Focus back on Braves


In late May, the media circus encircled tiny Lorman, Miss.

Alcorn State University didn’t just hire a football coach. It made history by hiring the first non-black head coach in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

But since then, Jay Hopson has been on a mission to try and change the topic of discussion from history to just plain football. He might have succeeded because no one asked him about being a white coach in the conference during the league’s teleconference Monday.

A week earlier, the topic apparently hadn’t gotten old. His Braves upsetting Grambling State 22-21 brought up the question: “Have you had a chance to look back at the historical aspect of the victory?”

That question snuck in just before Hopson was finished with his time slot.

“At the end of the day, I’m a coach,” he often answers when he’s asked about leading the Braves.

Not only did Alcorn State beat Grambling State, Hopson won his debut without holding a spring practice. Yet, that hasn’t been a hot topic.

In that opener, Alcorn State had 9 minutes and 35 seconds to work its way back into SWAC relevancy. With that much time left, Darius Smith scored his first touchdown run to pull the Braves within 21-16.

With 1:33 left, Smith scored again on a 4-yard run to give Alcorn State the eventual game-winning TD. Everything the Braves learned in less than a month under Hopson was enough to get past the defending SWAC champion Tigers.

Hopson would much rather talk about that than history. He’s more than earned the right to. It’s Week 3 now.

Before Hopson jumped on board in Lorman, there hadn’t been much about the Braves to talk about. They finished 2-8 overall and 1-8 in the SWAC last season, leading to the firing of Melvin Spears. Their quarterback, Brandon Bridge, left during the middle of the season.

But with one upset victory, Alcorn State’s woes are no longer an issue.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff has paid attention to that upset.

The Golden Lions are playing a team that upset the SWAC champion rather than the one that took its money from James Madison and got whipped 42-3 this past Saturday. That’s the mind-set they’re going into Saturday’s game at Alcorn State with.

There’s also a common theme the Golden Lions would like to change — the inability to score in the red zone. They went 0 for 3 on fourth-down conversions inside Alabama A&M’s 20-yard line and missed a field goal after reaching the 16 and being backed up on an intentional grounding call.

If the Lions can pull it out Saturday, they’ll be 2-1 on the season and coach Monte Coleman will be 13-12 dating back to the 2010 season. This is the final year of his contract, and staying on the winning side will help his case for an extension.

That hasn’t become a hot topic — yet. But there’s plenty of season left.

For now, Coleman’s focus is where Hopson wants everyone’s — on Alcorn State.

I.C. Murrell is the sports editor of The Commercial. Email him at imurrell@pbcommercial.com.