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Released August 21, 2003

By David Tisdale

HATTIESBURG - Rod Davis and Etric Pruitt have made tackles, deflected passes and snared interceptions as two of The University of Southern Mississippi's most heralded football players in recent memory. Going into the 2003 football season, their talents have not gone unnoticed.

Davis, a middle linebacker from Gulfport, and Pruitt, a defensive back from Theodore, Ala., have earned countless accolades, preseason honors and the respect of opposing players and coaches for their feats on the gridiron.

"I love to stop the run - making the hit, a little contact," Pruitt said with a smile, talking about what he loves most about the game.

But for all their abilities and talents, Davis and Pruitt are helpless to stop Father Time. The two seniors are keenly aware that this is it - 2003 is their last season as Golden Eagles. There's no mistaking the emotion in their voices, the clear focus in their eyes, when they discuss their determination to make their final season one to remember.

Even as they come off the practice field drained from the oppressive southern Mississippi summer heat, aching from contact drills against their teammates, what's left of them physically and emotionally powers their response when asked what they want out of this final opportunity.

"I just want to be a better player than last year," Pruitt said. "I want to help us win another (Conference USA) championship and get us back to the Liberty Bowl."

Southern Miss fans would more than likely be thrilled with a repeat of Davis and Pruitt's performance from last year. In 2002, Davis had 122 solo tackles and two interceptions, and after the season he was awarded the Conerly Trophy, given to Mississippi's best collegiate football player. Davis became the first defensive player to win the award.

Pruitt had 78 solo tackles and six interceptions last season. The two are touted as preseason All-Americans by numerous college football analysts. But both want even more as the game clocks winds down on their illustrious careers.

When the Golden Eagles take on the University of California Aug. 30 in the first meeting of the two schools, the two seniors want nothing more than to start off with a win over the Golden Bears - and to repeat the result for the next 11 games.

To reach those heights, Davis said he and the rest of the team must be willing to pay the price in practice leading up to the season opener.

"Before you're great, you have to be great at fundamentals," Davis said, taking a quote from basketball great Michael Jordan. Overall, Davis is happy with how the defense has performed during August drills. "It's coming together. Every day, we're getting better."

The two only discuss personal accomplishments in the context of what it means in helping Southern Miss meet team goals, continuing the tradition of excellence associated with Southern Miss' "Nasty Bunch" defense, and getting the Golden Eagles back to what they consider their rightful place - as C-USA champions and the toast of Memphis come this New Year's Eve.

"I just want to go out with a bang, with no regrets," said Davis, who says he's been happy overall with the defense's performance in practice leading up to the season opener. "I want to do everything I can to help us win, and be able to hold my head up high when it's all over."


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM