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.
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.
In the 2015 J-DAY Spring Game, White defeated Red 17-9.
In the scrimmage, Red ran a total of 69 plays and White ran 49. In this scenario, less was more as White had 219 total yards, while running 20 less plays than Red. Red ended with 167 total yards.
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.
Troymaine Pope led in rushing for White with just 36 yards. Dalton Screws was the top receiver with four catches for 43 yards and a touchdown. Screws caught a seven yard touchdown pass from Jenkins. However, Markis Merrill had the most receiving yards with 68.
On defense, Jaylen Hill led the White with eight total tackles. Darius Jackson led the Red with seven total tackles with three being tackles for losses.
For the Gamecocks Red team, Christian LeMay passed for 83 yards completing 7-of-20 passes. Dalton Etheridge also contributed at quarterback completing 7-of-11 throws with 44 yards. Miles Jones led in rushing with 40 yards and Calen Campbell ran for 36. Josh Barge led in receiving with seven catches for 91 yards.
Connor Rouleau, Cade Stinnett and Kyle Trego all made field goals in the game. Rouleau made two. One was from 44 yards out and the other from 49. Stinnett sent a 32-yd field goal through the uprights and Trego made his from 31.
The Jacksonville State Gamecocks will continue to try to get better this offseason before the first game of the season arrives on Sept. 5 when they travel to play Chattanooga.
The No. 3 Jacksonville State Gamecocks defeated Eastern Illinois 27-20 to claim the Ohio Valley Conference Championship and clinch a playoff spot in the FCS Playoffs.
The Gamecocks are now 9-1 overall and 7-0 in the Ohio Valley Conference. This is the first time in school history that Jacksonville State has posted a perfect 7-0 in the OVC.
Jacksonville State head coach John Grass has the most wins through 10 games than any JSU coach in his debut season.
The passing game was huge in the win as Eli Jenkins passed for a career best 288 yards and one touchdown. Josh Barge led the receivers with eight receptions, 153 yards and a touchdown. Ruben Gonzalez caught seven passes of his own for 113 yards. This was the first time the Gamecocks had two receivers over 100 yards since Nov. 3, 2001.
“We knew we were going to have to throw it coming in,” said head coach John Grass in the post-game interview. “Barge had his normal day, Eli played really, really well and it was good to see Ruben get going. He showed tonight what we thought he could do the whole season.”
DaMarcus James had another good game on the ground as he rushed for over 100 yards with a touchdown. James has a school-record of 17 career 100-yard rushing games.
On the defensive end, Darius Jackson and Jaylen Hill both had interceptions. Jackson returned his interception for a 27-yard touchdown. Michael Carlisle and Ben Endress both led with 10 tackles.
Jacksonville State scored on their first drive of the game in just two plays. It only took 41 seconds for Jenkins to find Barge on a 59-yard touchdown pass. JSU jumped up 7-0 early in the game. However, Eastern Illinois would find the end zone towards the end of the first quarter to tie the score at seven.
In the second quarter, Connor Rouleau kicked two back-to-back field goals to put the Gamecocks up 13-7. Then, after another defensive stand, Jacksonville State’s running back James found the end zone on an 8-yard run. JSU went up 20-7 at halftime.
In the third, Eastern Illinois scored 10 unanswered points to bring the score to 20-17.
It was early in the fourth quarter when Jackson intercepted a pass for the Gamecocks and returned it for a 27-yard touchdown. This made the score 27-17 until Eastern Illinois added three more points with a field goal. EIU had two more chances to score again, but the Gamecocks defense stopped them and held them to no yards on the last two possessions. The final score ended 27-20.
JSU will now head on the road to Cape Giradeau, Mo. to face Southeast Missouri in the last game of the regular season.
“Hopefully we’ll have a good week this week and go on the road and beat a good SEMO team and make sure we get one of the top four seeds and get to play at home,” said Grass.
In only their second OVC game of the season, the Jacksonville State Gamecocks (4-1, 2-0 OVC) defeated UT Martin (1-5, 0-3 OVC) 38-14. Saturday’s game marked the 36th meeting between the two teams where JSU now leads the series 29-7.
The Gamecocks played well as a team as many players contributed on both sides of the ball. Miles Jones stood out with a career high 150 rushing yards along with a touchdown to earn the honors of the OVC co-Offensive Player of the Week. The offense had a total of 497 yards with 284 rushing yards and 213 passing yards. The defense was rock solid with a shutout in the first three quarters and only allowed UT Martin to reach the redzone once in the whole game.
JSU put the first points on the scoreboard early in the first quarter when Eli Jenkins completed a 26-yard touchdown pass to Markis Merrill. JSU went up 7-0 as they moved to the second quarter with the same score. Max Shortell connected with Anthony Johnson on a 34-yard touchdown pass to put the Gamecocks up two touchdowns. After another JSU defensive stop, the Gamecocks’ offense would get the ball right back and score again. Troymaine Pope picked up a couple of first downs along with a Shortell’s 25-yard run to set Jones up for a two-yard touchdown run. The Jones score made it 21-0 with 8:34 left in the second quarter. UTM scored their touchdown on a Tony Bell 24-yard fumble return to make the score 21-7 at the half.
The third quarter was a long, scoreless quarter with little action. However, the play picked back up in the fourth quarter where JSU scored 17 points. In the post-game interview, head coach John Grass stated:
“We got to learn how to create that energy at all times and play four quarters of the same energy.”
In the fourth quarter, Jones ran for 62 yards to set up Jacksonville State’s fourth touchdown of the game where Bo Brummel caught a 12-yard pass from Jenkins to give Brummel his first career touchdown catch. This made the score 28-7, until Jaylen Hill made an interception (first in his career), which would eventually set up a Connor Rouleau 31-yard field goal to make the score 31-7. UT Martin would finally put together a drive that reached the redzone and the endzone. Trent Garland scored on a two-yard run for UTM to make the score 31-14 with 3:58 left in the game. However, it would be a little too late for a UT Martin comeback as Terrence Pendleton would recover a fumble and set up a Pope three-yard touchdown run. Dawson Wells also recorded his first career interception for JSU towards the end of the game and returned it for 29 yards. The final score would end 38-14.
“We just got to continue improving in all three phases and just get better,” said Coach Grass.
JSU has now won four-straight games and will get ready to travel to Nashville, Tenn. where they will play Tennessee State. The OVC game will start at 2 p.m on Saturday, Oct. 11 and will be broadcasted on ESPN3.