total.
From that point, the Golden Eagles rounded the corner on their journey to the top.
The Black and Gold posted a 32-10 victory over UTSA during homecoming. They followed that performance with a 44-10 win at Charlotte. The momentum continued to roll into the bye week as Southern Miss notched a 34-13 victory on Halloween over UTEP. Following the bye, the Golden Eagles continued to soar, taking out Conference USA power Rice, 65-10, in Houston.
This weekend the Southern Miss football team will honor 20 seniors who will be playing in their final regular season home game in a Golden Eagle uniform. The presentation happens every year. The group changes. Tears are shed. Memories are forged.
However, this time the game, and the season, is a little more special for seniors Randal Agee, Brian Anderson, David Bertucci, Andrew Bolton, Johntre' Goudy, Justice Hayes, Rashod Hill, Illiad Kelly, Casey Martin, Matthew Moseley, Bradley Nugent, Norman Price, Kalan Reed, Jalen Richard, Quincy Russell, Lance Schuffert, Michael Smith, Anthony Swain, Mike Thomas and Terrick Wright.
This senior class has suffered defeat; watched teammates go elsewhere; survived coaching changes; and persevered through it all to help move Southern Miss to its rightful position back... to the top!