The first time Reggie Collier went out for football, he did so on the sly. He was 12 then and living with his grandparents, the Rev. Robert and Mrs. Octavia Nance, who objected to the sport on religious grounds. "It's an event of the world," explains Octavia, "and the Bible tells us to rise above those things of the world that lead to temptation." Besides, the Nances feared for Reggie's health. At 6'4" and 205 pounds, he's lanky now. As an eighth-grader in D'Iberville, near Biloxi on Mississippi's Gulf Coast, Collier could have rented himself out as a TV antenna.
Collier's grandparents eventually allowed him to play football, and the Southern Mississippi faithful praise the Lord. Collier, a quarterback, last season led the Golden Eagles to a 13-13 standoff with Alabama—I WAS THERE WHEN WE TIED THE BEAR read the bumper stickers—a 7-6 victory over Mississippi State, a 9-1-1 record and their second bowl appearance in two years. (They lost 19-17 to Missouri in the Tangerine.)
In a 58-14 defeat of Florida State, Collier ran for 150 yards and completed seven of eight passes before leaving the game with 44 points on the board and enough Heisman ballots in the box to finish ninth. On the season he completed 58.3% of 139 passes and had only four intercepted. Says Coach Jim Carmody, "He's still doing some things wrong out there, but the thing about him is, they turn out right—like missing a hand-off and going around the wrong end for a touchdown." A 4.45 man in the 40, Collier had TD runs of 24, 52, 53, 54, 69, 80 and 84 yards and wound up the only NCAA quarterback ever to pass and rush for 1,000 yards in one season. And he fumbled just once.
Collier also shone this summer as a salesman of men's suits and sportswear at Waldoff's "on the Hattiesburg Mall." Says Waldoff's manager, Jimmy Gemeinhardt, "Collier's pretty knowledgeable about clothes, and he's very alert to the customers. Of course, some of them are alert to him, too."
Counting Collier, who's now a senior, seven offensive starters are back from last year's team, including Flanker Louis Lipps and Split End Don Horn, who averaged 15.8 yards a catch in 1981. Horn, who's only 5'9", knows that he doesn't fit the pro mold. Thus, over the summer he used the knowledge acquired as a criminal justice major to get a start on a career by working as an intern—in a patrol car—for the Hattiesburg Police Department.
The Eagles will replace tailbacks Sammy Winder, now with the Denver Broncos, and Ricky Floyd, a Cleveland Brown, with Sam Dejarnette, a former halfback in Auburn's wishbone offense who transferred to Southern Mississippi because he felt the tailback trapped inside of him trying to get out. The center is Carmody's son Steve, an accounting major who two years ago won an award as the male freshman with the best academic record at the university.
Carmody Sr. was the architect of the Nasty Bunch defense, which got its name from the disposition of Linebacker Cliff Lewis, now with the Green Bay Packers. At the time Carmody, or Big Nasty, was defensive coordinator under Coach Bobby Collins, who gave no indication of stepping aside. Collins, a native Mississippian, had frequently said, "There are few, if any, jobs that I'd move for." With nowhere to go in Hattiesburg, in February 1981 Carmody signed on as defensive line coach for the Buffalo Bills. Last season the Bills had 14 more sacks than ever before. Then, last winter, SMU's offer of a reported $100,000-per-year, multiyear contract lured Collins to Dallas, and suddenly Carmody was back at Hattiesburg, this time as the head coach.
Carmody will have nine starters returning from the 1981 Nasty Bunch that allowed the fewest points in the nation (8.1 per game). They include Nose Guard Jerald Baylis, Cornerback Bruce (Juice) Miller and Linebacker Greg Kelley, who led the Golden Eagles with 133 tackles in 1981 and was a high school teammate of Collier's. Kelley recalls when Collier decided, with reservations, to be among the first blacks ever to play for the D'Iberville High Warriors. There were no incidents, for which Collier credits Warrior Coach Buddy Singleton. But, Kelley adds, "A lot of it was Reggie himself, the way he is. I know it sounds like I'm making it up, but he has the dignity that always rises above that kind of stuff."
The Golden Eagles will have to prevail against a tougher schedule than they faced last season, when they were ranked as high as 11th. Auburn and Ole Miss replace the likes of Texas-Arlington and Lamar, and the 'Bama game (Nov. 13) has been moved from Birmingham, where the Tide has lost twice and tied once in three years, to Tuscaloosa, where it's undefeated in 18.
But one obstacle in the way of Southern Mississippi football is getting smaller all the time. Collier's grandparents still object to the idea of football, but Octavia will now watch, him play on TV. "After all, he's my grandson," she says, "and if I get a chance to look at him, I'm going to look at him."