Golden Eagle fans have high expectations

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 9, 2000

Golden Eagle football fans – not just in Hattiesburg, but all over the state and much of the Southeast – are already talking up their 2000 University of Southern Mississippi football team.

And it’s no wonder, what with 16 returning starters from a 9-3 Conference-USA championship team, plus the prime returning &uot;starter,&uot; head coach Jeff Bower! He’s been through it all with his USM Southerners, so he knows how to bounce off the ropes and come back punching.

It’s not exactly news, however, that Southern finished 9-3 last fall, including an imposing 23-17 Liberty Bowl triumph over Colorado State. The ’99 C-USA champs impressed Associated Press voters, who placed the Eagles No. 14 in the land.

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There was a talented sophomore quarterback maturing while leading his team to victories over Tulane, NW Louisiana, East Carolina, Army, Cincinnati, Memphis, La.-Lafayette and Louisville before winning the Liberty Bowl. He was Jeff Kelly, who is now ready hopefully to make his junior season even more effective.

Another undefeated C-USA record would have to be OK, becuase perfection in your own league is always a goal desired. But &uot;perfect&uot; help must start at the top, and ole salt Bower stands ready again to give it his best shot.

Nebraska and Texas A&M won’t be on the Eagles’ schedule this fall, but Alabama and Tennessee will. USM lost to all three last fall. And Tennessee and Alabama pose big hurdles right off the bat, with Oklahoma State right behind. Then it’s C-USA time. After league foe Memphis comes non-conference S. Florida, then USA teams Tulane, Houston, Louisville, UAB, Cincinnati and East Carolina.

QB Jeff Kelly will be handing off to a tried and proven top runner in Derrick Nix this fall, but after then the backfield could be rather thin as regards to sheer power. But a good, solid kicker, if there truly is one, will mean much.

Bower wasn’t satisfied with his team’s 82nd national ranking offensively last season, so he fired offensive coordinator Larry Kueck prior to the Southerners’ bowl game in ’99 and hired former Nevada offensive leader Chris Klenakis. Bower will fire folks; he proved that in 1996 when his Eagles tied Houston for the first C-USA title and fired Norman Joseph.

Defensively, USM should be plenty tough in the line once again this fall, and the offense, with veteran running back Derrick Nix, plus QB Kelly and WR Shawn Mills still around, will feature leadership enough on that side of the ball.

Faith by pollsters in the Golden Eagles this fall is evident in the fact that they’ve started them off at No. 23 in the nation (Associated Press) in the pre-season (Ole Miss was picked 18th).

Fact is, one must admit that things look good for USM in 2000, remembering all the while that that old football still has a habit of bouncing funny.

Chris Shivers is a young Jonesville man who’s bringing fame to the Miss-Lou with his championship caliber of Professional Bull Riding. The lithe, rugged contestant leads the PBR Circuit in total earnings, having pulled in more than $200,000 already this year with five stops to go. Talkin’ about the year to date now.

They have a running PBR point system as well, and Chris leads that also. Some of you have seen the &uot;bullish&uot; riders perform on TV, and you know of his expertise if you have. It’s not easy, that’s for sure.

Our young Miss-Lou neighbor owns his own ranch over between Jonesville and Harrisonburg, and probably practices on his place. Whatever, lots of folks are happy with Shivers’ top ranking in this rugged sport. Ride ’em, Chris!

Glenvall Estes is a columnist for The Natchez Democrat.