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Released August 29, 2003

By David Tisdale

HATTIESBURG - The date was Sept. 20, 1986, and The University of Southern Mississippi football team's back was against the wall, literally and figuratively, with a little more than four minutes remaining in a game against Mississippi State in Jackson.

Down 24-21 to the Bulldogs, Southern Miss had just forced Mississippi State to punt, but the kick couldn't have been much more perfect as the ball landed on the Golden Eagles' 2 yard line.

Fans of the Black and Gold, were at the very least, concerned.

But not so the men in the trenches, including current Southern Miss running backs coach Shelton Gandy, who was already having a career day to that point, having scored three touchdowns. Now, his team needed one more from him.

With Gandy toting the pigskin, the Golden Eagles put together an impressive, time-consuming16-play drive, 98-yard drive that concluded with Gandy scoring his fourth touchdown of the day on a short-yardage run with just a few seconds remaining in the contest. He finished the day with 115 yards on 15 carries, including the four touchdowns.

It's a day Gandy won't soon forget.

"That's one of my fondest memories," Gandy, of Waynesboro, said while sitting in his office in the new Southern Miss Athletic Complex. "We knew we could move the football. I can remember (Southern Miss quarterback) Andrew Anderson cracking a joke in the huddle as we began the drive, to kind of loosen us up. He said, "Let's go get it" and all I was focused on was moving the chains."

On the final scoring play, Gandy said the coaches called for a sweep left, and, following the lead block of fullback Randolph Brown, he made the touchdown that culminated what many Golden Eagles fans referred to as "The Drive."

"We knew four minutes was a lot of time, that we could drive the field and get the score," Gandy said. "We just went out and did what we had done all day, just moving the ball downfield. We had them on their heels - we smelled blood."

Anderson said Southern Miss was fortunate to have Gandy on its coaching staff. "I would go to war with Shelton any day," he said. "He gave 150 percent on the football field every time. When I saw Shelton in the huddle I felt comfortable about our offense, because he was also a good receiver, which made him a threat in our passing game. And he wasn't the type of player you could just tackle. He was really strong," Anderson said.

"I think he's a heck of a coach. He knows what he's talking about and how to get those guys ready because he's been there."

Besides winning the game against MSU in such dramatic fashion, the other aspect of the Golden Eagles' victory that impressed Gandy most was what he described as a great job of teamwork. That, he said, is what he's looking for from his running backs heading into the 2003 season.

James Walley, who has significant game experience over the last two seasons, is projected to start for the Golden Eagles, and Anthony Harris and Timmy Blackwell also have playing time on their resume. "Blackwell's very talented - he just needs to be consistent - and Harris is a durable running back," Gandy said, and added that backs Wayne Hardy, Larry Thomas and Cody Hull add depth to the team's running back corp.

"All our guys have worked hard (in practice)," Gandy said. "I've gotten a positive vibe from them this summer."

With Southern Miss returning to a traditional two-back set, and with the graduation of standout running back Derrick Nix, Gandy said his players will have to work together as a unit, and step up and give the same kind of effort that made Nix, also an assistant coach for the Golden Eagles, a legend on the Southern Miss gridiron.

To help achieve their goals, including helping the team regain a conference championship and a return to the Liberty Bowl, Gandy is looking to his guys to embrace their motto: "Toughness, Togetherness and Unselfishness."

It's a philosophy that worked on that memorable day in September 1986, and Gandy believes it will serve his running backs well in the 2003 season.

"If we have that attitude, we'll do fine," he said.


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM