Daniel Mayes, Editor-in-Chief
When JSU’s freshman class of 2022 arrives on campus this fall, it will be doing so during one of the most successful periods for Gamecock athletics.
Jacksonville State’s sports teams compete at the highest level of collegiate sports, NCAA’s Division I, with the football team competing in the Football Championship Subdivision of Division I.
Football is perhaps the king of all sports in the southeast, and that’s no different at Jacksonville State.
While Alabama and Auburn are busy laying claim to the SEC at the NCAA’s highest level, JSU has carved out its own sector of dominance in the FCS.
JSU won its only national championship in football in 1992 at the Division II level, but since bumping up to Division I, the Gamecocks have brought the programs to new heights under John Grass.
The Gamecocks come into 2018 in the midst of arguably the most successful stretches in program history. JSU is the winner of four-straight Ohio Valley Conference victories and hold the nation’s longest active Division I win streak for conference victories, having won a league-record 32 straight OVC contests. In 2015, the Gamecocks made a run all the way to the National Championship game behind quarterback Eli Jenkins, eventually falling 37-10 to current NFL star Carson Wentz and North Dakota State.
The Gamecocks don’t show any signs of being ready to lose their dominant form yet, and will enter 2018 as favorites to win the OVC yet again. A solid returning core combined with newcomers such as former Clemson quarterback Zerrick Cooper and Auburn’s Tre Threat look to help keep JSU on track and lead the Gamecocks back to another title.
Football is not the only program at JSU in the middle of one of the best stretches in program history.
Led by coach Jana McGinnis, the Gamecock softball team has taken home at least a share of the OVC crown in nine of the last eleven seasons. JSU finished out 2018 with yet another title and an impressive run to the Tallahassee regional finals, eliminating perennial SEC power Auburn before bowing out to host Florida State.
JSU’s baseball program, which also won national titles at the Division II level, taking home the big trophy in both 1990 and 1991, has seen some success in recent years under coach Jim Case.
The Gamecocks are scheduled to finally move back into Rudy Abbott Field, which has been undergoing renovations for the last two seasons, for the 2019 slate.
JSU’s basketball teams are also on the rise after years struggling to adjust to competition at the Division I level.
Ray Harper is the head man for the Gamecock men’s program, and he made an immediate impact on JSU after setting foot on campus in Jacksonville. Harper led the turnaround from what was an 8-23 finish in 2015-16 to a 20-15 mark in his first season, and the Gamecocks took home the school’s first ever OVC title and appearance in the Big Dance itself, March Madness, the NCAA Tournament.
After another great season last year, in which the Gamecocks finished with a Division I school-record 23-13 mark and made it to the semifinal rounds of both the OVC and the College Basketball Invitational Tournaments, Harper has JSU basketball formed into a winning environment that looks to compete for the conference crown for years to come.
The JSU Women’s basketball program, led by coach Rick Pietri, also has enjoyed some success in recent years. Last season the Gamecocks joined the men in the OVC tourney semifinals, bowing out to eventual champ and nationally ranked Belmont to finish a great turnaround season.
JSU’s other sporting teams, such as volleyball, soccer, tennis, golf, cross country and rifle, field competitive teams year in and year out, and the Gamecocks newest program, beach volleyball, is already gaining ground quickly after just two seasons of play.
Overall, there’s never been a better time to be a Gamecock.