Looking For A Leader
Carter still in quarterback mix at USM
This is the last in a three-part series examining the spring football drills of Southern Mississippi, Mississippi State and Ole Miss.
By Robby Atkinson / staff writer
April 21, 2004
HATTIESBURG The Southern Miss Golden Eagles have been wondering since their 17-0 loss to Utah in the Liberty Bowl last season if the offense would ever be able to recover.
While most thought the starting quarterback question had been answered going into last weekend's annual Black/Gold spring football game at M.M. Roberts Stadium, that is not necessarily so.
The 2003 season saw three different quarterbacks Mickey D'Angelo, Dustin Almond and Damion Carter under center for USM in critical situations.
D'Angelo was forced to end his career due to an injury and now the spot is being battled for between Almond, a junior, and Carter, a sophomore. Both signal-callers saw a lot of action in 2003, but head coach Jeff Bower says it will be a tough decision.
"It will be hard to leave Damion out of a game because he brings so much to the table," said Bower after the game on Saturday. "Damion is such a great athlete and we would love to use him at another position on offense, which may be a wide receiver."
Carter saw his first action in a 38-14 loss to Nebraska and preformed well in front of the home crowd at 'The Rock.' Carter complied some starter-worthy stats in his first performance in a Golden Eagle uniform with 143 yards passing and one touchdown.
He is just happy to be considered at the conclusion of spring drills.
"I am glad to be in this position," said Carter. "I know that the coaching staff would love to use me in other spots on the field, but I want to be able to contribute to this team in any situation."
Carter did see some action at wide receiver on Saturday, with three catches for 48 yards.
"We wanted to put him in that position to see what he could do," Bower said. "We still need to evaluate some more with these guys, but it is still something that we will consider."
Carter ended the 2003 season with 238 yards passing to go along with two touchdowns. Almond was the main ingredient in the offense last season at quarterback, but the Orange Park, Fla., native was shaky at the end of the season. Almond completed 121-of-251 passes for 1,877 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Almond had one of his worst games of the season in USM's stunning Liberty Bowl shutout loss. He went 11-of-33 for 122 yards and was sacked a season-high four times in the game.
"We had a very bad game to end the year," Almond said. "We were very frustrated that night and I think we are very motivated to improve ourselves because we know that we are a better team than that."
Senior Tim Blackwell had the biggest day in the spring game with 85 yards on 16 carries and freshman Larry Thomas had 30 yards on nine carries to give USM some options at the running back position next season.
The Southern Miss football team has been known for its solid defense. Rod Davis leaves the biggest hole in the defense at middle linebacker.
"We have been known for our great defense and we are going to need to plug some holes," Bower said. "We do have some experience returning which should be fun to watch."
Dillon Cleckler led all defensive players with 13 total tackles and Nate Young added 10 total tackles on Saturday. Cleckler had 38 total tackles in 2003 and will be looked at to fill the shows of Davis.
"It will be a large task to fill the spot of such a great player," said Cleckler. "We had such a great defense with him and we have a lot of great guys coming back this season which will make us good once again."
The strong point of the Southern Miss team the past few years may have been defense, but the special teams made a big statement on Saturday.
Punter Luke Johnson ended the day with nine punts for a 44.3 average and kicker Darren McCaleb had two field goals of 27 and 47 yards.