Tag: Ohio Valley Conference

OV-See ya Later: It’s time for conference realignment

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JSU’s Football team celebrates their fourth straight OVC Championship in 2017. (Matt Reynolds/JSU)

JP Wood, Sports Writer


For the past few years now, the discussion about Jacksonville State moving up to the FBS level has grown a little louder. The general idea is that JSU would move to the Sun Belt, bringing back the old Troy rivalry, starting new ones with schools like South Alabama and Georgia Southern, and profit off the increased revenue and recruiting bump of competing in an FBS conference. With the success of recent FCS transplants Georgia Southern and Appalachian State in the Sunbelt, this discussion is likely to gain even more steam.

There is a discussion to be had about JSU aligning themselves with a new conference; however, the Sun Belt is not the answer. Not yet, at least.

 Instead, look to the Southern Conference. The Southern Conference currently houses Wofford, The Citadel, Mercer, UNC-Greensboro, East Tennessee State, Furman, West Carolina, Virginia Military Institute, and traditional JSU rivals Samford and UT Chatanooga.

Geographically, the SoCon makes so much more sense than the Ohio Valley currently does. In the OVC, road matchups in any sport are essentially impossible to attend for most students. The remainder of the conference schools are all located much closer to each other than to Jacksonville. Our closest OVC neighbors are Tennessee State, a three-and-a-half hour drive from JSU’s campus. Furthest away is Eastern Illinois, which is an eight-and-a-half hour drive. The average distance from JSU to another OVC school is over a five hours. In comparison, the average distance from JSU to a SoCon school is around four. In the case of three of those schools, the total drive comes in under three hours—compared to zero such drives in the OVC. The closer schools would allow students to go on the road with the teams, and represent our school like it deserves to be.

Additionally, the entire atmosphere of all sporting events, especially football, would be far elevated. As it is now, most of our conference football games are walks in the park. We have a big, beautiful 24,000 seat stadium, but in the 2017 regular season only held an average attendance of 18,583. Conference games had an average attendance of just 17,243. By halftime of most games this year, the vast majority of the student section typically has filed out, because in all but one case against Austin-Peay, the game was already decided. Not to mention, the large amount of road fans who come dressed as empty seats, because of the long drive for most of them to make to Jacksonville just to watch their team get waxed. In the SoCon, football games would be much more competitive- drawing larger crowds, both home and away, and bolstering an already amazing atmosphere inside Burgess-Snow across four quarters instead of just two. Games such as Chattanooga and Samford would boast near-capacity attendance numbers year in, year out.

How well would Jacksonville State fit in to the conference? By enrollment, JSU is currently the 8th largest member of the OVC. In the SoCon, JSU would become the 6th largest. By facility size, JSU holds and would retain the largest football stadium in the conference. Pete Mathews Coliseum would be about average in the SoCon, whereas it is one of the smaller arenas in the OVC. Rudy Abbott Field would be the second largest baseball venue, only 200 seats behind The Citadel. In softball, University Field would also rank among the largest in the conference. The only facility that wouldn’t match up to the Southern Conference would be in soccer.

With a move to the SoCon, the entire Athletic Department is bound to benefit. The SoCon is one of the most competitive conferences in the FCS. In other sports, teams would benefit from shorter road trips, as well as all that comes from playing in an arguably more prestigious conference. Obviously, all sports must be considered when it comes to conference alignment. However, JSU is a football school, and the OVC is not a football conference. The overall competitiveness in sports like basketball, baseball and volleyball would change very little. In the case of men’s basketball, their 11-7 record and third place finish in 2017-2018 would be good enough for fourth in the SoCon.

The Southern Conference in recent years has also served as a springboard to the FBS level. Two current Group of Five powers in the FBS spent time in the SoCon before making the jump to the SunBelt. Georgia Southern and Appalachian State played in the Southern, where they combined for 6 national titles between 1990 and 2007, including 3 in a row for App State from 2005 to 2007. The departure of these programs led to the rise of current owners of the entire FCS subdivision, North Dakota State. If JSU wants to defeat NDSU, or other powers such as James Madison, it isn’t going to come as a member of the OVC. A battle hardened team that can run the gauntlet of the SoCon has a better shot in the playoffs than a team who sleepwalks through their conference schedule each year and then gets shell-shocked by a rough team in the playoffs. We just witnessed the negative side effects of such an easy conference schedule against SEMO. No one took that game seriously, and the team came out with very little energy. There would be very few reasons to sleepwalk if Jacksonville State played a more competitive conference schedule.

A JSU move to the SoCon may also prompt other schools in the region to make the jump as well. Schools like budding rival Kennesaw State and traditional rivals North Alabama would fit just as perfectly in the SoCon and provide even more meaningful matchups, as well as road game opportunities for students and fans alike. Sustained success in the Southern Conference could eventually lead to a jump to the Sun Belt or Conference USA, but that is all dependent on JSU’s performance in the SoCon.

All in all, JSU has grown stagnant in the OVC. It’s time for a change of scenery. Four straight conference football titles with zero national titles shows we have nothing left to prove in this conference; but that we have everything left to prove on the national stage.

Strain deserves credit for basketball expectations

By Chris Allen Brown/Associate Editor

Leah Strain didn’t have to continue playing basketball following her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear during the summer before the 2015 season.  

Strain, one of the most prolific prep basketball players in Alabama history, could’ve hung up her shoes and ankle braces to focused all of her time on being a nurse or member of the Alpha Omicron Pi sorority. 

She could’ve said that’s it, I’m done. 

But she didn’t. She continued to fight. 

Strain fought out of the shadows of her older sister, Courtney, who owns the state mark for career points. 

Strain fought the expectations of being an incoming freshman after helping Woodland High to its second consecutive state championship. 

Strain fought the lengthy rehab that came with the torn knee ligament.

Strain fought to be see time of the floor for JSU head coach Rick Pietri. 

Strain fought to be Leah Strain. She wasn’t going to give up and let people define her legacy. She took it upon herself to do that. 

When Strain throws on the red-and-white No. 2 Jacksonville State uniform over her 5-foot-4 frame Wednesday night against Belmont, it’ll be the 82nd game of her Gamecock career. It was a collegiate career that saw her score her first points during Jacksonville State’s upset win against SEC foe Alabama on Nov. 18, 2014. 

During the 2014-15 season, Strain set a career high in points with a 14-point outing against Mercer. Against the Bears, she went 5 of 10 from the field, including three 3-point baskets, and dished out six assists. For her performance, Strain was named the Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Week. 

Off the court, Strain earned 2014-15 OVC Medal of Honor and OVC Commissioner’s Honor Roll status after finishing the academic year with a 4.0 grade point average.

After redshirting during the 2015-16 season to rehab her ACL injury, Strain returned for the 2016-17 year. 

She scored 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting against Brewton-Parker, before turning in a season-high 11 points in 18 minutes against Nicholls State. She also scored nine points in 10 minutes in the final game of the season. 

As a redshirt-junior this season, Strain has played 373 minutes and scored at least one point in 22 of 27 games heading into JSU’s home finale against the Bruins. 

Strain will be remembered more for her resiliency than scoring while at JSU.

Gamecocks jump over TSU 48-13 in front of 23,413 fans

~ Photo by Sydney Sorrells
~ Photo by Sydney Sorrells

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.

Marvel Robinson
Sports Editor

What the fans don’t see

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.

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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.

JSU Football team working out in weight room
JSU Football team working out in  the weight room.

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. 

Gamecocks doing drills in the gym
Gamecocks doing drills in the gym.

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.

Marvel Robinson
Sports Editor

JSU Softball drops final game of series to TTU

After a win by both JSU and Tennessee Tech on Saturday, the Gamecocks tried to win the last game of the series but came up short a run losing 7-6.

Tennessee Tech had been down by two runs since the end of the sixth inning. As the game headed into the seventh with the score still at 6-4, it seemed like it would end with a Gamecock victory. However, three runs from TTU including a final walk-off allowed them to edge away with a victory.

Sara Borders led the team in runs with two. Ella Denes, Cadi Oliver, Melanie Steer and Emily Woodruff all had one run each.

With the Gamecocks not scoring in the first inning, the Golden Eagles jumped out in the lead first on a Hannah Eldridge run. A scoreless second inning by both teams brought JSU into the third still down by only one. Again the Gamecocks went scoreless and TTU capitalized by scoring two more runs to bring the score to 3-0.

In the top of the fourth, Oliver stepped up to bat and finally homered to right field to give JSU their first score of the game. Steer then stepped up and followed suit bringing JSU to within one of the Golden Eagles after they failed to score in the fourth.

The Gamecocks got their third run from Borders in the fifth, while a homer from TTU’s Olivia Bennett put them up 4-3 as the game headed into the sixth.

After Oliver was hit by a pitch, it sent Woodruff to home plate with a score. The score sat tied at four. Stephanie Lewis singled allowing both Borders and Denes to score. JSU then had the lead at 6-4 as they headed into the final stretch of the game.

However, the Golden Eagles could not be stopped as they scored two in a row on a Baylie Cruse single. After that, it was Madison Taylor that hit the walk-off that sent Christian Gibbs home for the win.

The Gamecocks fall to 26-13 and 9-5 in conference play. They will play an out-of-conference match against Georgia Tech at home on April 15.

Rebekah Hawkins
Staff Writer