Future Sun Belt football member South Alabama is on 15 game winning streak

Mobile, AL (SunHerald.com) - When Joey Jones took over the challenge of building a football program at South Alabama in 2009, he knew things would be tough.

Despite those long odds, South Alabama (8-0) hasn't lost a game during its first two years. The Jaguars were 7-0 last year.

Jones was recruiting in his state with Alabama and Auburn, and also with Southern Miss and Florida State.

"The bottom line: Alabama and Auburn, if they want someone, they will get them," Jones said. "We will not compete with those guys. We have recruited the same area and we will continue to do so. But we know Alabama and Auburn get who they want.

"But there is a solid pool of players left. We do our best to get the players they do not take and there are plenty of good players left."

The former Crimson Tide wide receiver also had no football facilities to entice recruits. The main selling point to recruits was building a new program that did not play for a conference championship nor bowl berths.

"I told them they could come in and be involved in a program that's starting up," Jones said. "The next thing is they were going to get playing time. Meaning they did not have to come in and beat out any juniors and seniors. Those two things were exciting to them."

South Alabama has home games left. The Jaguars play Henderson State on Saturday and the Nov. 11 season finale is against Arkansas-Monticello.

"We are surprised," Jones said. "As a coach, you feel like you're always going to win. But we never thought we would be undefeated. Right now, we are not a Division I team. We are along the line of a pretty good Division I-AA team that's getting better."

The Jags have beaten Nicholls State (39-21), Georgia State (39-34), Lamar (26-0) and UC Davis (24-21), considered the school's most notable victory. They average 43 points a game, allowing only 10 a game. South Alabama average 431 yards a game, allowing only 221 a game.

"I thought (UC Davis) was the biggest win in our program's short history." Jones said. "They are proven winners. They beat San Jose State earlier this year. They beat Stanford a few years ago, so they know how to play big-time football.

"I will remember that game for a long time."

South Alabama will make the transitional move toward Division I next season and 2012. They will play a 12-game schedule.

The 2013 season marks South Alabama's official arrival as a D-I school, meaning the Jags can compete for the Sun Belt Conference championship and a bowl berth.

"We will play a Sun Belt schedule in 2012, but we will not be eligible for a championship or bowl game," Jones said. "We do talk about 2013 as players and coaches.

"With that said, we have to get a lot better, including recruiting."

In terms of future schedules, the Jags will play Mississippi State three times between 2012 and 2016.

South Alabama travels to Mississippi State in 2012, hosts the Bulldogs two years later and makes a return trip to Starkville in 2016.

"We need to sign Division I players," Jones said. "We can't be satisfied with a player who is not Division I. If a player isn't any better than what we have, we will not sign them. We can't take an average player.

"We need to get players who will help us beat N.C. State and Mississippi State."

Former Gulfport Admiral Bryant Lavender has 257 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

Josh Chestang, a sophomore linebacker from Moss Point, has nine tackles, one sack and one fumble recovery for a touchdown.

Safety Jonathan Cameron, a Gulf Coast Community College transfer, has recorded 16 tackles and one interception.

Eight players with South Mississippi ties are on the Jags roster.

They include T.J. Lawrence of Ocean Springs, Rodger Sims of Long Beach, Jerry Nettles of Moss Point, Cory Pittman of Gulf Coast Community College and Levi Slayden of Picayune.

"South Mississippi players are well-coached," Jones said. "That area is part of the recruiting process that's very important to us."