The 2013 Black College football season had its share of memorable moments.
Among the highlights were five HBCUs making the NCAA playoffs – Bethune-Cookman, South Carolina State and Tennessee State in the FCS and Tuskegee and Winston-Salem State in Division II with Tennessee State and Winston-Salem winning first-round games and Bethune-Cookman defeating an FBS member for the first time in school history..
However, the 2013 season isn’t likely to be remembered for much of anything that took place on the field. Instead, two games that weren’t played, Jackson State’s homecoming contest against Grambling State and the CIAA Championship Game, will be the games that those who follow Black College football hark back to in years to come.
Jackson State’s Oct. 19 homecoming game against Gambling State was called off when disgruntled Grambling players staged a boycott and failed to board buses for the trip to Jackson, Miss. The CIAA Championship Game between two-time defending conference champion Winston Salem State and Virginia State was cancelled after a group of players from Virginia State beat up Winston-Salem’s starting quarterback in a bathroom the day before game was to be played.
“I don’t think there is any question about it because of the magnitude of those two incidents,’’ says Donal Ware, host of the nationally syndicated radio talk show From the Pressbox To Press Row.
Grambling players were upset with the school’s administration in the wake of Coach Doug Williams being fired two games into the season and displeased with the state of the athletic facilities. The boycott culminated a tumultuous week during which team members walked out of a meeting with Grambling President Frank Pogue and athletic director Aaron James to address Williams’ firing and skipped two days of practice.
“They did something that they thought they were right about,’’ Ware says. “No matter how you felt about it, it exposed a lot of negative stuff.’’
The boycott grabbed national headlines and generated stories that revealed the substandard condition of Grambling’s athletic facility, which included mold and mildew on the floor and walls in the locker room.
The nearly week-long boycott ended with team members returning to practice and Grambling forfeiting the game to Jackson State. The SWAC fined the school an unspecified amount, reportedly $20,000, and will require the G-Men to play at Jackson State the next three years to help the school recoup its financial losses, which are estimated to be in the millions of dollars Jackson State lost by not playing its homecoming game. Jackson State officials have said the school will take legal action against Grambling and others.
Lamont Britt, 22, a junior running back from Portsmouth City, Va., was arrested for his role in the attack on Winston-Salem All-CIAA quarterback Rudy Johnson in a bathroom during a luncheon honoring the teams the day before the conference championship game. Johnson suffered a swollen eye and a laceration above the eye. The conference declared Virginia State ineligible for postseason play, costing the Trojans a possible berth in the Division II playoffs, and opened an investigation into the incident. The investigation is ongoing. Meanwhile, Winston-Salem has said it will seek further sanctions against Virginia State.
“It’s embarrassing, unacceptable, bad and disappointing,’’ says ESPN College Football Analyst Jay Walker. It’s a black-eye for black college football.’’
The news around black college football wasn’t all bad, however. Bethune-Cookman defeated Florida International 34-13 on Sept. 14 for the Wildcats’ first victory ever against an FBS program. Bethune-Cookman rushed for 311 yards.
The 2013 season saw Southern University and North Carolina A&T return to relevance in their respective conferences. Southern was 9-4 and won the SWAC championship for the first time since 2003. It was the Jaguars’ first winning record since 2009, and their nine victories were just one fewer than their combined total for the previous three seasons combined.
North Carolina A&T, winless in 2006 and 2007, posted a 7-4 record and had back-to-winning seasons for the first time in 12 years. The seven wins were the most for the Aggies in a season since they were 10-3 in 2003.
North Carolina A&T defeated Appalachian state 24-21 and Elon 23-10 to start the season. Southern senior quarterback Dray Joseph was among the most productive and most overlooked players of the 2013 season as he led the Jaguars to the SWAC title. Joseph threw for 3, 573 yards, and he ended his career as the Jaguars’ career leader for passing yards with 8,745 and touchdown passes with 73. Joseph passed for 337 yards and three touchdowns and was named MVP of the Jaguars 34-27 victory against Jackson State in the SWAC Championship Game.
No player on either side of the ball had a more spectacular season than Shaw University corner back Darnell Evans, a 5-8 senior. Evans led Division II and black college football with 11 interceptions. He was also the leader in interception return yards with 297. In addition, Evans averaged 29.2 yards on 16 kickoff returns and 15.5 yards on punt returns.
He had a game for the ages in Shaw’s 44-34 victory against Fayetteville State on Oct. 12. Evans had 293 return yards, 156 on four kickoffs, 66 on one punt and 71 on three interceptions, including a 27-yard touchdown with 40 seconds remaining that sealed the victory.
Saint Augustine’s defensive tackle Shonquez Nelson was the only other black college individual national leader. Nelson topped Division II with 13 sacks.
No freshman had a greater impact in 2013 than North Carolina A&T running back Tarik Cohen. Cohen, who didn’t become the starter until the Aggies’ fifth game, led the MEAC with 1,148 yards and eight touchdowns. He is the first freshman in school history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
On the down side, West Virginia State and Cheyney were winless. Both finished 0-11. In addition, Texas College, Concordia-Selma, Grambling, Savannah State and Lincoln (Pa.) each only had one victory.
Williams’ firing at Grambling, which came after the G-Men started the season 0-2 after winning the 2011 SWAC championship, was the most high-profile – and the messiest – of the 2013 coaching changes. Running back coach George Ragsdale, an unpopular choice among team members, replaced Williams on an interim basis. Ragsdale never coached a game, and defensive coordinator Dennis “Dirt Winston replaced him for the remainder of the season. Broderick Fobbs, a Grambling alum who played running back for the G-Men, was named coach after the season concluded.
Other coaching changes in 2013:
Alabama A&M didn’t renew Anthony Jones’ contract after 12 seasons. Jones led the Bulldogs to nine winning season, including six with eight or more victories, five SWAC East Division championships and the 2006 conference crown. He was 83-57 with a 61-37 mark against SWAC opponents. Jones’ career record is 101-70 for 15 seasons. The Bulldogs were 4-8 in 2013. They were 7-4 in 2012 after starting the season 6-0 following an appearance in the 2011 SWAC championship game. Alabama A&M has launched a search for Jones’ replacement.
Central State fired E.J. Junior after five seasons and replaced him with Darrell Suber on an interim basis. Central State was 2-8 in 2013, its first season in the SIAC.
Edward Waters fired Brad Bernard after a 0-7 start and replaced him with former Bethune-Cookman coach Alvin Wyatt, the Tigers’ defensive coordinator, on an interim basis. Wyatt had the interim tag removed from his title after leading Edward Waters to a 2-2 mark in the last four games. Wyatt is the winningest coach in Bethune-Cookman history with a 90-54 record in 13 seasons. Bernard was the offensive coordinator on Wyatt’s staff at Bethune-Cookman.
Kentucky State removed the interim tag from Josh Dean’s title in November. Dean replaced Wayne Dickens last March and led the Thorobreds to a 5-5 record.
Livingstone named Daryl Williams permanent coach despite the Blue Bears’ 3-7 record. Williams was named interim coach prior to the start of season, replacing Elvin James who was 3-28 in three seasons.
Mississippi Valley State didn’t renew Karl Morgan’s contract after he compiled an 8-35 record in four seasons. The Delta Devils were 2-9 in 2013. They posted a 5-4 SWAC record in 2012 and became the first Delta Devils coach to defeat Grambling and Southern in the same season since Archie “Gunslinger’’ Cooley in 1984.
North Carolina Central before the season began fired coach Henry Frazier III with two years remaining on his five-year-, $225,000-a-year contract after Frazier arrested Monday and charged with violating a domestic violence protective order his wife had against him. It was the second time Frazier was arrested in a two-year period. Assistant coach Dwayne Foster replaced Frazier on an interim basis led the Eagles to a 5-7 record A judge dismissed the charges against Frazier, who is considering legal action against North Carolina Central.
Morgan State didn’t renew the contract of Donald Hill-Eley. Morgan State was 5-7. Hill was 59-76 12 seasons, including 5-7 in 2013, and No. 3 all-time on the Morgan State. The Bears were 5-3 in the MEAC in 2013 for their first winning record in conference play since 2004. The parting of ways came a year after Hill accidentally received an e-mail message from athletic director Floyd Kerr detailing a possible exit plan to relieve Hill of his coaching duties.
Virginia Union fired Michael Bailey as coach and athletic director after five seasons and a 22-28 record. The Panthers were 3-7 in 2013. The school named former Florida A&M coach Joe Taylor athletic director. Taylor, coached Virginia Union from 1984-91 and was 60-24-3. He was athletic director and football coach at Hampton. He will not coach at Virginia Union.