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Hammond beats drums for USM

Former Southern Miss quarterback Jeff Hammond is beating thefinancial drums for the Golden Eagles. Now serving as USM’sassistant athletic director, Hammond carries his message across theMagnolia State and elsewhere.

Any way you slice it, college athletics require dollars, lots ofdollars to keep an athletic program afloat, much lessprosperous.

Speaking to a group of local alumni Tuesday, Hammond said theUSM football team covets an invitation to a BCS bowl. The financialand publicity rewards are great.

On the dollar issue, Hammond said USM requires over $19-millionto keep 360 scholarship athletes on their game. By comparison,Southeastern Conference members benefit from their affiliation.”Ole Miss and Mississippi State got $21 million each from the SEClast year.”

Comparing the State and Ole Miss athletic budgets to other SECWest members, Hammond said the Bulldogs and Rebels are on the lowerrungs of the financial ladder. “They have trouble keeping theirteams on a level playing field with the LSU, Alabama, Auburn andArkansas programs.”

Sad but true, it’s a dog-eat-dog situation in college athletics.Only the wealthiest programs seem to flourish.

By contrast, little Boise State has made a name for itself on anational scale. The Broncos’ stadium, located on the frozen tundraof North Dakota, only seats 30,000 fans but their blue gridiron isan icon for the lower tier wannabes. They are ranked No. 5 in anESPN preseason poll and will play Georgia Sept. 3, in theChick-fil-A Classic in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.

Boise State is an amazing 66-2 on its home turf. Most opponentsdepart the stadium with blue stains on their uniform and a lastingmemory of the Broncos’ sensational offense.

Hammond said Southern Miss has similar potential. Coach LarryFedora has created a high-octane offense in Hattiesburg. It’s ledby quarterback Austin Davis, a 4-year starter.

“Fedora has his team hungry for the Liberty Bowl,” meaning aConference USA championship. Hammond said, “My wife and I plan ongoing to that game in Memphis.”

Most importantly, Hammond stressed the importance of supportingthe USM scholarship fund that supports athletes. “We need you inthe Eagle Club.”

For sure, USM has some local connections entering the 2011campaign. Linebacker Jamie Collins and safety Alex Smith ofFranklin County are integral parts of the defensive unit. KendrickHardy of Lawrence County is a horse at running back who should havea break-out year.

Another plus this season is the arrival of new defensivecoordinator Dan Disch. The goal is to make the defense a NastyBunch again. Since Fedora arrived on campus, offense has been thetop priority to make the team more exciting. They score a lot ofpoints but the defense allows a bunch of points and that’s counterproductive.

The Eagles have two weeks off before returning to campus forsummer school and the grueling, gut-wrenching workouts in thesauna-like, summer conditions that football players must endure.New strength and conditioning coach Paul Jackson moved from LSU toUSM in January.

Before the first game arrives at home Sept. 3, against LouisianaTech, the players will have shown vast improvements in theirstrength, speed and quickness.

Hammond, a retired U.S. Army Major General, served 32 years inthe military. He was in charge of 28,000 troops in Baghdad. Heglowed with paternal pride as he talked about his soldiers, callingthem, “My children.”

He played quarterback for Coach Bobby Collins and his senioryear was 1978. Those were some glory years for the Eagles, when thedefense, coached by Jim Carmody, really was nasty.

Hammond praised USM’s baseball team and the coaching efforts ofScott Berry. “I told Fedora to bring his coaches and players to thegames and see how a well-organized team operates.”

The Eagles (36-11, 14-4) are favorites to host an NCAA RegionalTournament next month. First off is the C-USA Tournament that isset for May 25-29 at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Southpaw pitcherPaxton King of Brookhaven is a member of the USM squad.

Write to sports editor Tom Goetz, c/o The DAILY LEADER, P.O.BOX 551, Brookhaven, MS 39602 or e-mailsports@dailyleader.com