By Robert Wilson
Jackson Prep alumnus Jake Lange was the scout team quarterback for Southern Miss on Tuesday. Four days later, the Golden Eagle freshman walk-on passed for 304 yards in his collegiate debut in a 24-19 loss at Rice.
Lange was moved up to backup quarterback on Wednesday, then replaced injured starter Ty Keyes in the second series of the Conference USA opener game Saturday. Lange completed a touchdown pass on his first drive, completed 23 of 37 passes and was driving for the tying touchdown in the final minutes before throwing an interception.
“I thought the young man came in and played his tail off,” first-year Southern Miss coach Will Hall said. “Jake Lange is a winner. He’s a tough guy. Jake embodies what Southern Miss is all about. He gave us everything he had and spilled his guts. I love the kid. I’m happy for him. Jake prepares every day for this moment. He’s going to be a coach one day and he’s going to be a good one. He had a few plays he would like to have back, but for his first college football game he did fine. The kid is a walk on from Jackson Prep and proved everybody wrong. All of a sudden, he’s in the game and he gave us a chance. We’ve got to play better around him. Jake executed at a high level. He’s a competitor.”
Lange’s coach at Prep, former National Coach of the Year and Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame member Ricky Black, wasn’t surprised by Lange’s performance.
“Jake is one of the greatest stories of my coaching career,” said Black, who resigned at Prep this spring and is the second winningest coach in Mississippi history with 401 wins in 40 seasons. “He’s a coach’s dream. Jake just tries to get better every day. He had several others from Division II and Division III schools and junior colleges, but wanted to play Division I football and walked on at Southern Miss. He didn’t even make the traveling squad for the first two games. He doesn’t listen to the noise to people who say he can’t do something. Jake is a great testimony for everyone. He’s a great example of don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do something, Keep working hard and be ready when your time comes.
“I talked to him several times this past week, including after the game. He was worried about throwing three interceptions and I told him not to worry about it and get ready for the next game. This comes from a guy who teamed with another guy to throw eight interceptions (Black and the starter threw four interceptions each) at Holmes (Community College) when I was a freshman. You’ve got to just get ready for the next game.”
Black said Lange started his junior season as the fifth string quarterback at Prep and worked his way up to starter by the seventh game against rival Jackson Academy and led the Patriots to a 35-13 victory. Lange helped Prep to a 12-1 record and its seventh consecutive MAIS state championship in 2018. He passed for 1,145 yards and 11 TDs. Lange alternated with Riley Maddox as a senior and passed for 574 yards and three TDs and helped Prep to a 10-3 record and a state runner-up finish.
This is Lange’s second year on Southern Miss’ team and finally got his opportunity Saturday. He was promoted from the scout team to No. 2 quarterback because Hall said, “Jake just consistently performed better than the other guys.”
Lange was ready. His number (he wears No. 24) was called when Keyes was injured on the first series.
“I knew I was prepared. I had practiced well the whole week,” Lange said. “I’ve been waiting on this moment my whole life. I work hard and I wanted to give our team the best chance to win. I prepare every day to be the guy and that’s been my mindset ever since I started playing football. It was a great challenge each week going against our defense. Being on the scout team elevated my game exponentially. Coach Hall has always had confidence in me and always told me to be ready.”
The 6-foot-2, 194-pound Lange completed his first three passes and four of five on his first drive, taking the Eagles 75 yards on six plays and hit freshman wide receiver Chandler Pittman on a 31-yard TD pass to tie the game at 7-7 with 5 minutes, 10 seconds to go in the first quarter.
Southern Miss trailed 24-17 with 3:11 to play when Lange drove the Eagles from their own 20 to the Rice 42, completing three of four passes, before Rice intercepted a pass at the Rice 7 with 1:56 to play.
Former Southern Miss quarterback Lee Roberts, who is in his seventh year as the analyst for John Cox on the Golden Eagle radio network, watched Lang in fall practice and was impressed with his performance off the bench Saturday.
“I watched Jake in fall camp, and I noticed he was doing all the little things right,” said Roberts, who played at Southern Miss from 1995-1998 and led the Golden Eagles to Conference USA championships in 1996 and 1997. “He kind of reminds me of myself when I played at Southern Miss. I wasn’t the biggest, fastest, or tallest, but I could run the offense and accuracy was one of my best attributes. Jake isn’t the most athletic or talented, but he knows football and he’s a tough kid. I asked him after the game what he was feeling when Coach Hall told he was going to go in and I expected him to say he was nervous or anxious. His response was, ‘I’m ready.’ And Jake showed he was ready. He moved our offense like no one else had.”
Hall said Tuesday morning that Keyes will be out indefinitely, and Lange will be the starter Saturday against Texas-El Paso in Hattiesburg.
“Jake has a ton of charisma, he has a ton of leadership,” Hall said Tuesday. “Jake was in the office until three o’clock in the morning watching film when we got home the other night. He’s a gym rat, he’s going to be a coach. He’s got all those things you want. He’s not the biggest guy in the world, he doesn’t have the strongest arm, he’s limited in some of those ways, but he tries to overcome it with his brain. Jake is going to maximize everything that God has given him. If he falls short, it’s not going to be because of any effort-related issue with him. Our players love him and we’re going to gear the offense around him and keep charging forward.”