To get some insight from the Jacksonville State side of things in advance of this weekend’s big matchup between #5 Jacksonville State and #16 Liberty, we spoke with Chris Allen Brown of the Anniston Star.
Q: The Gamecocks are coming off the most successful 4 year run in the school’s FCS history, with 4 straight playoff appearances while also advancing to the FCS quarterfinals and national championship game during that time. Those teams were highlighted by high-scoring offenses and Eli Jenkins, who is no longer around. What is the program’s expectations of this season?
CAB: The same as they’ve been since John Grass took over as head coach – to win another conference championship and a national championship, too. A little “coach talk” I’ve been working on: names on the back of the Jacksonville State uniforms may change yearly but the expectations for the school on the front don’t. First and foremost, the coaching staff wants the players to represent not only themselves but also the school and their families in a respectful way. Coach Grass has instilled the mindset of learning to become good guys, husbands, fathers and productive members of society through the brotherhood that comes with playing football.
Q: Speaking of offense, the Gamecocks are only averaging 18.5 points per game this season and has only 3 touchdowns. Obviously playing Georgia Tech could have something to do with those numbers, but does the offense still have big play ability?
CAB: I’m not sure if it’s me having been around these players for years now, but I’ve grown to anticipate a “big play” every time the Gamecocks snap the ball on offense. Yes, the numbers, to some, may be a little low, but JSU has only played two games this season, so it’s almost like having a “*” beside certain statistical categories. We are approaching three months since JSU opened fall camp – the end of July – and the players have only been able to face someone not associated with Jax State twice, including a FBS opponent. Pieces are still being put together, players developing that chemistry and coaches figuring out who plays well with who, so there’s nothing really to think about but I can understand the question.
Q: We all know about and fear Roc Thomas, but who are some other guys we should be on the lookout for?
CAB: Well, there’s Roc Thomas, who wears No. 6 on offense and lines up all over the field. Shaq Davidson and Krenwick Sanders, both FBS transfers last season, continue to emerge as top receiving threats. Obviously, one has to look at Bryant Horn, because any success on offense is going to start with the new starting quarterback. Defensively, the rotations are so deep at every position that it’s really hard to pick just one or two guys. Everyone knows about Darius Jackson, but the defensive line deserves a lot of credit for the Gamecocks’ defensive statistics. Oh, Jonathan Hagler, through the two games this season, may have played himself as the second-best player, right now, on the defense. Hagler’s play continues to impress me the further we get into the season.
Q: Jacksonville State ran over Liberty, literally and figuratively last year, what is the general expectation for JSU fans against the Flames this week?
CAB: In a way, I consider that a loaded (you’ll get that in a minute) question, I’ve been talking with Evan Nester for most of the season to, personally, keep tabs on Liberty. However, outside of the Baylor win, I’m not sure the casual fan has paid a lot of attention. With the way last year’s game went, I know a lot of people will base this year’s game off that result, even though both schools have different teams, because some people are just like that. Me, personally, I’m eager to see what “Buckshot” (ha!) can do in person. I was unable to attend last year’s matchup, so my interests are very high for this weekend’s competitive game.
Q: JSU has previously made its intentions for FBS public, but it has been a few years. What is the current status of those intentions?
A: When John Beehler was appointed president a few years ago, this was one of the top athletic questions asked. Unfortunately, for the diehard Jacksonville State fans, Beehler made it sound like the school and athletic department are content at the FCS level for the foreseeable future. One of the biggest issues President Beehler saw with a potential move as going away from “the school’s emphasis on academic achievement.” But speaking of schools moving up to the FBS level, I will say I know a lot of people who are interested to see Liberty’s success at the next level, especially with the upcoming stadium renovations.
Thanks so much Chris for joining us, be sure to follow him on twitter @ChrisBrown_AL.