When you quiz college football fans all over the country concerning their favorite player, you will get a litany of quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and defensive backs. Those are "skill position" players and get most of the love from fans. They get the majority of the media coverage and show up on nearly every highlight reel.
I don't look at football in the same way as many. The battles within the trenches enthrall me way more than I care to admit. There is nothing quite like watching the "big uglies" fight it out on every play.
Therefore, it would only be natural for my favorite player in Conference USA to be on an offensive or defensive line. That is why my favorite player in C-USA is Southern Miss Golden Eagles center Cameron Tom.
The 6-4, 287 pound center from Baton Rouge, Louisiana was a product of Catholic High School. He was a guard and tackle at the high school level, earning Honorable Mention All-State and First Team All-Metro as a senior. His excellent play earned him a two star rating by 247Sports.com, Rivals.com and Scout.com. He was also named the #78 overall prospect in Louisiana by 247Sports.com.
Despite showing a high ceiling as an offensive lineman despite the two-star rating, Tom was only offered in-state by Louisiana Tech and Tulane. North Texas, Memphis, Arkansas State, and Southern Miss also offered scholarships. In the end, it came down to a battle of the Golden Eagles and Bulldogs for his services. After January visits to both programs, Tom eschewed the in-state program and signed for new head coach Todd Monken as part of his first recruiting class.
New Southern Miss commitment Cameron Tom pic.twitter.com/w4JsJET6— Steve Robertson (@ScoutSteveR) January 29, 2013
One thing was crystal clear once Tom stepped on campus. He would be finding playing time immediately on the offensive line. Not only did he earn playing time in 11 of the 12 games in 2013, he made the final nine starts of the season. For his efforts, he was named to the Conference USA All-Freshman team.
Picking up from a stellar freshman season, Tom started all 12 games as a sophomore. That feat was all the more impressive due to an off season move to center. While the team struggled to a 3-9 record, Tom was part of an offense that produced just over 4,300 yards of total offense. He was named All-Conference USA (Honorable Mention) in 2014.
The 2015 season saw expectations increase for the rising junior. He was named to the preseason Second Team All-CUSA team and expected to help lead Southern Miss back to glory. He did that and more in a magical season that ended with a C-USA West Division title, a trip to a bowl game, multiple personal accolades, and another 14 starts. The 2015 team set of tied 22 school records on offense.
Tom was named as a First Team All-CUSA member, one of four Golden Eagles to secure that honor. He was also presented the Willie Heidelberg "Unsung Hero" Award at the end of regular season team awards banquet.
Heading into his senior season, Tom is almost a shoe-in to be named to the First Team All-CUSA team and has already been named the #6 center in the country by Lindy's Sports Magazine. He has also been named to the Rimington Trophy Watch List for the second time and is a highly rated NFL Draft prospect at his position.
Southern Miss C Cameron Tom lands on Rimington Trophy Watch List. Second straight year the senior has been on the list.— Jason Munz (@munzly) May 17, 2016
Tom is the #5 ranked center according to CBS Sports 2017 rankings. Barring something crazy happening, Tom will be a reasonably high draft pick next spring. He will also have a chance to reach 49 career starts if he is healthy and the Golden Eagles do as expected this fall.
As if his accomplishments on the field weren't enough, Tom is one of the better student-athletes in Conference USA. He was named to the Conference USA Commissioner's Honor Roll in 2013, 2014, and 2015 as well as the Capitol One Academic All-District 6 (2014-First Team). Tom was part of the All-CUSA Academic Team in 2015.
Go ahead, take a look in the trenches this fall. I won't tell anyone. Check out an NFL talent in the middle of the Southern Miss offensive line. Maybe you will then realize why Cameron Tom is my favorite Conference USA player.