Tag: John Grass

‘One for the thumb’: Gamecocks win fifth straight OVC ring

(Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
The JSU  Football team celebrates winning their fifth consecutive OVC title after their 41-14 win over Tennessee State on Saturday.

Five in a row.

For the fifth time in five years under Coach John Grass, the Jacksonville State University Gamecocks have won the Ohio Valley Conference Championship.

“It’s a pretty special thing. I don’t know many college athletes that have four championships, let alone five,” Coach Grass said at Monday’s press conference. “These guys have got one for the thumb. It’s very impressive when you look back at it.”

For the first time under Grass however, that conference championship wasn’t pretty.

After losing to Southeast Missouri State earlier in the year, snapping their 36-game win streak in the OVC, Grass’s Gamecocks needed outside help for the first time to win the conference outright.

They got that help on Saturday, as Murray State completed a 31-point comeback against SEMO with a wild finish that included 20 points in the final 1:42 of game time and a game-winning kick return for touchdown with just three seconds remaining on the clock. Murray State left the door open for JSU with a 40-38 victory.

The Gamecocks took advantage of the opportunity with their 41-14 win over their final OVC opponent of the season, Tennessee State, securing the title once again.

Quarterback Zerrick Cooper had a big day in the conference-clinching win, throwing for 272 yards and three touchdowns. Two went to Jamari Hester and one to Josh Pearson, who extends his school-record receiving touchdowns mark to 16 on the season. Cooper also tied Ryan Perrilloux’s single-season school record for passing touchdowns in a season with 23.

“It’s definitely a blessing to win five conference championships since I’ve been here,” said redshirt senior lineman Tyler Scozzaro.

Scozzaro, who has been with the JSU football program since 2013, is one of five Gamecocks to have been on the roster for all five championship seasons.

EJ Moss, Emmanuel Fennel, Quan Stoudemire and Cade Stinnett will join Scozzaro in having received all five rings.

The win also secured the OVC’s Automatic Qualifier spot for the playoffs for JSU, promising a playoff berth that looked in doubt as recently as the previous week, when the Gamecocks trailed UT Martin late in the game at home, before a game-winner from Cooper to Hester lifted JSU.

JSU closes the regular season with a matchup against playoff-bound Kennesaw State, who ousted the Gamecocks in last season’s playoff opener 17-7. The game, played at the Atlanta Braves’ SunTrust Park on Saturday, holds major playoff implications for both sides, as a win could secure a first-round bye for either quad, while a loss all but guarantees a game Thanksgiving weekend for the Gamecocks.

Armed with their five-straight conference championships, JSU will head into the playoffs in search of their first national title.



Gamecocks ready for first OVC matchup

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Coach John Grass and the JSU Gamecocks face off against Tennessee Tech on Saturday. (Matt Reynolds/JSU)

Josh Gilbert , Sports Writer

After their second bye week in only the first month of the season, the Jacksonville State football team is looking to continue the momentum they have after putting up record breaking numbers against Mississippi Valley State. “I thought we have handled the open weeks as best we could. We have gotten better, it is hard to tell because you don’t play on Saturdays,” said head coach John Grass at Monday’s weekly press conference. “We are looking forward to back to back weeks, we are looking forward to opening OVC play this weekend, just playing two more home games in a row is something we haven’t had a lot of recently,” said Grass.

Up next at home for the Gamecocks is Tennessee Tech, a team in which they haven’t had many issues with over the last few years. Although the Golden Eagles have started off the year with a rough patch of games against quality teams, Coach Grass isn’t letting that fool anyone. “I think they are not your typical 0 and 3 team if you look at who they have played. It has been a tough start for them, but they are doing some things fundamentally for the program that will benefit from that in the long run,” said Grass.

Linebacker Jalen Choice also touched on the importance of maintaining the momentum in which the team has carried through the beginning of the season. “I feel like everybody’s buying in to the process and we really believe in our defense now. Everybody’s trying to make the plays that they need to make, not trying to do much.”

“Seeing everything at a home game, seeing cocky, all those things, it’s a special place and it’s great to play at home,” said Grass on the impact of playing at Burgess Snow. “I think we had a packed house the other night, so we want another packed house this week. You just don’t know how much good that does our football team when you run out and the place is packed and you got an atmosphere. It’s something we’re very proud of.”

The Gamecocks kick off Saturday at 6 o’clock in what looks to be another action-packed weekend full of football.

MAYES: Gamecocks must prove they belong on the national scene, in 2018 and beyond


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The JSU football team huddles during their 17-7 season-ending loss at the hands of Kennesaw State last December (Katy Nowak/JSU)

Daniel Mayes, Editor-in-Chief

By most estimations, 2017 was a great football season for Jacksonville State University.

A 10-2 finish, a fourth consecutive Ohio Valley Conference Championship, and an ongoing league-record and Division I leading 32 straight conference victories? Most schools in the country would accept that season without a second thought.

However, when you’ve had as much success as the Gamecocks have found on the field in recent years, the success of a program comes down to one factor: playoff performance. After the run to the National Championship game in 2015, two Gamecock seasons have ended on a sour note, with early exits for the higher-seeded JSU teams, on Burgess-Snow Field no less.

The two seasons saw the team fall apart in different ways, as 2016’s vaunted defense surrendered 520 yards and 40 points to eventual national runner up Youngstown State, while 2017’s squad, which was plagued by a somewhat inconsistent offense all season long, was able to muster only seven points as the Gamecocks fell to Kennesaw State.

The fact of the matter is; the Gamecocks have to turn those problems around if they hope to continue to establish themselves as a consistent power on the national scene. JSU’s been given the benefit of the doubt in the national rankings and playoff seedings, but that will begin to disappear as the Gamecocks’ reputation shifts to one of a “good regular season team in a bad conference.”

Because, recent improvement of Austin Peay aside, the OVC is just not the type of league that churns out battle-tested, playoff ready teams. Sure, JSU can probably cruise through the OVC undefeated again with the occasional squeaker like the 2017 UT Martin game or the 2016 SEMO contest, but I don’t know how much this helps the Gamecocks get prepared for playoff time.

This year, the Gamecocks add to their OVC schedule two non-conference tests that will hopefully provide that much-needed experience to get them ready to go come December.

JSU’s OVC slate is bookended by an opener against last year’s undefeated HBCU champions North Carolina A&T and a closing game in Atlanta against the very same squad that ended JSU’s playoff hopes last season, Kennesaw State.

Hopefully for the Gamecocks, these games will give them what last year’s schedule couldn’t. UTC and Liberty were counted on to provide that test for the Gamecocks in 2017, but those teams didn’t pan out as the powers they were billed to be.

With a new-look backfield on offense and some fresh faces on defense, the Gamecocks are thrown into the fire with that test against the Aggies, but, win or lose, the non-conference contest will be an important barometer for the Gamecocks heading into a vital season for JSU’s future.

Are Grass and Company ready to prove that the 2016 and 2017 finishes were blips on the radar for a budding national power? Or will 2015 prove the exception to the rule for a program that can dominate on a conference scale but can’t make noise when it comes to playoff time?

Either way, 2018 will certainly be a fork-in-the-road season in Jacksonville.

Don’t pit Zerrick and Zion against each other

By Chris Allen Brown/Associate Editor

Scroll through the Twitter feed. Rewind those highlight tapes. Talk to them after practice.

You’ll see the praise. You’ll see that Zerrick Cooper and Zion Webb are good at a lot of things.

Cooper was in Death Valley last Saturday for Clemson’s Spring Game and was honored alongside the seniors during halftime.

Stop and think about that.

Cooper, now a sophomore, spent two years at Clemson — including his redshirt season — and did things the right way so well that he was honored despite transferring to Jacksonville State in January. Look at the replies on Twitter to ClemsonTigerNet, who tweeted Cooper was in Clemson last weekend, and you’ll see nothing but positivity.

Webb, who is a redshirt freshman out of Central-Phenix City, has been in the system for over a year now and came to Jacksonville as a highly-touted recruit. Many consider Webb a steal after most schools backed off the 6-foot, 200-pound quarterback after suffering a season-ending injury during his junior year of high school.

According to Jacksonville State head coach John Grass, both Cooper and Webb “bring something different and similar to the table” in terms of helping the Gamecock offense.

“Both of them throw the pass accurately and both have good arms and both of them can run the football,” Grass said after JSU’s non-traditional J-Day Spring Game last Thursday night. “But both have different kinds of styles running. However, both of them are being leaders and commanding the offense really well.”

Webb signed with JSU after hundreds of thousands watched former All-American Eli Jenkins set numerous records over the last four years. Having the same skill set as Jenkins, fans and alumni automatically assumed Webb would be the guy, which is no knock on All-OVC performer Bryant Horn, for years to come.

Then Cooper announced his intentions to transfer and many took to social media to express their interest and desire in the 6-foo-2, 220-pound quarterback.

But here’s the thing — don’t pit the two in a competition because they’re different guys trying to achieve the same goal, which is helping Jacksonville State back to the FCS National Championship Game.

“They both do their own thing because they each have their own thing they’re good at,” said JSU quarterback coach Cody Wells. “I think both are doing a great job of leading the offense when it’s their opportunity. I think, at times, we still have places to grow and things to get better at, but they’re moving along in the right direction.”

Just give everything time and don’t be upset if Grass and company roll out the two-quarterback system to start next season because these are two guys who can play.

Leadership helps guide JSU student-athletes to give back

By Chris Allen Brown/Associate Editor

Don’t be alarmed if you see a 7-foot male wielding a chainsaw around Jacksonville, it’s just Norbertas Giga. If you spend more time looking around, you might even see several Jacksonville State volleyball players attempting to roll a fallen tree trunk to a more convenient spot.

Before asking why you may see these sights, maybe the first question should (jokingly) be towards JSU strength and conditioning coach Gavin Hallford and if helping move trees counts as their workout for the day.

The reason that should be the first question is simple — because asking why JSU student-athletes are helping is pointless.

Why? Just continue to look around.

There’s JSU head football coach John Grass with a chainsaw. JSU softball assistant coaches Mark Wisner and Julie Boland working on a patch of land. JSU head volleyball coach Terry Gamble, his son Kyle and daughter-in-law Reagan were all helping. JSU associate athletic director for media relations Josh Underwood is there, too.

Are you beginning to see the picture here?

The reason there are so many JSU student-athletes helping around campus is because the desire to help starts at the top; it starts with those with great influence.

There’s a reason Malcolm Drumwright and Mohamed Abuarisha came straight home from last week’s College Basketball Invitational semifinal game and immediately went to work. There’s a reason Jamie McGuire, Cadi Oliver, Stephanie Lewis and Sallie Beth Burch dropped what they were doing elsewhere around the state to come back home to help.

Because it’s what they were taught to do. Helping those in need has become a staple of what Jacksonville State University is all about.

For years now, the communities surrounding Jacksonville State have traveled to support these student-athletes during sporting events, so it should come as no surprise that these same players … humans … are working around the city to help give back, to help rebuild but most importantly to help show they care.

Think back to JSU softball’s annual Fan Day. Head coach Jana McGinnis rarely does much talking at the event, but when she does, there’s always a ringing statement that’s forever imprinted on minds:

“I hope you (the fans) will consider us as your favorite team because this is home and we are always here for you.”

It may take several months — maybe a year even — before the restorations on Pete Mathews Coliseum, University Field and Rudy Abbott Field are completed, so when the football players are lined up to kick off the 2018 season, just remember to be sure to be at Burgess-Snow Field at JSU Stadium to cheer on those guys who came to help when you needed it most.