|Changes spice up SWAC competition|
Birmingham, AL (Sports Network) - Prairie View A&M quarterback K.J. Black remembers - rather painfully, perhaps - some of the blitzes that came his way during Southwestern Athletic Conference play last season.
"It kind of woke me up," said the field general of the reigning SWAC champions, and the 2010 SWAC Preseason Offensive Player of the Year.
It's not just Black. Everybody has to be on his toes in the SWAC, because everyone is watching each other.
A lot has been changing in the conference in recent years, starting, of course, with Prairie View winning the SWAC title last year for the first time since 1964. The Panthers' emergence is part of a trend of improvement among the Texas schools, if Texas Southern can raise its play under coach Johnnie Cole the way Prairie View has done under Henry Frazier III.
Yet really what stood out Tuesday at the SWAC Football Kickoff Luncheon and Media Day was how the coaches have been changing around the conference. In decades past, you used to know many of the head coaches would be graduates of their school, or that Eddie Robinson would be collecting black national championships at Grambling State or John Merritt would be winning games at Jackson State.
The trend in the SWAC, and really across college football, is to go younger with the coaches and try to reach for former NFL players and assistant coaches. In the 10-team SWAC, only two head coaches are on the sidelines of their alma maters, Cole and Alabama State's Reggie Barlow. And the 37-year-old Barlow, the former wide receiver and returner with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with whom he won a Super Bowl ring, could look across the room at former NFL player and assistant coach Stump Mitchell, the first-year head coach at Southern University.
Meanwhile, Alabama A&M's Anthony Jones, who is only his ninth season is the longest-tenured head coach in the SWAC, could look across the room to a former Super Bowl champion teammate, Arkansas-Pine Bluff head coach Monte Coleman, who, like Jones, played for the Washington Redskins.
Change, according to those in the know around the league, has been good.
|Grambling State vs. Prairie View A&M, Sept. 25 in Dallas - Last season, Prairie View beat Grambling State for the first time since 1986 and went on to win the Southwestern Athletic Conference's West Division and overall titles. Can Tigers DE Christian Anthony slow the PVAM backfield of QB K.J. Black and RB Donald Babers at the Cotton Bowl?|
Alcorn State at Alabama A&M, Nov. 6 - Alabama A&M played in last year's SWAC Championship Game, but Alcorn State put a 34-16 hurting on the reigning East Division champion during the regular season. Alabama A&M is celebrating 100 years of football.
Grambling State vs. Southern, Nov. 27 in New Orleans - A crowd of 58,618 watched Grambling State tie the series (now the State Farm Classic) at 18 a year ago at the Louisiana Superdome. Former NFL player and assistant coach Stump Mitchell joins the fun this season as Southern's new head coach.
"Put it this way," Jones said, "any time you make changes, you're making changes because you're expecting expectations to change. So when that happens, guys who are taking these jobs understand what they're walking into. Of course, their energy level will be different, their expectation level will be different.
"Any time you have guys who have played in the NFL, the best way to say it is they've been to the top. So they know what it's like to have some of the best facilities, they know what it's like to have some of the best equipment, some of the best people around, and so on. They know what it takes to win and be successful at a different level. So when that happens, they come into a situation, as they're coming into here, and they are requesting more resources into their programs."
Prairie View has seen what winning does for a program. Once a national laughingstock with a record 80 straight losses, the Panthers are 9-1 in each of the past two seasons and keep gaining national acclaim in the Football Championship Subdivision. They are the team to beat in the SWAC, not surprisingly anointed the preseason pick in the conference's preseason poll. Frazier, now in his seventh season with the Panthers, points to a win-now society for some of the changes across the conference.
The new coaches, Frazier said, are "bringing in their own philosophies and different things that may transcend what the universities have done in the past. It's one of those things that make for an interesting conference."
"The game's a young man's game for the most part because it's a grind," added Grambling State head coach Rod Broadway.
Naturally, the change in coaches brings a change in coaching styles, including more creativity - not the wing-T or options of yesteryear. The game is faster, with quarterbacks and wide receivers the ones to watch more so than the running backs. Defensively, it's all about being aggressive, as Black will attest from the blitzes he faced after he transferred to Prairie View from Western Kentucky of the Sun Belt Conference.
"In this league, which is really different from a lot of other places," Barlow said, "if you have a hundred-yard rusher, you don't turn the ball over, you control the clock, in this league you lose. In most leagues, that usually means you win."
The 51-year-old Mitchell, who spent 21 seasons in the NFL as a player and assistant coach, doesn't come aboard as a younger head coach, but his background is something that aids in recruiting. Mitchell is all business, and young players can see what that has done for him.
"It gives these players that we're coaching the opportunity to just work hard and just dream. That's the bottom line, they have to dream," Mitchell said. "Most of these coaches that have played in the NFL, you see why they played in the NFL because they're big. Now I'm one of the smaller ones. With my guys, they all feel like, well, 'Man, he played in the NFL? I think Google is wrong.' They Google me 10, 15 times to see if I'm the same guy. It just shows them that discipline is real; it can get you places that the undisciplined guy can't get regardless of how talented he is."
"I think it's a positive," Coleman added about the changes in the conference. "It helps the SWAC out, it shows the good brand of football that the SWAC is."
Prairie View, behind Black, led the SWAC with 10 selections on the preseason first and second teams, which were selected by coaches, sports information directors and selected media across the conference. In fact, the Panthers' eight first-team selections surpassed the number that any other school had on both teams.
Grambling senior defensive end Christian Anthony was named the SWAC Preseason Defensive Player of the Year and helped the Tigers to seven overall selections, which tied Texas Southern for the second most.
Alabama A&M was selected to repeat as the Eastern Division champion and to again face Prairie View in the SWAC Championship here at Legion Field on Dec. 11.
SWAC PRESEASON POLL
(Coaches, Media, and selected Sports Information Directors)
1. Alabama A&M (15 first-place votes), 98 points
2. Jackson State (5), 86
3. Alcorn State (2), 69
4. Alabama State, 50
5. Mississippi Valley State, 27
1. Prairie View A&M (17), 104
2. Grambling State (2), 79
3. Texas Southern (2), 69
4. Southern, 42
5. Arkansas-Pine Bluff (1), 37
PRESEASON SWAC ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM
Offensive Player of the Year - K.J. Black, QB, Prairie View A&M
Defensive Player of the Year - Christian Anthony, DE, Grambling State
Russell Jackson, Alabama A&M;
James Dekle, Prairie View A&M;
Tim Tusey, Prairie View A&M;
Ramon Chinyoung, Southern;
Charles Smith, Texas Southern.
Frank Warren, Grambling State;
Donald Babers, Prairie View A&M
Nick Andrews, Alabama State;
William Osbourn, Texas Southern;
Ryan Singleton, Alcorn State
K.J. Black, Prairie View A&M
Frank Kearse, Alabama A&M;
Christian Anthony, Grambling State;
Donovan Robinson, Jackson State;
Quinton Spears, Prairie View A&M.
Afu Okosun, Alabama A&M;
Cliff Exama, Grambling State;
Max Sencherey, Prairie View A&M.
Anthony Johnson, Jackson State;
Kerry Hoskins, Jackson State;
Chris Adingupu, Prairie View A&M;
Jason House, Southern
Ari Johnson, Grambling State;
Pedro Ventura, Prairie View A&M
Kiare Thompson, Grambling State
Anquez Jackson, Alabama A&M;
Bruce Beal, Alabama State;
Antonio Colston, Jackson State;
Terrael Williams, Jackson State;
Chris Browne, Southern.
Cornelius Walker, Grambling State;
Martin Gilbert, Texas Southern.
Edward Johnson, Alcorn State;
Shaun Stephens, Prairie View A&M.
Larry Donnell, Grambling State
Arvell Nelson, Southern
Kynjee Cotton, Alabama State;
Malcolm Taylor, Alcorn State;
Reginald Foster, Mississippi Valley State;
Rolando Melancon, Texas Southern.
Ryan Rich, Jackson State;
Rory Malone, Mississippi Valley State;
Dejuan Fulgham, Texas Southern.
Korey Morrison, Alabama A&M;
Donovan Masline, Alabama State;
Markkus Davis, Mississippi Valley State;
De'Markus Washington, Texas Southern
Brady Faggard, Prairie View A&M.
Josh Duran, Southern.
Mareo Howard, Arkansas-Pine Bluff
By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director