With the season beginning in nearly 90 days, two head coaching changes and two back-to-back losing seasons behind him, Southern Miss defensive lineman Michael Smith plans to make a huge impact going into the upcoming season.
Despite the Golden Eagles lack of success on the field, posting records of 0-12 in 2012 and 1-11 in 2013, Smith believes the ‘time is now’ for the team to get back to its winning ways.
“I can’t wait for my teammates and I to get back on the field for the start of the season,” said Smith. “Ultimately, it is time to bring the tradition of Southern Miss football back to the Rock.”
As a redshirted freshman in 2012, Smith tallied 27 tackles with 16 solo, nearly seven tackles for a loss and one sack. According to nfldraftscout.com, the Birmingham, Ala., native currently ranks 30th out 216 defensive ends in the nation.
However, Smith says he not worried about this as much as he wants to win in the upcoming year.
“I am blessed to simply be considered with other defensive ends in the nation,” Smith said. “ Honestly though, I am more concerned about winning games for Southern Miss and helping my teammates as much as I can.”
Last year, Southern Miss ranked 116th overall on offense and 97th in defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).
In addition, the Golden Eagles ranked 108th in rush defense, giving up nearly 225 yards on the ground per game. However, pass defense proved to be much better for Southern Miss, finishing 24th in the nation.
“Last year, the majority of our defense was young and we had not fully adapted to our position on the field,” Smith said. “Thus, our team chemistry was not fully developed and we struggled to get off the field during games.”
Smith also mentioned depth was a major issue along the defensive line last year.
Coaching changes also contributed a huge difference for the team overall, but more importantly on the defensive side of the ball.
After a successful 12-2 season in 2011, former coach Larry Fedora left Southern Miss for a head coach position at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
From there, Ellis Johnson came from South Carolina as a defensive coordinator and took over as the Golden Eagles head coach. However, going 0-12 and breaking numerous USM records for losses in a season, Southern Miss fired Johnson and brought in Todd Monken from Oklahoma State, who served as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
“Coach Johnson changed the entire atmosphere for our team and the defense,” Smith said. “After him, my teammates and I had to learn a whole different philosophy on defense with Coach Monken.”
Nevertheless, despite minimal success, Coach Monken established a strong relationship with the team. The junior, defensive lineman believes the team’s success in the upcoming season will have much to do with Monken’s ideas and beliefs for the team.
“He really stresses to us that spending time with each other off the field influences our team chemistry on the field,” he stated. “He also believes the fact of putting in adequate time through summer training helps to build our overall strength and toughness going into the season.”
With summer training starting on Monday in preparation for the first game of the season, Smith plans to take more of a leadership role on the field.
“I want to become more vocal in helping my teammates on defense and playing to my highest level,” he said. “We need leadership on the field and it is time for me to emerge as a leader on the team.”
Southern Miss opens the 2014 season on the road at Mississippi State on Aug. 30. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. from Starkville, Miss.