2023 Football

HBCU football sleeping giant finally ready to rise?

Johnson C. Smith is hoping a record number of scholarships and new facilities will help get it out of the CIAA cellar.

There was a rare HBCU football phenomenon that took place in Virginia last month when Johnson C. Smith’s name showed up in the CIAA predicted finish.

JCSU was picked to finish sixth in the 12-team league and third in the CIAA South despite dragging the baggage of a 2-7 season from last season. It was actually picked to finish above four teams it lost to in 2022: Bluefield State, St. Augustine’s, Winston-Salem State and Livingstone College. 

Second-year head coach Maurice Flowers will be the first to admit there were growing pains in his first season back at his alma mater. 

“It was just a learning experience every day in practice. Every meeting was just new and improved throughout the course of the year, but we’re excited to try to just improve upon last year,” Flowers said. “So many close games, so many opportunities for growth for us and we’re looking forward to continuing the building process.”

True to Flowers’ statement, the team’s first three losses included two one-point losses (Bluefield State and Lincoln) and a three-point loss to eventual CIAA North champion Chowan University. It also occurred with 53 freshmen on the field along with 12 to 15 players from the transfer portal. That included quarterback Tyrell Jackson, who followed Flowers from Fort Valley State in 2022. He missed most of last season due to injury, but he’s back and healthy according to Flowers.

Johnson C. Smith JCSU
Quarterback Tyrell Jackson transferred from Fort Valley State to join coach Maurice Flowers at Johnson C. Smith.

“He’s a coach on the field and knows the offense backwards and forwards,” Flowers said. “And really the place where he’s improved most is his leadership on the field and off the field, gathering the young men and having workouts and having board sessions and just reviewing the offense. So I look for him to have the best year that he’s had as a college football player and leading the offense. And we look to be explosive. We look to get back to putting a lot of points on the board and just being a scary team on offense.”

JCSU will be one of five teams chasing reigning CIAA champion Fayetteville State for the Southern Division title — a crown that has resided in Cumberland County since 2017. Flowers knows this as he helped FSU ascend to the top of the CIAA South that year, taking a spot on the throne the rest of the division is hoping to knock off of. 

Johnson C. Smith lost to St. Aug last season, but is picked to finish above it in 2023. (Jerrell Jordan photo)

“You look at the Southern Division, it has been part of Fayetteville State and everyone else,” Flowers said. “But if you look at those scores in the last number of years, it hasn’t been just blowouts with Fayetteville State. People are playing Fayetteville State tough. Coach (Richard) Hayes and his administration, they do an outstanding job with their commitment to supporting football. They have 36 scholarships, the maximum in Division II. They have the maximum amount of coaches you can have. And so to compete with Fayetteville State, you’re going to have to have what they have or something close to it.”

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HBCU football sleeping giant finally ready to rise?
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