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Hopson headed to USM to coach DBs

[03/05/01] Jay Hopson is coming home almost.

The ex-Warren Central star will be hired as defensive backs coach at Southern Mississippi after five years in the same position at Marshall University in Huntington, W. Va.

“They made me an offer I just couldn’t turn down,” said Hopson, who starred at WC and Ole Miss. “I’m excited about it. I’ve been wanting to get back down to that part of the country.”

Hopson, 32, interviewed on Tuesday and Wednesday for the position vacated by 28-year-old Tyrone Nix, who was promoted to defensive coordinator this week.

USM head coach Jeff Bower isn’t expected to announce Hopson’s hiring until next week. Hopson said he will arrive in Hattiesburg late next week.

“I know Tyrone and I’m really looking forward to working for him,” he said. “And I think the world of Coach Bower.”

Marshall defensive coordinator Kevin Kelly said Marshall’s loss is USM’s gain.

“I’m going to miss him an awful lot personally and professionally,” said Kelly, who lives two blocks from Hopson. “He’s a tremendous coach and a tremendous recruiter.”

Hopson will have a talented young secondary to work with at USM, including ex-WC star Alex Ray. The Golden Eagles are losing safety Leo Barnes and cornerback Raymond Walls.

“They should have a great unit this year,” Hopson said. “I’m ready to get there and see. I’m going to hit the ground running.”

The Thundering Herd reached national prominence during Hopson’s time there, making the transition from Division I-AA to I-A and winning three straight bowl games.

“The most memorable thing to me was probably the 13-0 year when we finished 10th in the nation,” he said of the 1999 season. “That was a borderline miracle.”

Southern Miss has been to four straight bowl games and won three.

“They’re similar in that, over the years, they’ve both been teams that schools (in higher-profile conferences) dread playing,” he said. “They both have done great jobs.”

After five years coaching defensive backs at Marshall, Hopson was going to coach wide receivers this season, “just to get a new challenge,” he said.

His secondary was first in the nation in interceptions in 1999 and he coached Jim Thorpe Award candidate Rogers Beckett in 1998 and 1999.

But now, his challenge will be helping a reworked staff maintain the defensive tradition at USM, which was ranked second in the nation last year.

Mississippi was Hopson’s recruiting area while he was at Marshall. Now, that part of his job should be easier.

“Sometimes it’s hard to get a 17-year-old to venture 15 hours away from home,” admitted Hopson, who did get ex-Viking James Williams and St. Aloysius star Dorian Williams to come there.

Williams is now with the Seattle Seahawks and Dorian Williams will be a sophomore defensive back with the Herd.

Hopson served one-year stints as a graduate assistant at Florida, LSU and Tulane and spent two years as an assistant at Delta State. He was hired at Marshall by Bob Pruett, who was defensive coordinator at Florida during Hopson’s season there.

He told Pruett Thursday.

“Bob’s been so great to me,” he said. “He’s a wonderful guy … .”

Nix and Hopson have at least one thing in common both are married to Vicksburg natives. Nix’s wife is the former Toya Phelps and Hopson is married to the former Michelle Russell.