TE Shawn Nelson

2006 Statistics

Coach: Jeff Bower
112-77-1, 17 years
2006 Record: 9-5
at Florida LOST 7-34
at UCF WON 19-14
at Tulsa LOST 6-20
at Virginia Tech LOST 6-36
at Memphis WON 42-21
at Tulane WON 31-3
UAB WON 25-20
at Houston LOST 20-34
Ohio WON 28-7

2006 Final Rankings
AP-UR, Coaches-UR, BCS-UR

2007 Outlook

Now in his 29th year here (as either a player [QB], assistant or head coach), Golden Eagle chief Jeff Bower is the soul of everything football at Southern Mississippi. Respect for this program (and its consistency) is reflected through Bower’s selection as Conference USA Coach of the Decade (‘90s), the team’s unprecedented three undefeated league records and their nine bowl trips in the last ten years (after USM only went bowling four times in their existence prior to Bower’s reign). Originally focused on offense (played QB and coached Favre, Collier, Roberts, Kelly and Almond – the only players ahead of him here for all-time total yards), it has been through strong, consistent defense that USM has built its success under Bower. Six C-USA Defensive Players of the Year have been procured here, and this year’s group looks as tough and determined as ever to prove their place in his legacy. Also per usual, the linebackers will be found everywhere doing everything, and sophomore MLB McRath should be an All-American soon. Replacing both starters at corner is their only possible weakness on that side of the ball, and improvements to their modest run stopping ranking (50th) should be seen immediately. Then there is the Golden Eagle’s smashmouth ground game, something that should continue without skipping a beat, even with their fullback and the entire starting interior of their line upheaved. Bower and OC Jay Johnson spread teams out to open up chosen areas for running the rock, but if those are disrupted via foes’ defensive schemes, QB Jeremy Young is capable of modest damage. Young as a game manager is excellent, and Bower should have his senior protégé hitting on all cylinders right away. Good thing, too - though the season starts off with Tennessee-Martin (I-AA), the other three initial away games constitute one of the nation’s toughest non-con slates. Southern Miss will be the favorite to win its division (East), and the revampings at Houston (QB) and Tulsa (coaching) mean the Golden Eagles have the inside track for another conference crown. Bower’s constant ability to take two- and three-star prospects and turn them into a winning group that is as competitive as many BCS-aligned schools should prove that, with so many starters back, USM should again be both feared and found floating around the bottom half of the top 25 by season’s end.

Projected 2007 record: 8-4
OT Chris Clark
QB - 3 DL - 3
RB - 3.5 LB - 3.5
WR - 2.5 DB - 3
OL - 3 ..

Passing: Jeremy Young, 161-281-6, 1769 yds., 12 TD

Rushing: Damion Fletcher, 276 att., 1388 yds., 11 TD

Receiving: Shawn Nelson, 36 rec., 506 yds., 3 TD

Scoring: Damion Fletcher, 11 TD, 66 pts.

Punting: Britt Barefoot, 52 punts, 38.6 avg.

Kicking: None

Tackles: Gerald McRath, 104 tot., 59 solo

Sacks: Robert Henderson, 4.5 sacks

Interceptions: LeVance Richmond, 4 for 69 yds.

Kickoff Returns: Brandon Sumrall, 19 ret., 21.1 avg., 0 TD

Punt Returns: None


OFFENSE: Bobby Weakley-FB, Conrad Chanove-RB, Anthony Perine-WR, Damion Carter-WR, Josh Barnes-WR, Travis Cooley-OG, Robby D'Angelo-C, George Batiste-OG, Darren McCaleb-K
DEFENSE: Matthew Chatelain-DE, Jasper Faulk-CB, Caleb Hendrix-CB, Ladarius Webb-ROV

What happens when the C-USA’s best running team loses all three of their line’s inside starters and a four-year contributor at fullback? We’ll soon find out, but as long as freshman All-American (2006, Rivals) Damion Fletcher is healthy, there should be little drop-off. Oft-used is an understatement when the Biloxi-native’s run attempts approach how often USM passes. Though quick and shifty like a scat-type, Fletcher has the muscle to run inside, too. Also proven is classmate Tory Harrison, who is svelter but not as soft in the hands. Harrison will have to hold off bigger four-star incoming frosh Antwain Easterling from Miami, but it all bodes well for continued production from this unit. The switch of LB Marcus Raines to fullback should only impact that position’s modest yardage production; Raines is both fast and tough enough to be another effective Golden Eagle lead blocker, but he’s new to this side of the ball. Save yardage lost during his sacks, senior QB Jeremy Young’s feet are dangerous enough to keep LBs unsure when he rolls out. Young has never thrown for more than 193 yards in one game, so don’t expect him to lead any huge comebacks – late in games, USM still needs to stay close or be in the lead to win. He has a solid senior backup in Stephen Reaves, and newbie Randy Hardin (36 TDs and only 3 INTs as a prep senior; 2A State Player of the Year [FL]) comes in this summer with a great pedigree and the kind of big, dangerous arm opposing secondaries haven’t seen since Jeff Kelly and/or Brett Favre. Since he is the future, along with in-state prep phenom Danny Farris, we expect either could easily see real game reps. But for now, expect more of the same – spreading defenses out to still run it 60% of the time…even more if/when they can. The team’s top target for the past two years is all-conference TE selection Shawn Nelson. This junior is effectively sent deep over the middle just when foes are sucked into the box to stop the strong ground dimension. Of the four Golden Eagles who caught 23 passes last season, senior receiver Chris Johnson is the one who returns. State champion (prep) hurdler Rodney Gray impressed last campaign as well as this spring to earn the start opposite Johnson, but depth from there at receiver is green, though potentially deadly. The line sees both tackles back, and all-C-USA senior Chris Clark rules his left side. The right side will likely be the Brothers Ryan Show – Mr. McKee is a junior tackle who could be all-conference by season’s end, and his well-sized former backup Mr. Hebert slides over to the open guard spot. Left guard Wesley Housley is another proven former backup who, along with junior Rick Thompson at center, makes this new-look USM line actually look a lot like it did at times last year. All in all, the ability to shove the ball down opponent’s throats via the run will afford third-year coordinator Jay Johnson the luxury of being able to again poignantly plug in the pass for optimal offensive effect.


RB Damion Fletcher


Returning Starters/
Key Players
QB Jeremy Young-Sr (6-3, 218) Stephen Reaves-Sr (6-1, 205)
FB Marcus Raines-Sr (6-3, 246) ..
RB Damion Fletcher-So (5-10, 175) Tory Harrison-So (6-1, 187)
WR Rodney Gray-So (6-3, 180) Torris Magee-Fr (6-2, 200)
WR Chris Johnson-Sr (6-0, 176) Ralph Turner-Fr (5-8, 171)
TE Shawn Nelson-Jr (6-5, 242) Thomas Webb-Fr (6-5, 241)
OT Chris Clark-Sr (6-5, 295) Nick Dean-Sr (6-3, 282)
OG Wesley Housley-Jr (6-2, 293) ..
C Rick Thompson-Jr (6-0, 275) Cameron Zipp-Fr (6-1, 285)
OG Ryan Hebert-So (6-5, 307) Micah Brown-So (6-2, 275)
OT Ryan McKee-Jr (6-6, 275) Dwayne Paulin-Sr (6-7, 280)
K Britt Barefoot-Jr (6-0, 180) ..



The blood and guts of the Golden Eagle’s gridiron success has always been predicated upon what happens on this side of the ball. DC Jay Hopson has seven senior returning starters to help break in the new corners. Long-/high-/triple-jumper Ivory Bradshaw has the size and skills to be another great USM corner, similar to Mike McGee, an ex-RB like Bradshaw who looks promising so far on the outside. Both saw a decent amount of action last year, but seniors Brandon Sumrall (rover; three forced fumbles led team) and LeVance Richmond (free safety; tied for team lead with four INTs) have their backs as returning starters. Depth in last year’s No.26 secondary is still good even with the losses. The linebackers return in full, which spells disaster for opponents. Gerald McRath proved his potential is sky high by leading the team in tackles while quarterbacking the D last campaign as a freshman. Former-JUCO transfer and backup Jerome Lyons is back at full strength (ACL) and is no slouch himself. With Hopson’s coaching focus being the MLBs specifically, look for McRath to be an All-American real soon as Lyons pushes him for reps. Strongside senior James Denley is a former QB with great speed for his size, while heady ex-wrestling champ (also ex-WR) Tokumbo Abanikanda rounds out a svelte, ever-toughening crew that carries on the tradition of USM’s always stellar linebacking corps. Four of their 15 three-star recruits (often the highest rating found amongst their classes) over the past two years have been linebackers, so it really never ends here. On the inside of the line, Martavius Prince should be all-conference after leading the team in TFLs (15) – he even had an INT! At nose tackle, Sean Merrill is just as likely to garner double-teams as Prince, or else. The all-senior rotation amongst the tackle two-deep spells improvements to what was the 50th-rated run stopping unit, as does returning all-conference end Robert Henderson. Another senior, Henderson (12 TFLs) and 6-7 counterpart Eric Phillips, who seems to have turned a corner (both proverbially and literally), play with surprising effectiveness, though, each is close to 300 pounds. Two lighter freshmen will back them up, affording Hopson the novelty of having proper rush ends. The Golden Eagles should ratchet up what was already a formidable (No.30) bunch and take it to that next level as they continue to win games through deadly defense.


DE Robert Henderson


Returning Starters/
Key Players
DE Eric Phillips-Jr (6-7, 291) Roshaad Byrd-Fr (6-3, 247)
NT Sean Merrill-Sr (6-3, 294) Vontre Mason-Sr (6-2, 270)
DT Martavius Prince-Sr (6-3, 295) Chris J. Johnson-Sr (6-1, 288)
BAN Robert Henderson-Sr (6-3, 280) David Boyce-Fr (6-6, 243)
SLB James Denley-Sr (6-2, 238) ..
MLB Gerald McRath-So (6-3, 213) Jerome Lyons-Sr (6-1, 225)
WLB Tokumbo Abanikanda-Jr (6-0, 218) ..
CB Ivory Bradshaw-Jr (6-1, 189) Eddie Willingham-Jr (5-10, 175)
CB Michael McGee-So (5-10, 181) Gene Anderson-Jr (6-2, 205)
ROV Brandon Sumrall-Sr (5-11, 197) ..
FS LeVance Richmond-Sr (5-11, 195) Eddie Hicks-So (6-2, 193)
P Britt Barefoot-Jr (6-0, 180) ..




Net punting results need to improve from last season’s 78th ranking. Appropriately named, Britt Barefoot takes over both kicking jobs after holding down the punting chores in ’06 (ok, so he uses a shoe on his foot). Barefoot seems big-legged after nailing 29 of his 73 kickoffs for touchbacks. Hopefully, his aim is true and coaches will allow his powerful potential to upgrade the results of both positions. Quickster Sumrall as the kick returner promises at least one returned to the house, but finding a new punt run-back specialist is a work-in-progress at this offseason juncture.