By Robert Wilson

There’s a new quarterback on the Southern Miss roster. And he’s a Pearl Pirate.

Jake Smithhart, who led Pearl to a 16-0 record and the MHSAA Class 6A state championship, has joined the team and had his first practice Tuesday.

Smithhart was a student coach when first-year Southern Miss coach Will Hall asked him to join the team to help with depth at the quarterback position. Senior Trey Lowe, a transfer from West Virginia, started the first two games, but injured his foot in the win over Grambling in the second game. Freshman Ty Keyes started in losses to then-No. 1 Alabama, Troy, and Rice. Lowe and Keyes are out indefinitely. Jackson Prep alumnus and walk on Jake Lange was elevated from the practice squad to back up Keyes, but came in when Keyes was injured then started in last week’s game against Texas-El Paso.

Photo credit: Southern Miss Athletics

“I claimed him off of waivers so to speak and took him off being a student coach,” Hall said. “We got him cleared through compliance and he is now on the team. He was a state champion at Pearl High School and played for the great John Perry, one of the all-time great coaches in Mississippi history. Jake will be competing with (Louisville transfer) Tee Webb for the backup.”

“Will and I are good friends and we talked about it.,” said John Perry, who coached Smithhart at Pearl and is now coaching in Missouri. “I’m excited for Jake and happy he’s getting a chance to put on the football gear again. Good things happen to good people and Jake is a great human being. He’s at the right place at the right time.

“Jake is underwhelming in size, he was maybe 5-10, 145 pounds in high school, but overwhelming at a quarterback. He is everything you want in quarterback, leadership, confidence, manage the game, even keel and accuracy. You want a quarterback who can put the ball in the end zone that’s what Jake did for us. In his last two years, he threw for 5,300 yards, 61 TDs, only 13 interceptions, completed 400 passes, had a 70 percent completion percentage and was 27-4 and no offers. It’s crazy. The kid is a player.” 

Smithhart completed 70.4 percent of his passes, threw for 2,766 yards, 29 TDs and only five interceptions in Pearl’s undefeated and championship season. He went on Hinds Community College on a baseball scholarship, then played football as a sophomore for Hinds. He transferred to Delta State and was on the football team, but covid hit and the team didn’t play in the fall of 2020. When Hall was named coach in December and Smithhart transferred to Southern Miss and joined the team as a student coach.