Key takeaways from Will Hall and company’s first appearance at Sun Belt Media Day

By: Dima Mixon

NEW ORLEANS, LA – The Sun Belt Conference media days have officially concluded, bringing the football season even closer. Head Coach Will Hall, WR Jason Brownlee and LB Swayze Bozeman all appeared on the main stage for a 22-minute press conference, answering important questions about the upcoming season.

Here is everything discussed and the key takeaways:

1. Hayes Maples is confirmed to be out for the season. 

Hall confirmed the reports that star linebacker Hayes Maples is out for the season due to an injury that happened over the summer.

“Yeah, it is true. Hayes got injured over the summer in off-season workouts; he will be out for the year. [It’s a] tough deal. Hayes is a great young man from Oak Grove, Mississippi, he does everything that you ask every day, and that is the reality of life,” Hall said.

While this is a significant loss for Southern Miss headed into the season, if any position group could afford a loss, it would be the linebacker room, and Hall agreed with that.

“The silver lining in it, if there is one, is that that is the one position in our team where we have a lot of depth. We get Swayze back. He has played a ton of really good minutes in college football. We’ve got Santrell Latham back, who’s played a ton of football. We’ve got TQ. Newsome, a young guy from Gulfport, Mississippi, that’s coming along and played some good ball for us last year. Then we signed a young man by the name of David Gill, from Louisville, Mississippi, and he was an All-Stater, and then was a junior college All-American at Jones Junior College,” Hall said. “We feel like we can overcome that with the talent we’ve recruited but certainly hate it for Hayes and his family.”

Bozeman clarified that Maples will be involved with all the linebacker drills as their “coach.”

2. Hall is excited about regional rivalries in the Sun Belt. 

The Sun Belt Conference makes the goal of playing more regional matchups a reality for Southern Miss, which is within driving distance of every team in its division outside of one program.

“I have not run into anyone that’s not just ecstatic about joining this league…our fan base is extremely excited because when they wake up on Sunday and Monday mornings, and they are drinking coffee at the coffee shop, and now we are playing Troy, Monroe, South Alabama, Arkansas State, they know those teams they have played them before,” Hall said. “There’s some type of instant recollection from their past of playing those teams, so they remember where they were at.”

3. Ty Keyes earns QB1 status for the Golden Eagles

It was not much of a surprise when Hall announced that redshirt freshman Ty Keyes would be the signal caller taking snaps against Liberty.

Keyes started three games last season and played in four before injuries plagued the disaster of a season from the quarterback room.

“He was a highly recruited kid and had one of the greatest high school careers in Mississippi,” Hall said. “Ty was fully healthy for spring ball and had a great spring and a great summer. He is [the] starter going into fall camp, [and is] a really talented young man that we think has the “it” factor. There’s a lot of reasons to have really high hopes for him.”

Hall noted that Keyes was still young and knew there would be growing pains but said they would “get through those together.”

A positive outlook for Southern Miss is that their receivers have been able to practice reps with one quarterback, unlike the situation from most of last year.

“Ty Keyes has changed his work ethic too, and I feel like he’s been working really hard. He knows what he’s got ahead. He’s working really hard to be healthy and stay healthy,” Brownlee said in response to developing chemistry with Keyes. “We have been over timing after practice, working on catches…to get that timing and stuff done pat, and I feel like he has that playbook down. He’s just ready to go.”

4. Transfer players will have an immediate impact. 

Southern Miss recognized the need for change after last season’s 3-9 finish. One of the problems last year was the offensive line, but mainly the unit’s depth. 

Hall responded by utilizing the transfer portal to add ten SEC transfers and four JUCCO players.

“They were all here for January, so they got to go through our offseason program. We told them as soon as they got here from day one that we will not become you-you have got to become us,” Hall said. “They have embraced that…I don’t think any of them that came in won’t play a significant role because of where we are at.”

Not only are the added transfers necessary regarding the talent perspective but also what Hall highlighted as the increased “depth” of the team.

“Fans think of that depth as games, but the practice is where it matters most. Now we’ve got three full groups of o-linemen with some extra to go on top of that. We have three full groups of d-linemen with some extra…we can practice the right way,” Hall said.

5. Southern Miss will embrace game by game approach

Hall doesn’t like to specify which new teams he looks forward to playing in the Sun Belt, but he did embrace the idea of the new regional rivalries. He talked about his respect for Louisiana running back Chris Smith, who Southern Miss offered back on the recruiting trail.

Smith, who is originally from south Mississippi, talked about how he can’t wait to go to Southern Miss in the fall and play in front of his friends and family.

“All of my family will be there… They call it The Rock, so let’s rock it out,” Smith said.

Hall said he knew Smith well and appreciated everything he did, but he noted that he wasn’t going to worry about the future games.

“Liberty,” Hall said in response to which rivalries he was most looking forward to. “That’s who we got game one, and man, that’s who we are. We are going to be a team that is going to be good enough every week, and if we eliminate the things that cause you to lose, we’re going to be in every game this year.”

After a busy two media days, fall camp starts next week. Southern Miss takes on Liberty on September 3, 2022, to start the season.