HATTIESBURG — Southern Miss linebacker Daylen Gill spent his first four preseason practices with the Golden Eagles flying around the field like a player who knows he's got one more shot at college football.
Gill, a Jones College product and Ole Miss transfer, spent two seasons with the Rebels and played sparingly before making the move to Hattiesburg for his final collegiate season.
"He's really had that last opportunity – almost like a desperate man mentality," USM defensive coordinator Austin Armstrong said.
"He had an experience where it wasn't working out for him. He wasn't planning on being here. And, for whatever reason, his life turned him here."
Based on the early returns, the Golden Eagles are better for it. After fielding a recruiting blitz from Armstrong and Will Hall upon entering the transfer portal last winter – and receiving some encouragement from former Rebel teammates who also transferred to Southern Miss – Gill joined the fold.
"I felt like it was a good fit because I felt like I could come in and help this team win," Gill said. "I felt like I could come in, find a role, be a leader."
Following the 2021 season, which Southern Miss completed with just 62 scholarship players, the Golden Eagles were in desperate need of depth all across their roster. But the linebackers were among the only units that didn't cry out for additions.
Even after Hayes Maples went down for the season this summer with an injury, it was still clear that Gill would be reinforcing a group that already boasts a number of strong, experienced options like Santrell Latham, Swayze Bozeman and TQ Newsome.
Put more simply: It wasn't going to be easy.
Gill's manner of recognizing that, and rising to meet the challenge, has impressed Armstrong.
"Between walkthroughs, practices, meetings and games, they've probably got 3,000 more reps than him," Armstrong said. "So, he's behind the 8-ball, right?... Some guys pull back and some guys go all in. I think the kid's going all in."
At 5-foot-11, 225 pounds, Gill moves well. He expressed confidence in his ability to blitz, and said he believes he can use his hands effectively and be an asset in pass coverage.
He's working to add the voice of a leader to his toolbelt, believing in the power of building up his teammates rather than the sting of a harsh correction.
That type of leadership ambition might not be expected from a player who hasn't played a down with his new team, but time isn't on Gill's side.
He's only got one more chance to make his impact – and he's comfortable with that.
"It feels great, actually," Gill said. "Because I wanna be great."
Reach Southern Miss writer David Eckert at email@example.com or on Twitter @davideckert98.
This article originally appeared on Hattiesburg American: Daylen Gill impressing Southern Miss football staff: Ole Miss transfer