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Released August 26, 2003

By David Tisdal

HATTIESBURG - Jay Hopson is all smiles when you ask him about the 2003 football season.

With 12 games ahead for his team - one a much-anticipated home game meeting with national power Nebraska - The University of Southern Mississippi defensive backs coach is ready to watch his crew fly around and make things happen.

"I wouldn't trade these guys for anything in the world," said Hopson, who is starting his third season with the Southern Miss coaching staff.

In addition to the wealth of talent he has making up the Golden Eagles' defensive secondary, Hopson has one player who is considered one of the top defensive backs in the country. With the preseason notoriety that Etric Pruitt has received, his presence alone is generating smiles from Hopson and the rest of the defensive coaching staff. Through August practices, Hopson said the senior from Theodore, Ala., has not let up in his desire to be one of the best to wear the black and gold.

"He plays so extremely hard," Hopson said.

Among others Hopson is expecting to help the Nasty Bunch defense remain nasty include Greg Brooks, who was All-Conference USA last year; Alex Ray; Corey Yates; Trevis Cooley; John Eubanks; and newcomer James Nelson, among others.

Heading into the season opener against the University of California of the Pac-10 Conference, Hopson says he's been pleased with his players' efforts to get ready for a demanding schedule and to challenge for a Conference USA championship.

"Southern Miss has always had a tough schedule, but we're up to the challenge," he said.

Hopson showed why he's been a highly regarded coach wherever he's been in his first season at Southern Miss, when the Golden Eagles secondary led Conference USA in pass efficiency defense and finished the season rated No. 12 in the nation. One of Hopsons' players, Chad Williams, was selected by the NFL's Baltimore Ravens in the sixth round last year.

Following a successful high school career at Vicksburg's Warren Central High School, Hopson was a standout defensive back at Ole Miss from 1988-1991. He continued to make his mark on the gridiron after his playing days ended with the Rebels, joining the college coaching ranks. Prior to coming to Southern Miss, he was on the staff at Marshall University.

While coaching defensive backs for the Thundering Herd, Marshall won a national championship in its last year of 1-AA competition and was ranked in the top 15 from 1997-99 in pass efficiency. Hopson was also on the staff at Louisiana State University and the University of Florida. While he was at Florida, the Gators played for the national title and during his stint at LSU helped the Tigers lead the Southeastern Conference in defense. He began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Tulane University.

Hopson said he's grateful for the chance to do what he loves - coaching. "It's hard to get these jobs (in coaching)," he said. "I was just blessed with an opportunity."

There are so many things he loves about the game, Hopson said, but it's his motivation to bring out the best in his players, and not just showing them how to become all-stars on the gridiron, that drives his passion for his job.

It comes across.

"Coach Hopson is like a father figure to me," Pruitt said. "I can go and talk to him anytime about anything."

Hopson gladly accepts the responsibilities and challenges of the job, which to the casual observer may seem to be only about being an expert on Xs and Os.

"We (the coaching staff) are in it for the kids," he said, "helping them develop as people."


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM