Jackson State SWAC'd
Jackson State

Jackson State football needs its fans on the road in 2023

Jackson State football has a demanding schedule for the first month, and its fans’ devotion and wallets are being tested.

Jackson State football has been unstoppable in the SWAC the last two seasons.  Without a conference defeat, the resurgent program sat on the pedestal of the SWAC and swatted every competitor who entered the ring.  The Tiger nation was in sync with the team and flooded every game with a wave of blue and white.  The very large and active social media following is one of the most raucous bunches in all of college football.

A big part of that success is the rejuvenation of the team was the hiring of Deion Sanders as head coach. When Sanders was hired, he brought his sons Shedeur and Shilo and flipped what might be the best player in college football at any level in Travis Hunter.  Sanders was able to overhaul the JSU roster with very talented players who wanted to prove that excellence could be attained at an HBCU with players who might otherwise not have come to Jackson State.

With Sanders departure and the hiring of T.C. Taylor as the Jackson State football head coach, there was a major change.  Gone were the 24-hour spotlights on Jackson State.  Gone were Coach Prime, Shedeur, Shilo,  Travis and star running back Sy’Veon Wilkerson.  Several other players transferred through the NCAA portal.  Some went to Power Five schools, while others went to other HBCUs.

Taylor opened his reign at JSU with a dominating performance at the MEAC/SWAC Challenge, dominating South Carolina State University 37-7 in Atlanta.  It was payback to the Bulldogs for ruining the Tigers’ chances at a Celebration Bowl title in 2021.  The JSU nation was strong in Atlanta.  A sea of blue contributed greatly to a sellout of Georgia State’s Stadium in support of the beginning of the Taylor era.  At the end of the game, the crowd was heard chanting “TC, TC, TC…”

The Coach Prime era is over and Jackson State football is on a new path

This is not Coach Prime’s team anymore.  For some JSU fans, it’s a disappointment that it’s different.  For others it is a refreshing new opportunity to rebuild a sustainable program with one of JSU’s favorite sons in TC Taylor.

It was obvious from the press conference at the Orange Blossom Classic the contrast between Taylor and Sanders.  Sanders had a hand in supporting Taylor’s hire and made a big deal out of it for a reason.  Sanders knew Taylor was the leader that JSU needed to replace him.  In the press conference Taylor never once spoke of himself.  He spoke of the honor of having the opportunity to lead the great Jackson State program.  He spoke of its traditions and the fact that no one person is bigger than JSU.

This week’s attendance at the Orange Blossom Classic is cause for concern though.  There could not have been 5,000 JSU fans at the game. Several factors outside of the obvious could have contributed to the low attendance.

First, Jackson State had just traveled to Atlanta the week prior to the Orange Blossom Classic. It is a stretch to make the travel from Jackson to both Atlanta and turn around and head farther south to Miami in just seven days.

Secondly, Hurricane Idalia could have deterred some from traveling to Miami.  JSU fans traveling by car would have had to go directly through the aftermath of Hurricane Idalia.  With that uncertainty, one could understand hesitancy toward making the trip.

Whatever the reason JSU’s travel attendance was so low, it seems that in the last two years it would not have been a factor in a large and rowdy crowd following under the mantra “Thee I Love.”  For the two-year run under Sanders, he even challenged them to show up and show out to match the intensity of the team.

Jackson State
Jackson State fan celebrates at the 2023 MEAC/SWAC Challenge.

Taylor is leading the program with JSU at the forefront

Taylor is the new sheriff in town.  He’s calculated, talented and dedicated to making a sustainably successful program under his watch.  His loyalty to JSU exudes every time he talks.  It’s JSU first and then him and his team.  It’s what athletic director Ashley Robinson is leaning on in the rebuilding of the football program that was scrambled when Sanders left.  It’s literally a whole new roster.  But, it’s filled with talented kids that need no less support from the Tiger nation.

FAMU hit JSU in the mouth with the opening kickoff.  Marcus Riley’s 96-yard return took just 11 seconds off the clock and put FAMU up to stay.  With obvious revenge for the embarrassing 59-3 drubbing they took in the OBC in 2022, the Rattlers’ adrenaline took them to a 28-0 lead in the first half.

Credit Taylor with steadying his team and making a game of it.  His defense pitched a shutout in the second half.  His offense scored a touchdown and field goal and fumbled a chance in the red zone for another score that could really have propelled the team to making a game of it.  FAMU was able to lean on its running game and deep offensive line to run down the clock and get first downs, but it was never able to score again.  This was a sign of second half adjustments made by Taylor and his staff.

The Rattlers have a talented team that has for the most part been together for a few years.  They were picked to win the SWAC East division because of that talent.  However, Taylor’s Tigers did not hand them the game.  They took a punch like a heavyweight fighter and fought their way back to a respectable game.  It leaves one to wonder if there had been 20,000-25,000 fans there cheering them on, how much more enthused they would have been.  It was a neutral site game, which means the fan turnout determines the advantage.

JSU has a history of being one of the largest fanbases in FCS

The Jackson State football nation has had a proud fanbase throughout its history. And the current squad has the makings of a really good team.  They are working their way through determining which combination of players will suit the team moving forward.  Starting with the quarterback position, where in game one Jason Brown was lights out, he was ineffective against FAMU.  Backup Zy McDonald is a better-running quarterback and was effective against the Rattlers.  That is part of the task that the JSU coaching staff has to decipher.  They figured it out in game one and it is expected that they will continue to tweak the lineup.

It will be a short week before JSU heads to Baton Rouge to face the Southern University Jaguars.  For so many reasons, A.W. Mumford Stadium should be packed with as much JSU navy blue as SU Columbia blue. It looks to be a great game.  Just like FAMU has done for the last two years, JSU needs to pick up the pieces because there are nine more games to their regular season and now is the time for the Tiger nation to stand up as it has done for over a century.  

Jackson State football needs its fans on the road in 2023
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