Maples focusing on football year-round for first time

By CAMAL PETRO,

Oak Grove native Hayes Maples is participating in something he’s never done before. Yes, he’s been playing football for a while now, but he’s never gone through spring practice at Southern Miss nor at Oak Grove.

Maples, a redshirt freshman at Southern Miss, was a two-sport athlete in high school, so he spent his springs on the baseball diamond rather than going through spring drills with his football teammates. So far, the only thing different for Maples is the mild spring weather.

“It feels a lot better for sure, but there’s nothing really different,” he said.

It’s also the first time Maples has focused on football all year long. Instead of spending his spring swinging a baseball bat, he’s all-in on getting better on the gridiron as the weather warms up. Since he’s not focusing on his swing, he’s has to keep his mind right 100 percent of the time on football, he says.

“It’s just football all the time,” Maples said. “You have to stay focused, for sure.”

The linebacker crops took a hit this offseason, so it’s left room for Maples to make a move up the depth chart. The Golden Eagles graduated a handful of linebackers from last year’s squad, which includes Sherrod Ruff, Darian Yancey and Jeremy Sangster. Maples said players like those graduating seniors showed him the ropes when he arrived at Southern Miss, and they taught him how to be a college football player.

Maples has been practicing with the second team this spring, but not at an inside linebacker position. After playing in the middle at the high level and preparing to play inside during his first year on campus, he’s making the switch to the outside where he’ll have to put his hand in the ground some. Some of the calls are different, too, and he’s putting all of his focus in making the switch.

“Just every aspect of the game, technique and I’m playing a new position, so I’m just trying to get everything down right,” he said of what he wants to improve upon this spring. “It’s a little different, but I’m just trying to get used to it and get better every day.”

The second-year player benefitted from a new rule last season. It was almost a guarantee Maples would redshirt his freshman season, which in years past would have meant he wouldn’t see playing time. Since the NCAA passed a rule allowing players to appear in up to four games while keeping a redshirt, Maples got to see the field in 2018.

Whether it was on special teams or on defense, the 6-foot-2 linebacker played in the maximum four games while taking his redshirt. Maples played in the season-opening win over Jackson State, and recorded a tackle, then against Marshall, UAB and Louisiana Tech later in the season.

Maples said the butterflies felt a little differently at M.M. Roberts Stadium than at Warrior Field in Oak Grove, but after a few minutes, it was just another game. 

“I was excited. I thought it would give me a shot to get some experience,” Maples said of the new rule. “It was awesome to get out and play four games. It was a good experience.”

Southern Miss will hold its annual spring game at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.