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Life after Frank Gore Jr.: Will Hall so far pleased with Southern Miss running back room

Southern Miss running back Frank Gore, Jr. after a touchdown against Louisiana-Monroe (Photo courtesy of USM Athletics)

Heading into their first season without Frank Gore, Jr., Southern Miss head coach Will Hall says the void can definitely be felt, but it’s not nearly as wide as college football fans may think.

Yes, Gore took Hattiesburg by storm when he arrived on campus in 2019. Four seasons later, his career stat line includes over 5,000 total yards – whether rushing, receiving, or even passing – and 37 touchdowns. The cherry on top to it all may be the laundry list of records broken while at Southern Miss, including the best postseason performance for a running back in FBS history.

That being said, Hall knew this day would come. He knew that Gore eventually might choose to forego any remaining eligibility (which he did in December after initially teasing a return) and, instead, follow in the footsteps of his father and chase the surefire Hall of Fame career that Frank Gore, Sr., had across 16 seasons in the NFL. And that’s why Hall and his staff have been preparing for life after Frank Gore, Jr., for years now.

“Well, Frank was great. We love Frank and certainly wish him well. I’m so glad we got to coach him, and it was great him being here and being part of this program,” Hall said on SportsTalk Mississippi . “But the only way to replace really good players is to have recruited really well while they were here.”

Pointing to the powerhouse programs such as Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio State who have to overcome hurdles every year when stars declare for the NFL Draft, Hall is more than pleased with how his running back room has shaped out as spring practice came to an end this week.

Hall referenced four running backs who he believes could be vital in helping the Golden Eagles get back to the postseason for the first time since Gore’s record, 329-yard performance in the 2022 LendingTree Bowl. The most of experienced of the bunch is Rodrigues “Dreke” Clark, who rushed for 429 yards and two touchdowns as Gore’s backup in 2023. Clark, a Starkville native, started his career at Memphis, where he rushed for over 900 yards across three seasons.

Of the younger backs Hall thinks could have an impact this year are redshirt sophomore Kenyon Clay, redshirt freshman JQ Gray, and true freshman Jalen Washington. All three were highly touted out of high school with Clay ranked as the No. 2 back in Mississippi in the class of 2022, Gray as a vital piece to multiple championship runs at Oak Grove, and Washington as the North Mississippi Player of the Year as a sophomore in 2021.

“The only way to replace a good player is to recruit really well,” Hall reiterated. “These kids are excited about the opportunity and their ability to step up with Frank leaving, and I like their talent. I like their attitude, and I really like the way they’ve worked.”

Hall also noted that new running backs coach Micheal Spurlock, who he lovingly calls “The Magic Man,” has brought the best out of the position group so far this spring and looks to see more progress when summer workouts begin.

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