BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Suddenly, most of the focus of SWAC Media Day has shifted to Alabama State.
The Hornets made news almost two weeks ago when Isaiah Crowell, a freshman running back at Georgia last season, transferred to the Montgomery school shortly after Georgia kicked him off its team for an arrest on weapons charges. His acquisition has become the most high-profile among SWAC players this offseason.
And it all began with text messages some of the Hornets sent to coach Reggie Barlow about Crowell’s availability.
“It’s comforting to know that they knew this guy was high-profile and stuff,” Barlow said Monday. “Once we got the permission to speak and he got the official release, we kind of pursued it to see if there was interest and there was already interest coming from his camp.”
Crowell ran for 850 yards last season and was named SEC Freshman of the Year, but now he’s reportedly facing up to five years in prison on charges of possessing a weapon with an altered identification in a school zone. His court date is not yet known.
Barlow said Crowell is under a zero-tolerance policy at Alabama State, but the opportunity to sit down with Crowell and his family helped Barlow feel comfortable with him.
“He understands that,” Barlow said. “Anytime you’re a player coming into a second chance-type deal, there’s no gray area. So he knows that. He’s embraced it and he’s looking forward to kind of rebuilding his credibility.”
Crowell now has an opportunity to become the feature back for the Hornets, Barlow said.
“Isaiah is an outstanding runner,” Barlow said. “Greg (Jenkins, the quarterback) did a good job running for us. We kind of did it last year by committee. We have some guys who can run the ball, but this guy adds another dimension to it.”
Hopson dives right into history
Maybe the highest-profile coaching transaction in the SWAC is Alcorn State’s hire of Jay Hopson, the first non-black head coach in the conference’s football history.
Hopson, who is white, was hired in late May, replacing the fired Melvin Spears, and didn’t officially join Alcorn State until July 1. He didn’t get to conduct a spring camp with his team, but he’s not worried about any negative effects that will have on his team.
“We might be on unchartered territory, but that’s fine,” Hopson said of not conducting spring camp. “Just as in life, there’s adversity in football. It’s how you handle it that counts.”
The Braves went through spring camp with the remainder of Spears’ staff, which Hopson has completely replaced. It’s just another bit of adversity the team has endured, according to senior linebacker Robert Gainwell.
“This is going into my fourth head coach, so this is no big deal to me,” Gainwell said. “It’s tough on the players, but it’s not about the adversity, it’s about the heart.”
Alcorn State finished 2-8 and 1-8 in the SWAC last season. It also was a tough year for Hopson, who stepped down as defensive coordinator at Memphis shortly after a 47-3 loss to Arkansas State in the Tigers’ second game of the season.
“We could go two years with that, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter,” Hopson said. “I’ve been all over America and I’ve been a part of eight conference championships, national championships, I’ve been on good teams and I’ve been on bad teams. I’ve run the whole spectrum in college football. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. Every year, you’ve got to want to compete.”
Free to pursue a championship
Jackson State was banned from the postseason last year for a poor Academic Progress Rate — the same fate handed to Texas Southern this season — but at 9-2, it still proved to be a fun season for coach Rick Comegy.
“I enjoyed myself last year,” he said. “I guess there’s something at the end that’s more attractive (this year), and it makes it more competitive to get to the end. I like the way we played last year. If we can play that way and have just as much fun, I’ll take it.”
Jackson State boasted the SWAC Offensive Player of the Year in quarterback Casey Therriault and is returning seven offensive and eight defensive starters from last season. Comegy said he has six players competing for the starting quarterback job, led by Dedric McDonald, who made one start last season and was 3 of 9 passing for 29 yards in seven appearances.
“The fact is, I think we have enough (players) to win,” he said.