The HBCU Football schedule will kickoff on national television as the Jackson State Tigers take on the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats Sunday afternoon at Georgia State Stadium. In its 15th season, the MEAC | SWAC Challenge has become the curtain-raiser for Black College football. For the public, the City of Atlanta will get a chance to see two schools who are looking to end their seasons with a Celebration Bowl win in December.
B-CU’s, head coach Terry Sims returns to Atlanta after a 7-5 campaign that saw them narrowly miss their opportunity to play in the Celebration Bowl after losing to Howard and North Carolina A&T early in the season, despite beating fierce rival Florida A&M.
We have to finish,” Sims said. “It was no one’s fault last year that we were in second place but ours. We have to finish each and every game.”
MEAC media members picked North Carolina A&T to win the league this year, however, Sims understands winning the MEAC | SWAC Challenge is two-fold: Winning the game and showcasing B-CU’s product to Atlanta and a national audience.
“I’m just excited for our young men to put their talents on a stage like this,” said head coach Terry Sims, head football coach at Bethune-Cookman University. “We recruit heavily in Atlanta and for kids to be able to come out and watch us play in person, it will be exciting. To play in a game like this will be a treat for our student-athletes, alumni and fans.”
Fans and NFL Scouts alike will keep their eyes on B-CU’s defensive back Trevor Merritt who was named 2nd Team All MEAC; with four interceptions, 2 touchdowns in 2018); senior linebacker Marquis Hendrix who was also named to the 2nd Team All MEAC team. Hendrix tallied 83 tackles in 2018. Taking the snaps for B-Cu will be quarterback Akevious Williams. In six starts last year, Williams had 1,435 passing yards, 12 TDs and 347 rushing yards and 8 TDs.
Jackson State will arrive in Atlanta with the third best scoring defense in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). Defensive lineman Khalil Johnson and sophomore linebacker Keonte Johnson are the faces of their defense, as they were named to the preseason All-SWAC Second Team.
John Hendrick became interim head coach last November and led the Jackson State Tigers to a 2-1 record and the interim tag was removed. As he seeks to restore the legacy of Jackson State football, Hendrick understands the MEAC | SWAC Challenge presents a unique opportunity for his players.
“When I took over, the kids knew me and I already built those relationships,” said Sims. I still have those relationships. The kids chop it up with me, my office door is open and just having that sincere family bond has been a really good experience.”
As of press time, Hendrick says fans can see multiple quarterbacks take snaps for Jackson State. Freshman quarterbacks Jalon Jones transferred in from the University of Florida, Quincy Casey and junior incumbent Derrick Ponder may see snaps Sunday afternoon.
“Well, you’ll find out on the first,” Hendrick said when asked who will be the starter.
One of the beautiful things about the MEAC | SWAC Challenge is being in Atlanta is the awesome opportunity for both schools to showcase their brands on a national audience and a city that is equally ripe with football talent and fans of Black college football.
“Fans should come out to experience the culture of these two conferences, especially if you’ve never experienced it before,” said ESPN sideline reporter and Bethune-Cookman alum, Lericia Harris. “Jackson State brings its own entity and so does Bethune-Cookman. The way they tailgate, two totally different ways! Also, the bands are rated the best in their conferences! If you’ve never had the opportunity to experience what the conferences offer, the culture and people, the public should come and take part.
If you’re also an HBCU grad, you should come and show support so we can have a crowd and have the atmosphere, exposure pageantry that every other classic has. Regardless if you are a graduate of these universities or not, you should be here!”
Bethune-Cookman and Jackson State will kickoff at Georgia State Stadium at 3:00 P.M. on ESPN2. It will be the only college football game on that time slot.