PEARL – Former Pearl High School star receiver D.J. Thompson still remembers that lick Evan Osborne laid on him that day in practice.
“He just blindsided me,” recalled Thompson, now a freshman at Southern Miss. “I remember I could still feel it the next day. I didn’t tell anybody that though.”
Well, not until now.
The 6-foot-4, 200-pound Osborne, a Clarion-Ledger Top 125 Senior, loves nothing more than delivering the big hit.
“When I’m on defense, I try to murder whoever has the ball, hit them as hard as I can,” said Osborne. “I want them to know that Evan Osborne just hit them. I want them to be scared when they tote the ball.”
But this year, the hard-hitting safety is having to channel some of that energy. He’ll also line up this season at quarterback for the Pirates, who open the season Friday against Vicksburg in the Red Carpet Bowl Classic at 6 p.m.
“Playing quarterback is a dream come true,” said Osborne, who has verbally committed to Southern Miss.
Osborne last played quarterback regularly in the ninth grade, so he’s still adjusting to moving back to offense.
“Evan is just wired in a way that he is wide open when that ball is snapped,” said Pearl coach John Perry. “That’s why he is going to Southern Miss to play outside linebacker or strong safety because he will run downhill and knock your brains out. When you flip him over to the other side of the ball, that mentality is not what you always want. You have to be able to calm down and think about things and get everybody where they need to be. That transitioning from being that all-out player to the game manager is what we have to improve on it.”
Osborne hasn’t had a lot of time to make the switch. He missed spring drills because he’s also a standout hurdler on Pearl’s perennial powerhouse track team.
Last May, he was busy winning the Class 5A state title in the 110 hurdles and the 300 hurdles. He set the school record in the 110 hurdles as a junior and his goal is to set the state meet record in the spring.
“There are things Evan can do that most folks can’t do,” said Perry. “We are basically breaking in a new quarterback from scratch and breaking in a new offense. It’s tough to throw a kid in there, but he can make up for a lot of crap because he’s so athletic and he can fly.”
Even his car, a 1994 black Camaro that he calls the Batmobile, is fast. It has a 350 turbo engine inside.
Osborne says his goal is simple this season. He wants to lead the Pirates to a 5A state championship. They finished 8-4 last season, losing at home to Pascagoula in the first round of the 5A playoffs.
Yes, that loss hurt.
But Osborne seemed to be just as disappointed about a loss last Friday to Madison Central … in a jamboree.
“It’s my senior year and I don’t want to feel like that again,” said Osborne. “That game showed me that I have to work on being a better captain, motivating my team and giving the ‘quarterback speech.’ I learned that I have to slow down and process things more on offense.”
Osborne will share quarterback duties with senior Michael Roberson.
But Osborne is no doubt the team leader.
In fact, he was voted on 67 of 70 ballots to be one of the team captains this season.
“He is a good kid, a tough kid, our leader,” Perry said. “He’s the bellcow.”
Off the field, he enjoys just hanging out with his friends.
“He’s just as wired,” said Perry. “If you went down a dark alley and knew you were fixin’ to get in a fight, you’d want him with you because he’s going to battle until the end.”
And that tenacity is why Perry will let Osborne pull double duty this season, lining up again at safety.
He recorded 65 tackles with two interceptions, three pass deflections and two fumble recoveries as a junior.
He’ll also play on defense at Southern Miss. He verbally committed to the Golden Eagles this month and has offers from Louisiana-Monroe, Arkansas State and Memphis. Ole Miss and Mississippi State also showed interest.
He says he’s solid on the Golden Eagles, where he’ll rejoin former teammate Thompson.
“D.J. is there and that’s one of the reasons I committed,” said Osborne. “He’s like a brother to me.”
Thompson welcomes his arrival, although he’ll likely be a little more cautious catching a pass across the middle.
“I think it was a smart choice,” Thompson said. “I can kinda take him and put him under my wing.”
Perry is sure Osborne will be ready once he gets there.
He recalled the time Osborne’s shoulder popped out of place during a game.
“He just popped it right back in and got back out there and played,” recalled Perry. “No matter what, in the game he is going to get it done. He’s just a tough, hard-nosed kid. Unless there’s a bone sticking out, he’s ready to roll.”