By Tim Doherty/The Hattiesburg American
HATTIESBURG — According to his numbers, Tracy Lampley is going to contribute about 100 yards per game every time he steps onto a football field for the University of Southern Mississippi.
Those yards might come offensively, taking a handoff for a rush or snaring a pass for a reception. They might come in the return game, by way of kickoff or punt.
To Lampley, one of the greatest playmakers in Golden Eagles history, it doesn’t matter how the ball finds its way into his possession.
“It’s all about the team, and if I can get the ball in my hands, I can make a play for the team,” Lampley said. “It’s not about any one individual, and that’s what I try to tell my teammates.
“No matter what the coaches say about wanting to get me the ball as much as they can, I’m also telling those guys to work hard, because I’m going to work hard and try and get you guys open, pull some guys with me. If we can do that, we win as a team.”
And, as USM (0-1) prepares for Saturday’s home and Conference USA opener with East Carolina (1-1), Golden Eagle coaches have been stressing to Lampley the importance of doing both, of playing hard every snap, with or without the ball.
“Some of it, he’s got to get open,” USM coach Ellis Johnson. “And, you’ve got to play without the ball in your hands as well as with the ball in your hands. There’s plenty of things in there, where he may not be the primary receiver, but he’s certainly one of the primary reads in the progression.”
Lampley, a 5-foot-9, 168-pound senior from Waynesboro, said he understood what the coaches were saying.
“Coach tells me a lot to play without the ball because a lot of defenses have their attention on me,” Lampley said. “So, if I run across the field, full speed, and the running play is coming back behind me, I got the whole defense with me.
“(Coaches) just want me to be full-speed, running to the ball, and that kind of good stuff, to pull the defense to me, and I have to do a better job of that.”
Lampley only had three touches in USM’s 49-20 loss at then-No. 17 Nebraska on Sept. 1, including two receptions for 27 yards.
The other touch was all the evidence needed why USM wants the ball in his hands.
After Nebraska scored to take a 14-0 lead, Lampley took the kickoff 2 yards deep in the end zone, zoomed through a crease in the middle, outran the angle that the last, potential tackler tried to take on him and was off on what officially would go down as a 100-yard return.
“Tracy Lampley is a difference maker,” ECU coach Ruffin McNeill said.
— Lampley is the lone Golden Eagle in the program’s history to score a touchdown four different ways in a single season (2009): rushing; receiving; punt return; kick return.
— In the Conference USA championship game last December in Houston, Lampley logged his third 100-yard receiving game of the season, with six catches for a career-high 125 yards. He finished with 240 all-purpose yards as the Golden Eagles pummeled the Cougars to win their fifth conference crown.
— With 3,879 all-purpose yards, Lampley needs just six more Saturday to move past former standout receiver Sherrod Gideon and into fifth place on USM’s all-time list.
But with all he’s done — including 13 career touchdowns — it’s what he could accomplish before season’s end that would cement his place in Golden Eagle annals.
Lampley has moved within striking distance of becoming the first player in school history to reach the 1,000-yard plateau in four all-purpose categories. He’s already reached the mark on kickoff returns, bringing his total to 1,189 yards with his dart and dash against Nebraska.
Lampley also is closing in on:
— Rushing yards. With 969 yards he needs 31 more.
— Receiving yards. With 905 yards, he needs 95 more.
— Punt return yards. With 816 yards, he needs 184 more.
Johnson said Lampley’s chances in those categories could be bolstered by a sterner USM defense.
“Every game, we may have a new play or wrinkle that may involve him,” Johnson said “We’ve got enough ways for him to touch the ball; and we’ve got to get the ball to him more often. We’ve got to have more snaps. We’ve got to have more stops; “We’ve got to get him more punt returns. So, how do you do that? Make people punt more. That way, he’ll touch the ball more.”
USM offensive coordinator Steve Buckley said Lampley was the primary target on three occasions in man coverage against the Cornhuskers, but “he just didn’t win” the battle to get open.
“But, yes, we’ve got to get Lampley the ball, and yes, we will do some things this week to get him the ball, creatively,” Buckley said. “Hopefully.”