• 66°

Tom Goetz: Fedora feeds crowd with positive words

Larry Fedora flashed his pearly whites, spoke confidently as hisbrown eyes canvassed the scene and oozed confidence with eachsentence. He could have sold large bottles of shampoo to a roomfull of baldheaded men.

Fedora’s Tuesday night audience didn’t need much of a salespitch. They were all dressed up in black and gold for the SouthernMiss alumni meeting of the Southwest Mississippi Chapter. Feastingon fried catfish and all the trimmings at Rusty’s FamilyRestaurant, the crowd of 100-plus fans and friends of Southern Misseasily inhaled and digested Fedora’s analysis of the Golden Eaglesfootball program.

“Our players are aiming for the conference championship,” saidthe 47-year-old Fedora. “That’s our goal.”

The Conference USA title has eluded the Golden Eagles inFedora’s first two years at the helm. His high-octane spreadoffense has put more fans in the stands despite consecutive 7-6worksheets and two straight New Orleans Bowl appearances.

“Our defense is going to be better,” proclaimed Fedora, showingan amused grin. “Let’s hear some applause about that.”

The crowd laughed and responded with hand-clapping approval. Forsure, the Eagles could put points on the scoreboard last season.For sure, the opponents could, too.

Memories of last December’s 45-32 loss to Middle Tennessee Statein the New Orleans Bowl have faded away and the focus is on the2010 campaign that opens Thursday, Sept. 2, at South Carolina.

“How much you gonna beat South Carolina?” inquired ablack-shirted fan.

“Would you settle for a touchdown?” replied Fedora.

Certainly, the Eagles have the potential. No doubt it will be ahigh-scoring game, featuring two offensive-minded, pass-happy headcoaches. The last team to score will probably win.

Regarding USM’s offense, Fedora said the offensive line is thebiggest concern. “Those guys have to work together this summer.They need to eat together and go to the movies together. It’s all amatter of gelling before that first game.”

Quarterbacks Austin Davis and Martevious Young return experienceand strong passing arms. They will throw to a flock of swiftreceivers, led by DeAndre Brown who has grown to 6-foot-6 and 240pounds.

“DeAndre might look skinny because he’s so tall but he’s reallystrong,” said Fedora. “He can bench 225 pounds 25 times.”

Lawrence County product Kendrick Hardy (6-1, 225) is a redshirtfreshman running back who made his presence felt in the spring. Hecaught a 32-yard touchdown pass.

“Kendrick runs hard,” said Fedora. “He brings the wood and anattitude. He loves to hit you.”

Fedora said Hardy’s receiving skills have improved dramatically.Lawrence County, known for its relentless rushing attack, rarelythrew the football during Hardy’s career.

As a training aid for receivers, USM has purchased a tennisball-serving machine. During summer workouts, the 150-ball capacitymachine will be used so players can improve their concentration andhand skills.

Franklin County product Jamie Collins, a starter at safety as atrue freshman, has been moved to outside linebacker. A giftedathlete, Collins played quarterback and safety at Franklin County.He was The DAILY LEADER’s MVP on the All-Area Football andBasketball Teams.

“Jamie is about 6-3 and 230,” said Fedora. “He’s grown out ofsafety. He might grow out of linebacker. He’s very athletic. He canrun and jump.”

According to Fedora, Collins always has a smile on his face. Hemaintained over a 3.0 GPA in the classroom.

There are nine returning starters on defense and Fedora believes”we will be much better.”

USM’s infamous Nasty Bunch defense, created several years ago,needs to be resurrected. Once upon a time the Eagles featured anawesome wrecking crew on defense. By contrast, the offense usuallyscored just enough points to win.

Fedora expressed concern about the secondary. Two startersgraduated.

Alex Smith, another Franklin County standout who signed with USMlast year, was redshirted. He is being groomed for a safetyposition.

USM’s kicking game struggled with some unexpected breakdownslast season and cost them a win or two. “We missed six extra pointlast year,” said Fedora. “It was either the holder, the snapper orthe kicker. We worked a lot on it in the spring.”

Around 120 players reported back to campus Monday and Fedora waspleased with their punctuality. There were no excuses, travelproblems or hang-ups. Summer school began Tuesday and so did thegrueling offseason workouts.

Fedora noted the football team’s high graduation numbers. “Ourgraduation success rate was around 83-85 percent. We take a lot ofpride in that.”

By comparison, the average student body graduation rate at USMis 47 percent.

He said his team’s graduation success is a big recruiting tool.”I’m very comfortable going into a home and telling a recruit’sparents their son is going to get a degree. He’s going tograduate.”

Obviously, confidence and recruiting go hand in hand. Fedora andhis staff are competing for the best players available and theplayers like the sales pitch.

Write to sports editor Tom Goetz, c/o The DAILY LEADER, P.O. BOX551, Brookhaven, MS 39602 or e-mail sports@dailyleader.com