Austin Davis has seen dozens of talented players come and go at Southern Miss.
Some of them achieve their potential. Many don't.
The fifth-year senior quarterback has little doubt receiver Chris Briggs will succeed.
''I knew the first time I saw him he had a chance to be a really good player,'' Davis said. ''But like all freshmen, he had a lot to learn. What I didn't know was how badly he wants to be a good player. He wants to be really good. He asks me all the time to stay late and work with him.''
That persistence has paid off.
The 6-foot-4, 202-pounder has forced his way into a prominent role and made a key touchdown catch during Saturday's 30-29 victory over UCF. It gives Davis yet another offensive weapon as the 22nd-ranked Golden Eagles try for their 10th victory on Thursday when they visit Alabama-Birmingham.
It would be just the third 10-win season in Southern Miss history and first since 1988.
Briggs caught four passes for 67 yards against UCF, none bigger than a 4-yard reception with 5:52 remaining in the fourth quarter that gave the Golden Eagles a 30-23 lead. UCF drove down the field and scored a touchdown as time expired, but a 2-point conversion pass fell incomplete.
To an outsider, Briggs might seem an unlikely candidate to get the ball in such an important situation. Coach Larry Fedora wasn't surprised at all.
''He's had that potential since he got here, and he gets better and better with every game,'' Fedora said. ''He gains more confidence and is starting to understand what Division I football is. His best football is still ahead of him, but he's really growing in the position. We don't think of him as a freshman. Heck, with a fall camp and 10 games under our belts, we don't have any freshman.''
Briggs, who is from Franklinton, La., is the latest in a line of emerging young stars on the offense. After injuries decimated the Golden Eagles' running game, freshman Jamal Woodyard took over the starting role midseason and now leads the team with 545 rushing yards, averaging 6.6 yards per carry. Sophomore Jeremy Hester has also had a big role.
Now it's Briggs' turn, though his opportunities haven't come because of injuries. He's simply been too good to keep off the field.
Players and coaches say Briggs has some similarities to former Southern Miss receiver DeAndre Brown, a powerfully built 6-foot-6, 228-pounder who was a freshman All-American in 2008. But Brown's career was derailed after clashes with the coaching staff and a spotty work ethic.
Briggs has had no such trouble, combining great physical ability with an insatiable desire to improve. He's stayed humble despite the recent success and his role is expected to grow. He's made nine catches for 132 yards this season.
''Coach tells us that at any given time everyone has to be ready to step in and play their role,'' Briggs said. ''So when the time and opportunity comes you have to make the most of it and do what you can to help the team.''
He's one of many big-play options for the Golden Eagles, who average nearly 37 points per game. Eight different players have at least 130 yards receiving.
The veteran receivers aren't jealous of his increased role. They're more than happy to share the field as Southern Miss closes on an Eastern Division title and a chance to play in the Conference USA title game for the first time since 2006.
''It's no secret that hard work pays off, and nobody has put in as much as he has,'' junior receiver Quentin Pierce said. ''He's a guy that works really hard and he's earned every bit of the time he's gotten.''
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