Hopson: Freshman Clopton 'ready to play' center

By CAMAL PETRO,

True Freshman Trace Clopton is more experienced than an average freshman who just completed his second college practice. Nearly a month after helping Team Mississippi win the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Game at Southern Miss’ M.M. Roberts Stadium last December, he was getting adjusted to college life.

Instead of enjoying the final spring of high school, he graduated early, enrolled at Southern Miss and participated in spring practice with the Golden Eagles. Unfortunately, he missed his senior prom because Southern Miss had a scrimmage on the same day.

The decision to leave early proved to pay off with Clopton.

“It was the best decision I could have made,” he said. “My family helped me make that decision. We knew the center (former Southern Miss lineman, Devin Farrior) was graduating and I had a shot. I definitely benefited coming in and getting an entire spring, as opposed to if I would have come in now or at the beginning of the summer, I’d have to start building those connections. Instead, I already knew everybody.”

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Now, he’s practicing with the starting offensive line at center and Golden Eagles’ coach Jay Hopson has already made a big statement on the 6-foot-2, 290-pound freshman.

"With the newcomers, you have to keep watching and see their development," Hopson said after Saturday’s practice. "Of course, Trace is a guy that is making a statement early as is a newcomer and is already starting."

Heading into fall camp, Southern Miss has three starters back on the line with two spots to fill. Redshirt junior Drake Dorbeck is back to play right tackle, redshirt junior Ty Pollard is slotted next to him at guard and redshirt sophomore Arvin Fletcher will play left guard.

The center and left tackle spots were open, and Clopton now has a firm grasp on the center position after just two days of practice. Sophomore Woodlyson Alcuis has been practicing at left tackle with the 1s, as well.

“That was my goal whenever I came in,” Clopton said. “I was going to do everything that I had to do for a shot at it. It worked out and I just have to keep working to hold on to it. We have other capable players and we have a good competition going.”

Leading up to fall camp, Clopton said the Southern Miss coaches just started addressing him with the 1s in team meetings. He’s just trying to do his part and hang with the experienced players.

After all, he is a freshman and he anticipated having to earn the respect of the older players.

“I expected it 100 percent,” he said. “When I’m a senior, I’m going to do the same thing. Respect is always earned and not given.

“It’s awesome playing between them (Dorbeck, Pollard and Fletcher). They know it. They’ve been in the fire and they’ve been doing this. They always help me get through stuff. Sometimes when there’s a question on the line, they have an answer for me. A life question, even.”

Clopton, a Brookhaven native, played for his father Tommy Clopton in high school. Every time Trace Clopton’s name is brought up to Hopson in a post-practice interview, being a coach’s son and how it’s helped him be “ahead of the curve,” as Hopson puts it, is discussed.

“I know that benefited me a lot, especially graduating high school early,” Clopton said. “Whenever I went home, it was still football. We watched film until we went to sleep, and that’s the way I wanted it. He didn’t push it on me.”  

Hopson said after practice No. 1 that he didn’t know for sure if Clopton to grab the reigns this early, but he never has that assumption for any freshmen. Hopson followed up that statement with how being a coach’s son benefited him get to this point so quickly.

“Being a coach’s son, he’s way ahead of the curve,” Hopson said Friday. “Strength-wise, he’s way ahead of the curve, so he’s physically and mentally ready to play, so you have to give dad a lot of credit on that one, too.”

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