I’m not really one to complain — a lot — but I need my daily supply of Sunkist. There’s only one thing a guy wants after a long, eight-hour work day and that’s an iced-cold … orange soda.
(You thought I was going to say an adult beverage, didn’t you?)
But no, I have to settle to an expired Minute Maid Fruit Punch.
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s a great drink choice, too, but not if the expiration date reads “FEB2618.” But today’s date is “MAR1218” and there were things floating atop my drink after one gulp.
Maybe it was the “real fruit juice” that Coca-Cola says is in Minute Maid. Maybe it was something that started to grow inside the bottle because it was an expired drink. I don’t know, but I guess we’ll find out if my byline isn’t in The Chanticleer in two weeks
(Hello, Spring Break next week!)
Anyways, for those who don’t know, Sunkist is a Buffalo Rock product, which Jacksonville State had a 10-year relationship with prior to giving Coca-Cola vending rights in late 2017. So, since August 2017, there have been no Sunkist bottles in a vending machine around campus.
Speaking of which, my first memory as a JSU student resulted because of a bottle of Sunkist.
I was walking to Martin Hall for a freshman-level Biology class in the Spring of 2012. I was thirsty, because I had to walk a far distance — parking, right — and came across a vending machine with Sunkist. I thought, ‘Man, this is perfect. I hope JSU always has Sunkist. I’d enjoy this place so much.’
I inserted my dollar and change then waited. And waited. And waited. And waited.
No bottle rolled out. I wasn’t happy.
From then on, I only attempted to get Sunkist at the café following JSU’s weekly football conference on Mondays. However, that changed when I declared as a Communication major and came to Self Hall on a weekly basis. And a weekly basis I bought a Sunkist from the only reliable vending machine on campus.
Me and Sunkist went together like Eli Jenkins and Josh Barge scoring touchdowns on Burgess-Snow Field. Or Whitney Gillespie and strikeouts at University Field. Or Trent Simpson and smashing home runs out of Choccolocco Park.
So, you can understand the heartbreak the first time I went to the vending machine in Self Hall and there were only Coke products. You can feel the pain and agony as I write this and glance down at this red liquid to my right where a Sunkist should be.
Man, I hope my future bride is OK with having a Sunkist foundation at our wedding. That’ll be … delightful.
The Gamecocks grabbed their fifth straight victory on the back of their defense Saturday against Eastern Kentucky 24-7.
The Gamecocks’ defense shined with five interceptions, three of which returned touchdowns. They amassed 351 yards of total offense. 122 yards came off of Eli Jenkins’ arm and 25 of the other 229 yards came off his legs. Josh Clemons had an impressive day rushing for 149 yards on 26 carries. Josh Barge continued to shine with six receptions for 72 yards.
Above: Quarterback Eli Jenkins (left) threw for 122 yds and rushed for an additional 25 yds against EKU. He threw one interception during the game. Josh Clemons (center) rushed for 149 yds on 26 carries. Josh Barge (right) made a catch in his 45th consecutive game, tying the FCS record. (photos by Matt Reynolds/JSU)
The Gamecocks started a promising drive to lead into the second quarter but two incomplete passes and a declined penalty later and the Gamecocks were punting again.
The Colonels took over with 10:11 left in the half. The Gamecocks’ Jaylen Hill committed a holding penalty that helped move the Colonels down field. A quick 16-yard run gave them more momentum. They slowed after a six-yard loss and ended up at 3rd and 16. Bennie Coney threw his first interception of the game to Joel McCandless and it was returned 41 yards for the first touchdown of the game. The Gamecocks led 7-0.
On kickoff the Colonels returned the ball for 34 yards but were unable to make anything else out of the drive. The Gamecocks had a 41-yard Stinnett field goal blocked on their next drive which gave the ball back to EKU. Bennie Coney threw another interception to Marlon Bridges but it was only returned for one yard.
Moments later Eli Jenkins would hand the ball back to EKU with his first and only interception of the game. With 39 seconds left in the half, Coney threw his third interception this time into the hands of Hill. He returned it 60 yards to the end zone to put the Gamecocks up 14-0 going into the half.
The second half opened with punts on both team’s possessions. Stinnett finally managed to get a 25-yard field goal to connect for the Gamecocks’ only non-defensive points of the game. The Gamecocks were in the lead 17-0.
EKU drove down and scored their first and only touchdown of the game on their next possession off of a Tyler Swafford pass.
The Gamecocks led 17-7 as they headed into the 4th quarter. Swafford had his first interception of the game during EKU’s second possession of the quarter. This time it was Reggie Hall who took it 88 yards to the house. The Gamecocks increased their lead 24-7.
EKU tried one more time for something but Swafford threw his second interception to Hill who effectively ended the game. The Gamecocks ran the clock out and took their victory 24-7.
The Gamecocks sit atop the OVC standings with their perfect 3-0 conference record. They play Eastern Illinois on Oct. 29 for homecoming.
In their final non-conference test of the season, the Jacksonville State Gamecocks traveled to Lynchburg, Va. and extinguished the Liberty Flames 48-19.
The win increased the Gamecock’s record to 3-1, with their only loss coming at the hands of SEC foe LSU, and gave JSU some positive momentum as they head into Ohio Valley Conference play.
Despite being whistled for 11 penalties compared to Liberty’s 0, Jax State dominated the game on both sides of the ball, amassing 563 yards on offense, including 339 on the ground, and holding Liberty to only 181 total yards on the night.
Jacksonville State struck quickly to start the game, as quarterback Eli Jenkins found a wide-open Roc Thomas on a 51-yard throw to open the scoring and give the Gamecocks a 7-0 lead less than 3 minutes after the opening kickoff.
Thomas racked up 180 total yards for JSU on the night, scoring both a receiving and a rushing touchdown against the Flames’ defense.
After the Flames’ Tyrin Holloway intercepted an errant Jenkins pass, Liberty quarterback Stephen “Buckshot” Calvert led the Flames to a score with 6:23 left in the first, as kicker Alex Probert converted on a field goal to cut the JSU lead to 7-3.
JSU answered almost immediately as Eli Jenkins broke loose for a 76-yard touchdown run.
Jenkins has now piled up 415 rushing yards on the season, trailing only Louisville standout and current Heisman frontrunner Lamar Jackson for most rush-
ing yards by a Division 1 quarterback this season.
Marlon Bridges snagged his first career interception to give JSU the ball with 2:37 left in the half, and Jenkins punched in a 1-yard touchdown run with just over a minute left in the second quarter to give the Gamecocks a 27-3 lead at the half.
JSU would record 2 interceptions in the game as DaQuan James snatched another in the fourth quarter.
Liberty made a brief comeback in the second half as a 59-yard touchdown pass from Calvert to Dante’ Shells cut the JSU lead to 27-10.
The Flames’ hopes were quickly doused as the Gamecocks answered with 2 quick touchdowns.
Roc Thomas scored his second touchdown of the night to make it 34-10, and then a 69-yard strike to Shaq Davidson from Jenkins increased the JSU lead to 41-10.
Davidson’s touchdown catch was the first career receiving touchdown for the LSU transfer.
Liberty got on the board again with a safety and another touchdown before an 87-yard touchdown scamper from JSU’s Justice Owens capped the scoring for the game, making it 48-19 Gamecocks.
Eli Jenkins, Roc Thomas and Josh Barge each earned conference honors for their performances against Liberty.
Jenkins was named Adidas OVC Offensive Player of the Week for the second straight week and the third time overall.
Jenkins lit up the Flames’ defense for 224 yards and 2 touchdowns through the air and 121 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground to lead the Gamecocks to their highest scoring output of the season so far.
Thomas was named Adidas OVC Newcomer of the week for the second consecutive week after rushing for more than 100 yards for the second straight game.
Barge made his first appearance as a player of the week for this season, as he was named Adidas OVC Specialist of the Week thanks in part to a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter.
The return touchdown was the first of Barge’s career and adds another accomplishment to the senior receiver’s already lengthy list.
Jacksonville State has an open date on Oct. 1 and will return to Jacksonville and face Tennessee Tech on Burgess-Snow Field in their OVC opener at 1 p.m. on Oct. 8.
Above L to R: Eli Jenkins, Roc Thomas and Josh Barge, three of JSU’s standout players from Saturday’s game, were given OVC honors on Sunday. (Photos by Matt Reynolds/JSU)
JACKSONVILLE – The Jacksonville State Gamecocks lived up to their No. 1 FCS rank as they defeated the Tennessee State Tigers 48-13.
In the home opener for the Gamecocks, and Ohio Valley Conference opener for both teams, a record breaking 23,413 was in attendance at Burgess-Snow Field.
The Gamecocks (2-1) put on a show in front of their home crowd and won their first OVC game of the season in pursuit to a second straight OVC Championship.
Eli Jenkins led the Gamecocks with 162 passing yards, two touchdowns, and 95 rushing yards. Troymaine Pope tacked on 93 rushing yards and Josh Clemons ran for 67 yards with one touchdown. Miles Jones ended with two rushing touchdowns and Jarren Johnson recorded one rushing touchdown.
Ruben Gonzalez led in receiving with eight catches for 109 yards. Josh Barge and Markis Merrill ended with one touchdown catch apiece.
On defense, Joel McCandless led the way with nine tackles, two for a loss, and one sack. Chris Landrum recorded six tackles. Folo Johnson had four tackles along with Dawson Wells, Brandon Bender and DeBarriaus Miller. Miller recorded an interception along with Ra’Shad Green. E.J. Moss was in on a fumble recovery, while both Landrum and Joseph Roberts forced a fumble.
After going scoreless in the first quarter, the Gamecocks put the first points on the board in the second with a 21-yard touchdown pass from Jenkins to Merrill.
A defensive stop gave JSU the ball back leading 7-0. They would go up 14-0 with 3:14 left in the first half when Jenkins found Barge in the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown pass.
Green’s interception set the Gamecocks up for another touchdown right before halftime. Jones ran in from two-yards-out to extend the lead 21-0.
JSU opened the second half with a 34-yard field goal by Connor Rouleau.
TSU would then get the ball and found the end zone for their first points on an 84-yard touchdown pass. The Tigers missed the extra point so the Gamecocks led 24-6 with 11:20 left in the third quarter.
The Gamecocks didn’t respond to the Tigers score and TSU scored again when they got the ball back. Tennessee State brought the lead down to 24-13 with another touchdown pass. This left 5:57 in the third quarter.
JSU responded quickly this time and went up 30-13 with a 2-yard run from Jones.
TSU got the ball, but turned it over as Miller caught an interception to set up Clemons 1-yard touchdown run. The Gamecocks converted on a two-point conversion and went up 38-13.
Later, in the fourth quarter, Cade Stinnett converted on a 22-yard field goal to put the Gamecocks up 41-13.
The Gamecocks last touchdown came with 53 seconds left when Johnson ran in for 17 yards.
The Gamecocks dominated every phase of the game with first downs (32-9), total yards (576-208), and time-of-possession (32:15–27:45).
Next, the Gamecocks travel to play UT Martin in another OVC match-up on Sept. 26. Kick-off is scheduled for 2 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN3.
It may be called the “off-season,” but it’s not the part of the season where the players and coaches take off. The offseason is busy, busier than you may think. The Jacksonville State football team knows just how busy it is. Even in the off-season, the Gamecocks are continually trying to get better. Whether it’s in the weight room, in the gym, in the classroom or on the field, the Gamecocks are still working.
John Grass, head coach of the Jacksonville State football team, has his eyes on a National Championship and that’s exactly what the goal is, to win it all.
Last season, the team’s motto was ‘go for gold.’ The team finished with the Ohio Valley Conference Championship, but loss in the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. Now, this off-season, the Gamecocks are focusing on hard work and being better.
“We try to challenge each other to be a better person everyday,” says Grass.
Even in the off-season, the football players of Jacksonville State are still busy with academics.
“They’re student athletes, so student comes first,” says Todd Wilson of the Academic Enhancement and Tutoring Services. It all starts in the classroom with just about any sport. They have to make the grade if they want to play. College is an upgrade from high school, so of course, the level of difficulty rises, and as the water gets deeper, the student either floats or sinks. Because it’s college and because the coaches really want the players to play, there is plenty of academic help surrounding the athletes. The athletes have classes, but they also have tutoring and study halls to help them out. Players visit the Academic Center for Excellence for tutoring and study hall.
“Tutoring is all done around practice times and class schedules,” says Wilson. Tutoring is more mandatory and scheduled unlike the study halls which is voluntary where the student comes when they have the time. However, there is still a mission and objective that is set to get done before they leave the study hall.
Aid from the ACE Center helps the players graduate early. Last season, there were at least seven players that graduated before the season started with still a year left of eligibility. The classes and tutoring in the summer really helps them get closer to graduation.
“We don’t just give the summer off,” says Mike Davis, the team’s academic advisor. “Everything is going to stay the same structure as far as what your expected to do and where you’re expected to be.” The players have to maintain academic standards to stay eligible to play. They have to maintain a 1.8 GPA the first year, 1.9 the second, and a 2.0 for the rest of the way.
They also have to maintain degree percentages. Davis says, “starting your fifth semester, you have to be 40 percent of your degree, starting your seventh, 60 percent of your degree. If they’re redshirt and they go into a fifth year, they have to had completed 80 percent of their degree and that’s before the season.”
GPA wasn’t a problem this past season in the fall as the football team recorded a 3.0 team GPA for the first time ever.
“It’s the highest semester we had and I’ve been here 20 years,” says Davis. Coach Grass kept saying that the team was going to make a 3.0 and kept pushing the players to push themselves.
“Our 3.0 in the fall was huge and it shows that those guys are doing there job there and our ACE Center is doing a fantastic job there with support,” says Grass.
“It’s very important for them to play well and have success on the field, but ultimately, what’s going to take them even farther in many aspects is having that degree and education,” adds Wilson. Players get registered early so they can work their classes around practices and workouts.
Practices and workouts are part of physical conditioning, which may be the busiest work the players partake in during the off-season. Physical conditioning brings forth sweat, and sweat shows hard work. Therefore, there is a lot of sweating going on in the off-season. Trey Clark is an assistant coach for the Gamecocks and is one of the head operators for the strength and conditioning.
“In the off-season, you’re trying to get as big and strong as you can, and then in the summer time, transition that strength into power to play football,” says Clark. The team works out Monday-Friday. Wednesdays are the big conditioning days where they go on the field. After they lift on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, the team does some type of running around whether it’s in the gym or on the field.
“We’re able to have a workout in the morning and make some voluntary stuff in the afternoon for those guys to come back if they want to do some extra, that’s available to them also,” says Clark.
The weight room consists of the heavy lifting to build upper and lower body strength. If someone walks in during a workout, they will hear the clack and the ring from metal weights hitting each other. They will hear the screaming and yelling due to hard work with chants of encouragement. They will see the sweat dripping from the faces of players which looks like a bucket of water was poured on them. They will wonder when is it going to end because it feels like its been going on forever.
“It’s kind of like a three-part workout, we got to warm-up, [we] do like a pre-workout, then the workout, and then run, and competition. So, it’s like a four-phase workout,”says Justin Lea who is an offensive lineman for the Gamecocks.There is also a rehab session where the players go to treat their injuries. The rehabilitating players are in this session to get back to 100 percent. “If you’re doing what you’re suppose to do, you’re going to see improvements everyday,” says Dawson Wells, linebacker of Jacksonville State.
The workouts in the gym have the players doing speed, strength and conditioning drills where they are in a group for a certain period of time, going hard, until it is time to switch to the next station. At least in the gym they have a controlled thermostat, whereas outside on the field it’s either heaven or hell.
Being on the field can have its good times and its bad times. Nevertheless, the players rather be on the field. It’s just something about being out there with all that green around you.
“But you can’t take away from the weight room, because that’s what translate on the field, so they all work together,” says JSU defensive back Jaylen Hill. The field can be a lot of fun for the players being outside playing the game that they love to play. However, it can also lead to lots of vomiting where the players hang out by the fence, make irregular noises, and wet the ground with slime coming from their mouth. Coaches try to make sure they don’t over-train or over-work their players, so they follow the NCAA rules and regulations on offseason workouts. They have an eight-hour-a-week rule.
“Those stipulations are there for people who really overdue stuff,” says Grass. “We stay within the guidelines and as long as our guys, to me, are enjoying what their doing or having fun, we’re good.”
The team also stays pretty busy with some type of community service work. “We got different things where they’re going into schools and going to feed the homeless,” says Grass.
As spring training arrives, so does the spring game which was on April 11. In the 2015 J-DAY Spring Game, Team White defeated Team Red 17-9. Eli Jenkins led the White with two touchdowns. Jenkins passed for 151 yards completing 10-of-16 throws. He also rushed for 29 yards and a rushing touchdown of 14 yards to go with his passing touchdown.
This year, the Gamecocks are looking to build depth. JSU football has a lot of experience coming back, but the spring game is also to help find out who can replace the guys that they’re losing.
“Number one always for spring training is fundamentals,” says Grass. “We consider ourselves a fundamental football team.” The spring game shows what the team is looking like, but it doesn’t show who’s all on the team since recruits and transfers mostly arrive in the summer.
Recruiting is a 24/7, 365 days a year job for the coaches and staff. “Recruiting is just like anything else, it’s how hard you work at it,” says Grass. There are four big areas in recruiting; identify, evaluate, marketing, and customer service. “It all starts with a name,” says JR Sandlin, the recruiting coordinator for JSU. In recruiting, you’re always trying to find new names.
“Once we identify, we evaluate the guys,” says Sandlin. JSU doesn’t just look for good talent, they also look for good character in a player. Having talent is good, but if a player has a nice attitude to add to that talent and show that he’s easy to coach, then that’s just like icing on a cake.
When it comes to the recruiting rules and regulations, there is a calendar that shows everything. There are certain periods of time that may allow unlimited calls to players and coaches, and might allow multiple visits. Then, there are some situations that may require only one phone call a week or one visit. That’s just how it works.The off-season brings forth a little more flexibility in recruiting. It also can show a need for speed to get the guys you need.
High school can go by so fast that it forces JSU to recruit two classes at a time. According to Coach Grass and Sandlin, the recruiting class this year seems to be one of the better classes the Gamecocks have had.
“We feel like we got a great class coming,” says Grass, “probably the best high school class that we’ve ever had.”
JSU beat out a lot of teams along with some Big Ten teams. Players know they can come to JSU and compete. Sandlin says that there are only three teams in the state of Alabama who are continually competing for a National Championship and they are Alabama, Auburn and Jacksonville State. That sort of sells itself. Now, players look at the situation and will most likely decide they want to come to JSU and play football.
Sandlin believes the best part of recruiting is building a relationship with the kids and making them feel special. The future recruits as well as the fans want to see a good game and that’s where scheduling comes in to play.
Scheduling can take up some time and a lot of effort, so it keeps the coaches and staff busy as well. The schedule is announced during the off-season and it has a lot of thought and effort put into it. Athletic Director Greg Seitz puts the schedule together with help from Coach Grass. Game scheduling focuses on the team and tries to give a team the best opportunity to win.
“We try not to schedule tough games back-to-back,” says Seitz. According to Seitz, the JSU football team is ahead on scheduling. “We try to schedule three-to-four years ahead.”
The Gamecocks will play at LSU next year. This year, they play a big game at Auburn. The Gamecocks play Tennessee State for the first home game of the season on Sept. 19. For Homecoming, the Gamecocks play Eastern Kentucky which falls on Halloween. Jacksonville State opens the season on Sept. 5 when they play at Chattanooga.
Sometimes scheduling gets thrown off and a team like Furman, who was once scheduled to play at JSU stadium this upcoming season, can buy out of a matchup. This left the Gamecocks searching for a new opponent and another home game. Eventually, they found Mississippi Valley State, and now the two teams first matchup ever is scheduled on Oct. 3.
The Gamecocks started this years’ off-season when they came back from Christmas break. “Hopefully, next year we’ll be starting after the National Championship game,” says Grass.