The Southern Miss Golden Eagles made it clear after a disappointing 2014 season that they would rely upon the JUCO and FBS transfer market to attempt a push at a bowl in 2015.
Of the many important transfers that entered the ranks for Southern Miss, safety D’Nerius Antoine has by far been the most impressive acquisition. Antione, at 6-0, 215 pounds, was recruited as a hybrid linebacker/safety out of Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas. After playing linebacker early in the spring, the defensive coaching staff asked him to get around the 215 pound range to play one of the safety positions.
After earning a starting spot during fall camp, Antoine has made 25 tackles, three tackles for loss, one interception two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Both of his forced fumbles came in games versus Power Five programs, with his first directly keeping Mississippi State from scoring and his second changing the entire course of the Nebraska game.
How did this safety with perfect size, coverage skills, and the ability to make a bit hit, end up at Southern Miss rather than a Power Five team? A long and winding road is the short answer.
Antoine, a native of New Iberia, Louisiana, was as a first team All-State honoree as a high school senior. Despite his immense ability, Antoine had to go the JUCO route. The safety chose to attend JUCO power Trinity Valley C.C. with intentions of transferring to a four year program after his freshman season.
During his first year with the Cardinals, Antoine was moved to the safety position. He played in five games, making eight solo tackles, an interception and a pass break up. Big 12 program Oklahoma State spotted him during his freshman year, recruiting him hard and finally offering a scholarship. Antoine accepted the scholarship offer and applied to join the university to be part of the Cowboys football team. Due to qualification issues, Antoine was not allowed admittance into the university.
Going back to Trinity Valley C.C. for one more season may have been the best thing to ever happen to the Golden Eagles safety. Antoine, seeing regular playing time as a sophomore, collected 69 tackles (56 solo, 13 assisted) with five tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, a pair of interceptions, and eight pass break ups. He was also the primary punt returner with 19 returns for 385 yards, a 20.3 yards per return average. His excellent play earned him First-team SWJCFC all-conference and First Team NJCAA All-American honors.
Despite an excellent second season at Trinity Valley C.C., only Southern Miss, Oklahoma State, South Alabama, and Troy offered him a scholarship. Antoine chose to go a new route in 2015 and spurned the Cowboys in order to commit to Southern Miss. Antoine enrolled with Southern Miss in January and has been one of the top players on the Golden Eagles defense since stepping on campus.
Antione was the leader tackler for the Golden Eagles versus Texas State with a career-high nine tackles, while collecting his first FBS interception versus Nebraska in week four. Expect the junior to be one of the players to watch and, barring injury, should be in contention for a spot on one of the CUSA all-conference lists at the end of the season.