Alabama NewsCenter 2019 football preview: University of South Alabama

Alabama NewsCenter 2019 football preview: University of South Alabama
South Alabama Jaguars receiver Jalen Tolbert catches a pass against the ULM Warhawks last season. Tolbert had a good spring and is expected to make a lot of plays this season, Coach Steve Campbell says. (Scott Donaldson/South Alabama Athletics)

Steve Campbell knew what he was signing up for when he took the reins as the football coach at South Alabama.

“Last year was a tough year, but we knew it was going to be a tough year going in,” said Campbell, whose 2018 Jaguars wound up 3-9. “We got better as the year went on. By the last game of the year, we beat a team that was ranked for bowl eligibility. If you weren’t bowl eligible, we beat you.

“We played a lot of young guys and we had one offensive lineman who had started a game coming back,” he said. “This year, we’re much farther along.”

Despite last season’s losing record, the coach said he and his team have the same aspiration they have every year – a Sun Belt Conference title.

“Our daily focus is on getting better every day and make sure that we make improvements each and every day that we’re out there,” he said. “But a conference championship is always something that is one of our goals.”

USA kicks off year two of the Campbell coaching era with an 11 a.m. contest Saturday, Aug. 31, at Nebraska on ESPN.

Alabama NewsCenter: What is the outlook for this season?

Steve Campbell: We should be markedly improved this year.

ANC: What is the strength of this year’s team?

Campbell: What needs to be a strength is our play on the defensive line. Both lines of scrimmage should be much improved over a year ago. We got a lot of experience back on the defensive line. Some good football players are out there. I think we’ll have a chance to be pretty good up front defensively. We’ve got a tailback, a multipurpose guy – Tra Minter – who’s explosive. He rushed for 800 yards last year and a good bit of that was in the second half of the season. He got better and better as the season went on. Wide receiver Kawaan Baker led the Sun Belt in touchdowns through the regular season, so he’s an explosive guy at the slot position. Our defensive line is strong and we’ve got some playmakers coming back on offense.

ANC: Who are your team’s standouts?

Campbell: Tyree Turner is a preseason all-conference guy. Jordon Beaton last year was second team all-conference. Jeffery Whatley had a great spring and Sean Brown is a big nose guard. He had a good year this past year and has had a great offseason. Offensively, Tra Minter and Kawaan Baker, the running back and the receiver, and Cephus Johnson is our starting quarterback. He earned that job through spring training and has had a great summer. A wide receiver we’re really counting on is Jalen Tolbert to step up outside and make a lot of plays. He showed he can do that during spring, and we’re anxious to get him out in the field and give him a chance to show what he can do.

ANC: What game do your fans have circled on your schedule?

Campbell: They’re all important, but the Troy game is a big in-conference game, and they’re just, you know, couple hours up the road. So that’s always the Battle for the Belt. And it’s a big conference game. The Troy game is always a big game.

ANC: What is your lingering question?

Campbell: We’ve got to solidify our special teams. We graduated a punter and a kicker. We need to get those locked down. There will still be some questions for playing time. We brought in a handful of guys that will be fighting for playing time and for contribution, like at the wide receiver position, for sure.

Download or print a complete schedule of all 15 Alabama college football programs, including South Alabama, here.

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