GRAMBLING, La. | For those scoring it, the Black team edged the Gold Team 7-6 at Grambling State University’s first spring football game under the auspices of new head coach Hue Jackson.
Everyone was a winner in this one — the football team that showed much spirit and energy, the crowd that looked bigger than some of GSU’s home games last season, and Jackson himself.
“That was our 15th practice,” Jackson said. “It was called a spring game, but it was a practice. There were a lot of things in the process I wanted the team to understand — how we take the field before a game, how we go back in at halftime, the adjustments, the things we do. We played a lot of different players. Nothing’s been set in stone. The most important thing to me is we talked out of here understanding the process, we didn’t have anyone get seriously injured, and that we got a chance to move the ball around, communicate with each other and those kinds of things. That’s what spring is for.
“Now we have a lot of work to do. We all know that. But I’m excited about where we are. There’s some huge decisions I have to make with the coaching staff as we move forward, but I think we’re right on track — where I thought we’d be at this point in time.”
The Tigers’ defense seemed to have the upper hand much of the day, pressuring all four quarterbacks who played, delivering hard hits and forcing plenty of puts.
But the offense did manage to move the ball at times. Senior Elijah Walker got the opening reps at quarterback and drove the offense from its own 40-yard line following the kickoff return down to the opponents’ 31 before the defense tightened.
Senior kicker Garrett Urban came in to try a 48-yard field goal, but the attempt fell inches short of reaching the crossbar.
Sophomore Noah Bodden got the second series at quarterback, followed by freshman transfer Kajiya Hollawayne from UCLA and then junior Quaterius Hawkins, a transfer from Jones College in Mississippi.
None of that quartet managed to find any kind of rhythm in a fast-moving first half played with a running clock with 12-minute quarters, with the game tied at 0-0 as the team headed into the locker room at intermission.
Jackson was pleased with the play of the GSU defenders throughout the game/
“I think that’s one of the strengths on our team,” Jackson said of his defense. “I think our defense is strong, I think (defensive coordinator Cedric Thornton) is one of the best at what he does — that’s why we hired him.”
Jackson, who built his coaching reputation on the offensive side of the ball, did not roam either sideline but instead watched the action from behind the line of scrimmage away from his offensive and defensive coaching staffs.
“I stayed away from the offense today,” Jackson said. “I wanted to stay back and let (offensive coordinator John Simon) and his staff have it. In all these situations, I’m not just evaluating players, I’m evaluating coaches and how we go about doing things. We’ll make the adjustments we need to make, but I was proud of the things our defense did, I was proud of some of the things our offense did, and I was proud of our special teams. But that’s being a head coach. I wanted to score 40 points and we didn’t do it. That’s OK.”
When asked if one or two quarterbacks stood out, Jackson steered clear of the question.
“One day isn’t going to determine anything for me,” Jackson said. “This is a body of work over 15 practices. We’ll go back and evaluate the tape and make the right decision. But I’m going to always be doing everything and anything I need to do to improve that position. That’s just what it’s all about. I think we all know football teams go as quarterbacks go. So that’s what I do, that’s what I’m comfortable doing and we’ll make the right decision.”
Walker began a drive with 1:55 left in the third quarter at his own 47-yard line. Junior running back Keilon Elder rushed for 26 yards on that drive while Walker hit sophomore receiver Troy Truitt for a 10-yard game.
But on a first-and-10 at the opponent 11-yard line, junior defensive back Devin Bush picked off a Walker pass in the back of the end zone to end that drive.
The first score of the game was turned in by the defense as sophomore DB Tyron Hall picked off a Hollawayne pass and returned it 30 yards down the sideline to paydirt.
Sophomore kicker Marquise McKnight’s extra point kick put the Black team up 7-0 with 4:21 remaining.
The Gold offense scored its touchdown with 43.1 seconds remaining as Bodden hit senior receiver Lyndon Rash on a crossing route over the middle. Rash made the grab, pivoted left and raced the final 20 yards to the end zone to complete the 53-yard scoring strike.
Jackson admitted choosing the starting quarterback won’t be an easy decision.
“The thing I liked was the energy, the spirit of our guys,” Jackson said. “What I don’t like is that we don’t have an established quarterback right now. And that’s OK. I have to make that a priority, and I will. And we’ll get that done in time. But at the same time, I was glad that the guys every day lent themselves to coaching and came out everyday competing with everything they had.
“But now as we start inching toward training camp, that’s different. Pretty soon after that we’ll have to play games, so I have to make some huge decisions, some really important decisions for our football team.”
All-in-all, Jackson was pleased with the game and support shown for his G-Men.
“This was tremendous,” Jackson said of the atmosphere created by the spirited crowd on hand for the contest. “This was awesome, and it’s because of what people are expecting from our football team. And I think they should feel good about the people that were here. I know I do. I think our fans were tremendous. The band, the families and recruits that were here, it was awesome and we hope to do it even better next year.
“You have a vision of how you want things to come off, but you don’t really know until it happens. I just think everybody who was involved in this all the way around did their part to make sure this was a great day for all involved.”
Jackson has bigger plans for the 2022 football season for his Tigers.
“It was exciting to see that crowd, but I want more,” Jackson said. “I want both sides of this place filled. And it will be, because we’re going to put a product on the field that they’ll be proud of and that they’ll want to be here to see. And it all starts with me and our coaching staff and our players. Winning is the catalyst to everything, and I get that. And I think our players get that. But again, we don’t play Grambling, we play other teams, so when that time comes, I think this place will be full.”