Thursday, April 23, 2009

SWAC Championship Game 2007

Grambling seeks redemption in title bout
December 10, 2007
By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — A month and a half ago, Grambling State looked like an unstoppable force.

Winners of seven straight, GSU had clinched a berth in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game on Nov. 3, even while a gaggle of teams on the other side of the bracket were still jockeying for position.

First-year coach Rod Broadway's lone loss on the season was against upper-classification Pittsburgh. His team's average margin of victory was a comfortable 18 points a night.

Grambling hasn't won since — falling 28-14 to ULM, a second Football Bowl Subdivision foe, on Nov. 10 and then 22-13 to Louisiana SWAC rival Southern on Nov. 24.

Now the title match looms this Saturday at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala.

"They know what's at stake in this game," Broadway said. "We've been talking about a championship all season. That's our goal. We've just got to play a little bit better."

Jackson State earned a chance to face Grambling for the league crown with a 3-1 finish, a run that included an emotional win over its own in-state league rival, Alcorn State.

GSU is still a respectable 8-3 overall — and 8-1 in SWAC play — but appears to have lost whatever momentum November once promised.

Broadway remains focused on the big picture.

"If you would have asked us at the beginning of the year, if we felt like 8-3 was a successful year, we would have said 'yes,'" Broadway said. "We definitely didn't like the way the last games unfolded. But competing with a I-A team doesn't happen very often. I still thought we had a chance to beat Monroe, and we had a chance to beat Southern. We just didn't play very well. I think we lost focus a little bit."

It's not just that Grambling hasn't won a game since defeating Alabama State to clinch the title berth on Nov. 3. It's that the Tigers have looked like a completely different ball club in the two losses that followed.

GSU averaged 30 points a game through the win at Alabama State, but has scored just two touchdowns a night since.

A defense that had held opponents to 14 points a contest before Nov. 3 is now surrendering 25 points every time it takes the field. In fact, that unit has given up an average of 98 yards more per game against ULM and Southern than it had over Grambling's previous nine opponents.

Special teams breakdowns have also suddenly begun to plague the team.

The result is GSU's first multi-game losing streak since Broadway took over in the offseason.

"We know what we need to do," said a determined Brandon Landers, the junior Grambling quarterback. "We're in an uplifted mood. We just want to send the seniors out with a championship."

The team, as Landers reminds, still has a meaningful shot at redemption. If Grambling were to complete its season with a win on Saturday, its late-season swoon would be all but forgotten.

"We're pleased — and disappointed — with the year so far," Broadway said. "We'd like to be 9-0 in the league. You can't be too disappointed in losing one conference game. I think in most conferences in the country, if you told them you were 8-1, most people would be pleased. We're disappointed that we lost to Southern, but we're pleased with the direction we are going. We are in the championship game. That's what you play for."

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Quick slants: Grambling football/SWAC Championship Game
December 7, 2007
By Nick Deriso
In a way, first-year Grambling coach Rod Broadway isn't surprised that his team's seven-game winning streak came to an end.

"It gets harder every week," he said. "Every time you win, it gets harder the next week. We have a saying: 'Big game this week.' We say that every week, and they don't get bigger than the next one."

Grambling is preparing for the eighth Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game, held Dec. 15 at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala., against Jackson State.

The two teams are in far different places emotionally.

Jackson comes into the match on this nearly perfect 3-1 run — including a season-ending romp over in-state SWAC rival Alcorn State — that helped clinch the Eastern Division crown.

Grambling, on the other hand, hasn't won a game since Nov. 3, a skid that includes tough losses to nearby out-of-conference opponent ULM and then Louisiana league rival Southern.

"As a coach, you are going to lose," said Broadway. "You've got to learn from it. We're trying to learn from these losses, and hopefully our players can learn from them as well."

This will be GSU's fifth appearance in SWAC championship game history, and Jackson's second. Grambling is 4-0, while JSU is 0-1.

There's that pressure again.

"The more you win, the bigger each game gets," Broadway said. "Our kids are starting to understand that. They're starting to get a feel for what we are trying to do, and where we are trying to go with this program.'


One of the principal drawbacks of the open-air Legion Field, historic though it may be, has been the reluctance of some SWAC fans to endure the wintery conditions associated with the December playing date.

There has been talk, for years, of attaching a dome to the Alabama landmark -- and that project appears to finally be nearing reality.

The Birmingham City Council this week approved a new plan from Mayor Larry Langford to increase local sales taxes by 1 cent on the dollar, as well as double business licensing fees, with proceeds going toward a new roof at the facility, among other projects.

Officials said the increases, slated to take effect on Jan. 1, would provide $64 million to support $500 million in construction bonds.

Legion Field, originally built in 1926, now seats 71,600 after the 2005 removal of a decaying upper deck. Artificial turf was later installed.

It's perhaps best known as the former home of the storied Iron Bowl rivalry between Alabama and Auburn (1948-88, 1991), as well as the Hall of Fame Bowl (1977-85). Alabama-Birmingham still plays its home football games at the stadium, which was also host to a Rolling Stones in 1994 and soccer events associated with the 1996 Olympics and 2005 World Cup.


Under the SWAC's soon-to-be-scrapped nine-game mandate, the league's championship contest is guaranteed to be a rematch every season.

In preparing a second time for Jackson State, however, Grambling players are being careful not to get too caught up in their 30-20 win back on Oct. 20.

"We've watched our game against them," said senior GSU receiver Clyde Edwards, "and we'll try to work through our own mistakes. But we're also watching games they played after us to see what they've done later."

Among those mistakes for Grambling: Jackson quarterback Jimmy Oliver passed for 328 yards as his offense averaged more than 6 yards per play, the second worst performance of the year for GSU against league opponents behind Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

Grambling didn't score an offensive touchdown after the 12:29 mark in the second quarter, and was also just 4-of-7 in the red zone -- a performance that has contributed to its middle-of-the-pack No. 4 conference ranking in that stat.


The team practiced just three times this week in an effort to allow for study time during finals week.

"You can't drill too much, because of exams," Broadway said. "The most important thing for them is to finish strong in their academics."

He said Grambling would return to its normal game-week practice schedule next week.


Alabama A&M coach Anthony Jones, a two-time finalist for the Grambling job, has signed an extension through 2011.

The protracted A&M negotiations actually began last February, and the school's board of trustees approved the new contract over the summer. But Jones' new deal wasn't completed until four days after he met with officials from Western Carolina about the vacant position there.

Jones, a teammate of ex-Grambling quarterback and coach Doug Williams on the 1988 Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins, has won three Eastern Division titles — finishing as SWAC runner-up to GSU in 2002 and '05 before besting Arkansas-Pine Bluff last season for the league crown. His six-year record at A&M is 49-21.

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Line play has contributed to Grambling's sputtering offense
December 11, 2007
By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — They're up front about Grambling State's late-season offensive struggles.

They start, well, up front.

"It's been our issue over the last three games: We can't protect very well," said first-year GSU coach Rod Broadway. "We knew at the beginning of the season that we would have some issues up front, and it's started to show. We're playing with an offensive line that's got to get better."

Grambling lost 25 letter winners last offseason, and no where was that exodus more deeply felt than along the offensive line — which lost three of five starters, including perennial all-conference tackles Andre Bennett and Derrek Governor.

But the remade group, led by senior center Tavarus Cockrell, was unbent. Inspired by the uptempo style of its new position coach, offensive coordinator James Spady, the group quickly jelled.

In fact, junior quarterback Brandon Landers was so well protected that he went four games without being sacked. That stretch included the Oct. 20 win over Jackson State — GSU's opponent this Saturday in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game, held at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala.

Something happened, however against Alabama State on Nov. 3, though it was understandably lost in the hoopla of clinching the Western Division crown and a berth in this title match.

Grambling won the game, but gave up three sacks. The trend continued in subsequent contests, both losses, at ULM and against Southern.

Landers has been tackled a total of 14 times in 2007, and nine of those sacks have come since Nov. 3.

"We've been struggling for the last two or three games," Cockrell said. "We watch the film, and our receivers are open all the time. We just don't give him enough time. We haven't been holding them off long enough."

Landers is unwilling to place the blame on any one portion of the offense, preferring instead to talk in general terms about improving.

"Nobody is pointing any fingers," he said. "We just need to go in with a good game plan and a good attitude and prepare to win. The mood has been good in the locker room. Nobody is down on anybody."

Still, as Landers has been put under increasing pressure, the offense has sputtered.

Inconsistency up front has slowed the running attack, too. Freshman Frank Warren, who had four games with 90 or more yards before Nov. 3, has totaled 108 yards in the three games since.

In fact, three of Grambling's four worst days on offense in 2007 have come over this span, with only the loss at Pittsburgh in September featuring fewer yards.

Grambling has been 1-of-4 in red zone chances, while Landers tossed five of his total 15 interceptions on the year.

"Brandon is playing well, but he's started getting beat up," Broadway said. "My hat's off to that kid, because he's taken some shots. We've got to do a better job of protecting him — because when we give him some time, he's a good player."

Members of the line — which also features tackles Everett Edwards and Randall Bennett with guards Revay Smith and Muhammad Karim — are at a loss to explain the downturn.

They may have worn down. Or opponents may have finally gathered enough information on the reworked offense to better defend against it.

Nothing has changed in the way they prepare. Cockrell is also quick to praise Spady.

"Seems like teams have found some way to beat us," Cockrell said. "Our problem has been picking up twists and blitzes. Our coach does a heck of a job. It just seems like at game time, something happens."

Broadway said the staff is considering a few new looks for Saturday's game, in the hopes of better protecting Landers.

"We've had some issues up front," Broadway said. "They've got to get better. But we may also have to go with max protection and rely on (senior receiver) Clyde (Edwards) to make some plays downfield for us."

Cockrell, for his part, is well aware of how critical his unit is to the offense's success: Landers' quarterback efficiency rating has dropped an average of 45 points in games this year where he has been sacked two or more times.

"We've got to pick it up a little bit," Cockrell said. "This is our last game, and it all boils down to the offensive line."

Grambling State had five players named All-Southwestern Athletic Conference, including three first-team members, on Monday.

Grambling's first-teamers were: OL Tavarus Cockrell, WR Clyde Edwards and DB Zaire Wilborn. Its second-team honorees were WR Reginald Jackson and RB Frank Warren.

Alabama and Southern both had nine players earn either first- or second-team All-Southwestern Conference honors to lead all teams.

The teams were selected by league coaches and sports information officials along with selected members of the media.

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Renewed focus has earned dividends for Grambling's Banks
December 13, 2007
By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — When first-year Grambling coach Rod Broadway arrived, he got an early scouting report on returning senior defender Jason Banks.

Not much of it was good.

"We heard so much about what he couldn't do," Broadway said. "Or — wouldn't do."

The 6-5, 300-pound Banks possessed an outsized skill set. No one argued with that.

After all, Banks entered this season with 99 career tackles, and led all linemen last season with 29.

The question was whether he would give the kind of consistent effort required to be a team leader.

Banks said it all started with questions about the defensive playbook. Small doubts turned into sweeping philosophical differences.

That fractured locker room played a key role in last year's 3-8 debacle, Banks said. In the end, this defense looked nothing like the 2005 edition that helped Grambling win 11 games and the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship.

"We believed in each other through last year," Banks said. "We just didn't believe in our scheme. There were holes."

A remade staff, and a renewed run-stopping attitude, have since led GSU back to the title game. Jackson State awaits on Saturday at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala.

It's clear now that Banks viewed the transition in Grambling coaching staffs as a chance to start over — on the field and off.

He was the first player to speak to Broadway at his introductory press conference, striding over to introduce himself and talk about the upcoming season.

He and Broadway ended up talking instead about academics. Banks, a criminal justice major, listened earnestly — and he impressed his new coach.

Banks hasn't stopped impressing him, either.

"I don't know who they were talking about," Broadway says of the offseason doubters. "I am extremely proud of Jason Banks."

Banks has developed a symbiotic relationship with fellow tackle Melvin Matthews. Together with ends John Scroggins and Christian Anthony, they transformed one of the SWAC's most sluggish defenses into one of its best.

GSU ranks second in the league against the rush, after finishing dead last in 2006. Five opponents so far have been held to less than 100 yards rushing, with three managing 30 yards or less — including Jackson State back on Oct. 20.

"The scheme we have now has everybody accounting for everybody," Banks said. "We all lean on each other to make plays. Melvin might ask me to help out, if he sees a certain alignment, or I might ask him. We're working together."

Though it struggled against Southern, Grambling has more often been at its best during critical games. The defense allowed an average of 11 points in games against defending league champion Alabama A&M, eventual 2007 Eastern Division winner Jackson State and in the contest against Alabama State that clinched this berth in the SWAC Championship Game.

At the center of that new defensive fire stands the unlikeliest of sparks, Banks.

The Baton Rouge native has gotten stronger as the season has gone on, clogging the middle while making 15 of his 21 total tackles over the past four games. That's perhaps meant less than his vocal direction: Banks has become the heart and soul of this run defense.

"That's why we told the guys, from Day 1, that we would be starting with a clean slate," Broadway said. "I don't care what people say about you. We will let you prove what kind of person you really are."

Banks said the first inkling of Grambling's defensive resurgence came during its first spring sessions under Broadway and first-year defensive coordinator Clifford Yoshida.

"We showed each other that we could stop our offense," Banks said. "We started feeling like we could go out and stop anybody. We started believing in the new scheme."

Banks is the best individual example of how this defense has redeemed itself over the 2007 campaign. He's not only made good on a career some thought was lost to underachievement, but also put his team in a position to win its second conference crown in three seasons.

"We are extremely proud of the way he has performed, and the way he has grown as a football player and as a person," Broadway said. "You've heard this before: It's not how you start, but how you finish."

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Grambling focuses on return game, protection
December 14, 2007
By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING -- Surprising breakdowns on special teams highlighted Grambling State's emotional loss in the Bayou Classic.

But memorable misfires in the kicking game, though they led to six points in a tightly contested win for Southern, weren't the only concern this week.

"We had some problems with our kicking game that we hadn't had before," said first-year Grambling coach Rod Broadway. "They also put us in some holes that we couldn't get out of."

Time and again, Jaguars' talented punter Josh Duran forced the offense to begin drives from deep in its own territory. In fact, Grambling's best starting point in the second half was its own 33.

Four third-quarter punts, as Southern gathered itself for the win, put the Tigers at their own 14-, 13-, 2- and 17-yard lines. Southern averaged 48 yards per attempt, compared with 29 for GSU.

"Field position played a big role in that game," said senior receiver Reginald Jackson. "That limited our opportunities. If we would have had better field position it might have been a different outcome."

Jackson has been used at returner, as has Clyde Edwards, Kovarus Hills and Kiare Thompson, among others.

The group ranked No. 3 in the league with an average of 11 yards per punt return. But they again will face a stiff challenge. JSU's fourth-ranked attack features sophomore Brett Bennett, who averages nearly 40 yards a punt.

Jackson has the best numbers for Grambling, with 17 returns for 170 yards. Edwards returned four punts for a respectable 49 yards against Southern.

Grambling will also have to focus on better protecting its own kicker, senior Tim Manuel.

Southern's Joe Manning blocked a third-quarter punt deep in Grambling territory, leading to a safety. Jarmaul George also blocked an extra-point attempt after GSU's final score of the day.


There will be pomp, circumstance and then a bus ride.

Receivers Clyde Edwards and Reginald Jackson were two of the Grambling seniors reportedly set to graduate during ceremonies this morning on campus.

Fall commencement begins at 10 a.m. in the newly opened Assembly Center, with keynote speaker Leon Whittaker, dean emeritus of graduate studies and a GSU alumnus.

In all, 275 undergraduate and graduate students will receive their degrees. Also included in that group is defender Donald "Duck" Williams, among others.

The football players will then bus over separately to Birmingham, Ala., for the league title game. The rest of the team left on Thursday.


Grambling's players sounded refocused this week, as they prepared with both energy and emotion for Saturday's game.

Losing will do that, right?

"Losing is never good thing," GUS coach Rod Broadway said, "but you can learn something from it if you approach it the right way."

Broadway, for one, has taken the team's two-game slide personally. He has driven himself, the team and his staff with fiery vigor all week.

"I hate losing," he admits. "It drives me nuts. But if you coach long enough, you've got to deal with it. We're hoping to learn from its as a staff, and hopefully the players can learn from it, too."


Looking back, between 1965 and 1990, only four championship trophies from the SWAC didn't have the name of one of these two programs etched on the front. (Alcorn won each of them, in 1969-70, '76 and 1984.)

Grambling and/or Jackson has won won seven of the last 15, too. In all, Jackson State can boast an impressive 15 conference championships, while Grambling has 21 -- with 17 of them coming under the late coaching great Eddie Robinson, who passed away in April of this year at age 88.

The SWAC then renamed its championship trophy after Robinson, who established a still-standing Division I record for career wins over a 57-season career at GSU. The first rechristened award will be presented on Saturday.

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OPENING DRIVE: Grambling vs. Jackson State, SWAC Championship Game
December 15, 2007
By Nick Deriso
Grambling (8-3) vs. Jackson State (7-4)
1 p.m. today, Legion Field, Birmingham, Ala.
TV: ESPN Classic
Series: Grambling leads 35-21-1
Coaches: Grambling, Rod Broadway (8-3, first year; 41-14 overall); Jackson State, Rick Comegy, 13-9, second year; 120-61 overall).

So much has changed in the last month for Grambling State.

Once on a roll, it has played just twice since Nov. 3 — and lost both. In the meantime, a series of suitors have courted its first-year coach Rod Broadway.

With so much uncertainty surrounding the program, this game couldn't get here quickly enough.

But can Grambling's offensive juggernaut, which put up eight touchdowns in a homecoming blowout over Texas Southern, grind back into gear? GSU has scored just six touchdowns since — and just only three touchdowns since beating Alabama State in early November.

That coincides with Grambling's two-game skid against ULM and then Southern to end the regular season, a shocking downturn that nearly obscures the seven wins in a row that came before.

"We just played some teams that were better than us," Broadway said. "We had a chance, but Monroe was better than us this year — and we just didn't play well against Southern. In all three areas, there was a letdown. Things that hadn't happened throughout the course of the year, all of sudden have been happening. Most of them are correctable."

One of GSU's victories came by a 10-point margin against Jackson State on Oct. 20.

KEY TO VICTORY: Forget about October's win

The score in Grambling's 30-20 regular-season victory against Jackson State doesn't reflect how close it actually was.

The game, in fact, locked into a tie three times through the first half before Grambling finally pulled away. GSU then held possession for almost the entire fourth quarter to keep the ball, and the win, away.

Several key penalties, including flags that helped Grambling convert on two fourth downs and another that allowed GSU to rekick a missed field goal, also gave Jackson's opponent new life time and again.

"We've looked at areas we think we can attack," Broadway said. "If they are the same areas as before, then we will do that. But we'll change some things. We learned a lot from playing that game. We'll have a plan that will help us win the ballgame."

TOP MATCHUP: Jackson's defense vs. QB Brandon Landers

JSU's defense, led by Marcellus Speaks (77 tackles, including 11.5 for a loss) and Marcus Jamison (63 tackles), has seen the blueprint from Grambling's trio of season-ending games.

Successive teams have hassled junior Grambling quarterback Brandon Landers, leading to some of his worst performances on the year. Result: GSU finished the year 1-2.

Look for Jackson to employ a similar attack, with far more blitzing than it did back in October.
Smart playcalling and quick decision making will be critical. Grambling will need to establish the run to slow JSU's dashing defenders some, and Landers — second in the SWAC with 2,380 yards and 21 touchdowns — will have to make the short passes and smart checkdowns, too.


Grambling held Jackson State to just 25 yards on the ground earlier this year, but could be looking at new-look rushing attack on Saturday.

Jackson State's Eric Haw, who leads the team with 630 yards and seven touchdowns on 145 attempts, isn't expected to start after undergoing knee surgery. Lavarius Giles got the majority of JSU's carries in its regular-season finale against Alcorn, and finished with 146 yards and two touchdowns on 21 attempts.

For Jackson State, this is a chance to reclaim its spot atop the conference after a long decade in the wilderness. JSU has won 15 SWAC titles, including consecutive crowns in 1995-96, but has struggled through some decidedly lean years until the arrival of second-year coach Rick Comegy.

Meanwhile, Grambling is in the SWAC Championship Game for the fifth time since its inception in 1999, and is playing for its 22 nd league crown. The question is whether GSU will still have its coach next week, after Florida A&M made a job offer to Broadway — and set a tentative announcement date for a new coach for this Monday.

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DISARMED: Jackson State passes Grambling State to end SWAC run
December 16, 2007
By Nick Deriso
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Grambling State is no longer undefeated in Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Games.

Jackson State finished that streak with a 42-31 win over GSU on Saturday in a contest that came down to quarterback play.

Grambling, now 4-1 in title matches, finishes coach Rod Broadway's initial season at 8-4. Jackson State, in the second season under Rick Comegy, improved to an identical record.

"There's disappointment in how it ended, but 8-4 is not bad," Broadway said. "It gives us something to build on."

Everything that junior Grambling quarterback Brandon Landers tried to do, JSU's Jimmy Oliver did better.

Landers finished 18-of-38 for 229 yards and two touchdowns. But his occasional problems with ball placement, and a couple of critical drops, left an opening for an emotionally charged JSU team with a partisan crowd on its side.

In all, he suffered three picks.

"They made some plays on the ball, and there were some bad throws," said Landers, a Carroll High product. "We needed to execute better."

There were four lead changes in a game, and amazing streaks of offensive firepower. Grambling scored three times in the third period alone, but three of the four quarters saw Jackson put up two touchdowns.

"At one point, we scored 19 unanswered points," Broadway said, "but the story of the day was missed tackles."

Twice Oliver seemed to have been stopped, and instead made game-changing plays.

In the end, he earned most-valuable player honors by passing eight fewer times than Landers but completing almost as many passes for 30 more yards, one more touchdown and two fewer interceptions.

"He made the difference in the ball game," Broadway said. "He played like a champion today."

It made for one of the most thrilling of the SWAC's nine title matches.

An interception by Sterlington native DeMichael Dizer on the third play of the game set up Grambling's first touchdown, a one-yard blast by freshman running back Frank Warren.

Unfazed, Jackson State relied on a dizzying array of creative flourishes by Oliver — who at one point turned a broken running play into a 11-yard first-down scramble — to answer with its own score on a 14-yard touchdown reception by Cedric Dixon.

"He's a hell of player," said senior Grambling receiver Clyde Edwards, who led all receivers with seven catches for 72 yards. "He kept making something out of nothing."

Landers was then picked off by JSU defensive back Domonique Johnson, who raced back 31 yards for a touchdown — just the 19th non-offensive score in the league all season.

It was Landers' seventh interception over the last four games, as defenses have had surprising success in hounding him on passing downs. Landers was sacked four times in the game.

A stunning series of penalties resulted in Grambling's next points.

First, a personal-foul flag stalled GSU's following possession, but senior punter Tim Manuel punted the ball to the Grambling half-yard line.

A delay of game penalty moved Jackson back further still. Then, as Oliver attempted a pass from the end zone, JSU was called for holding — resulting in a safety.

A streaking 30-yard catch by Reginald Jackson set up Grambling senior kicker Tim Manuel's 37-yard field goal, narrowing the Jackson lead to 14-12 early in the second quarter.

JSU then quickly gave the ball back, when Grambling's Jeffrey Jack smacked tight end Marcel Frost — freeing the ball to be recovered by Nigel Copeland at the Jackson 24.

But when Grambling failed to score on the next possession, a long ebb followed.

Jackson scored 14 quick points after defensive back Keith Camp blocked a Manuel kick.

The first touchdown was keyed on a couple of dramatic plays by Oliver.

He hit Carlos Simpson on a 34-yard reception to the Grambling 19 — then, after a mad scramble from the top to the bottom of the field, found an uncovered Christopher Johnson in the corner of the end zone for a TD.

Landers followed with a line-drive interception to Jackson defender Marcellus Speaks, handing the ball right back at the Grambling 26.

GSU actually held to fourth down, but then jumped offsides to give Jackson a new set of downs. Lavarus Giles' subsequent three-yard touchdown extended JSU's advantage to 28-12.

In the second half's final possession, GSU was forced to punt again.

The time in the locker room did Grambling good.

GSU opened the third quarter by holding Jackson to a quick three-and-out, then freshman running back Cornelius Walker dashed for 37 yards to the Jackson 30. Landers followed with a 30-yard touchdown strike to Nick Lewis.

Even his errant two-point conversion pass, thrown to the wrong shoulder, was hauled in by tight end Tim Abney — who exploded for 10 quick points to tie the game.

The Neville product caught in a 44-yard touchdown pass after a JSU fumble, and added a second two-point conversion.

Manuel's 26-yard field goal then gave Grambling its first lead since the first quarter.

But Oliver continued to amaze, playing his best when things seemed the most dire.

Standing in the clutches of Grambling's Brandon Logan, Oliver connected with Terrance Jones on a 15-yard touchdown pass to retake the lead 35-31.

"He just made some great plays," Comegy said. "Everybody knew he was sacked. But that's the way he plays."

Giles joined in the act, somehow squirting through a group of Grambling defenders for his own thrilling 57-yard touchdown. He finished with a game-high 132 yards on 23 carries, a game after taking over for the injured Eric Haw.

Just then, a sunny afternoon suddenly turned dark and foreboding — and the skies opened up. Neither team could find a rhythm in the swirling rains, and most of the once-raucous crowd made its way to the exits.

The score remained at 42-31 from there on.

"We're just not good enough this year to win it," said Broadway, whose team finished on a three-game skid after winning seven straight. "We stopped progressing somewhere a long the way."


Sterlington native DeMichael Dizer, on the third play of the game, intercepted Jackson State quarterback Jimmy Oliver and returned the ball to the GSU 40. Grambling's first score of the game followed on a 1-yard run by freshman Frank Warren.

Grambling quarterback Brandon Landers, passing on second down at his own 31 in the second quarter, was picked off in the flat by Jackson State's defensive back Domonique Johnson — who raced into the end zone to give JSU a lead that it didn't relinquish until less than two minutes remained in the third period.

Grambling defenders Keefe Hall and Donald "Duck" Williams smacked Oliver around on a key third down play, just moments after GSU tied the game at 28 early in the second half. Oliver eventually fumbled, though recovered his own ball. Jackson's opportunity to quickly retake the momentum was over.

Senior Larry Kerlegan, switching from backup quarterback to receiver, pulled in a tough third-down conversion along the sideline for Grambling late in the first period. That was his second catch of the year.

Grambling senior Tim Manuel, in position to give Grambling its first lead since early in the first quarter, had a kick blocked for the second week in a row. Jackson State defensive back Keith Camp slipped in on a field goal attempt midway through the second period. Manuel also had an extra-point try stopped against Southern in the Bayou Classic.

Replay might have corrected a disappointing miscall by the officials on an Oliver pass during Jackson State's second possession of the third period. The receiver bobbled and then dropped the forward pass, but it was ruled a fumble. Two plays later, Grambling tied the game on a touchdown and two-point conversion by GSU tight end Tim Abney.
--Nick Deriso

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Abney was fabulous in Grambling finale
December 17, 2007
By Nick Deriso
Tim Abney, despite an up-and-down career marked by injury, ended his Grambling State career with a flourish.

He had a hand in 10 of 19 third-quarter points that helped GSU retake the lead late in Saturday's Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game.

"I tried to do my best to put us in position to win a championship," Abney said.

And how.

The Neville High product collected a two-point conversion after Grambling quarterback Brandon Landers' touchdown pass to Nick Lewis at the 9:46 mark, then caught his own TD grab in a one-play, 44-yard scoring drive. Finally, Abney added a second straight two-point conversion to complete the scoring jag.

Just 32 seconds of game time had passed.

"They called my number and I went out there and played like it was my last game," Abney said. "I wanted to go out with a bang."

Those points tied the game at 28 and were followed by a 26-yard Tim Manuel field goal to give Grambling a slim advantage. Jackson State subsequently answered with two more touchdowns, however, to regain control of the contest.

Abney would finish third on the team for all-purpose yards, a more appropriate end for a player that struggled valiantly through a lingering groin problem.

Abney led all receivers in yards per catch as a Grambling freshman in 2003, but went down and missed the next season then part of 2005. Since then, he received a medical waiver to play an additional year while attending graduate school at GSU.

But he was forced to work primarily as a tight end and possession receiver, since the injury robbed him of critical speed.

They showed love: National media members covering the SWAC Championship Game included Dave Coulson, executive director of Football Championship Subdivision coverage for the Sports Network, and Ralph Wallace of

Both had attended the NCAA Division I Football Championship Game between Appalachian State and Delaware the night before in Chattanooga, Tenn. Appalachian State won its third consecutive lower-classification title.

Part of game week festivities was the Sports Network's 21st annual FCS awards banquet, which includes major awards players and coach of the year named after key figures from both SWAC title match participants.

Defensive players receive the Buck Buchanan Award, after the Grambling standout. The offensive award is named for Walter Payton, a Jackson State product.

Finally, the network's coach of the year award is named for Eddie Robinson, who graced the cover of the banquet program.

Coulson composed a tribute inside to Robinson, as did writers Tony Moss and Mickey Charles.

"In my 30 years of covering college football," Coulson said, "I've never heard anyone utter a disparaging word about a man they simply call 'Coach Rob.'"

Walter Dean, the standout Grambling rusher from the early 1990s, was guest speaker. Dean remains the only SWAC player to win the Payton Award.

The same, but different: Grambling and Jackson State ended the season with identical records, but got there in far different ways.

Where GSU dropped three games to end its 8-4 campaign, Jackson began with two losses, both to non-conference foes.

First came a stumble against Mississippi Division II power Delta State on Sept. 1, 27-15, then a far more sobering loss against regional rival Tennessee State, 16-13 on Sept. 8.

Jackson coach Rick Comegy said the team used the early diversity as a springboard.

"We all cried on the way back from that game," Comegy said. "We were coming together. From that time on, they started playing for the blue and white."

JSU won seven of its next nine to advance to the 2007 league title game, falling against Prairie View on Nov. 10 and Grambling on Oct. 10 — a loss avenged by Saturday's 42-31 victory at Legion Field.

Tiger pause: Grambling seniors Jason Banks and Clyde Edwards were team captains for the championship game. ... The title was Jackson's 16th in the SWAC, but first since 1996. That 11-year span was JSU's longest drought since going nine years without a title between 1963-72. ... Former Grambling quarterback and coach Doug Williams was recognized with other attending legacy SWAC alums at midfield before the game. Among them was Williams' former Tampa Bay teammate Jimmy Giles, who attended Alcorn State.

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BACKFIELD IN MOTION: Warren's production sparked Grambling's run in 2007
December 26, 2007
By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — Grambling State's dramatic turnaround in 2007 was keyed by the most surprising of things: A freshman running back.

At Grambling?

Known over the balance of the last decade for its bluntly unbalanced, pass-oriented approach, GSU was instead powered this season by Frank Warren's 852 yards on the ground.

The Alabama native helped lift a newly resurgent rushing offense five spots to No. 4 overall for yardage in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Warren finished as the league's No. 3 overall running back.

"The coaches were great for me, helping me make the transition from high school to college," Warren said. "The seniors helped me out, too. I give everybody credit for helping me get here."

A GSU team that lost eight games in 2006 won that many times a season later, with Warren as the offense's center point.

"He was definitely a key," first-year Grambling coach Rod Broadway said. "He was one of our best players this year."

The change for this offense was as complete as it was surprising: Warren's total yardage in this season alone is just shy of the combined output from Grambling's top rushers in 1998-2000.

Warren was just 150 yards away from becoming the first to reach 1,000 since 2001, only the second in 14 seasons, and only the 10th since 1958 at Grambling.

A year after GSU passed 30 more times than it rushed, Warren and Co. flipped that script — running 50 more times than junior Brandon Landers threw it.

That was part of a larger strategy by new coordinator James Spady to slow the pace, something that might have helped in a series of 2006 losses when GSU's defense seemed to fade.

"People are so concerned with getting it now; it's a microwave society," said Spady, who also coaches the offensive line. "Then you get in the kind of battles this offense was in last year, and you're running three plays then scoring a touchdown — and your defense is sent right back out there. That is not my personal philosophy."

The new scheme gave Warren a platform, and he emerged as a star. The SWAC recognized him multiple times as newcomer of the week — then gave Warren freshman of the year honors.

"We understood that we were inexperienced at spots, but we expected a lot out of them anyway," Broadway said. "It didn't matter if they were freshmen, if they were good."

Warren was, and from the beginning.

In his collegiate debut, Warren rushed for 143 yards at Alcorn State.

"Starting my first game, that was big moment for me," Warren said. "I had my eyes opened. It was not like the games I had played most of my life."

He's being modest: Warren was a finalist for the Class 5A Back of the Year award as a prep standout at Pleasant Grove, Ala.

He then added 104 yards for GSU against Mississippi Valley, and scored his first two career touchdowns against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

Walker played a critical role in Grambling's win at the State Fair Classic game, where he rushed for 109 yards against Prairie View — a performance highlighted by a key stretch over GSU's final drive when he gained 43 yards on six attempts to set up the game-winning field goal.

Warren's season high of 149 yards came in Grambling's final home game of the 2007 campaign, a blowout over Texas Southern.

That was the prototype for the way this offense is meant to run: "The running game took the wind out of them early," said departing senior receiver Clyde Edwards.

Warren then scored 14 of GSU's 21 points against Alabama State, once by air and one on the ground, in a win that clinched the Western Division crown.

From there, however, the Grambling running attack faded — and, perhaps not coincidentally, so did the team.

GSU entered a non-conference contest against ULM rushing for 153 yards per game, No. 2 in the SWAC, but was held to negative production on the night. The Tigers would manage just 151 total rushing over their final three games.

All were losses, including upsets at the Bayou Classic against Southern and then the SWAC Championship Game versus Jackson State.

Warren was steadfast through the adversity, framing the good times and the bad as a learning experience.

"It built character," he said.

Warren's production and effort over the balance of the season couldn't be denied, even if the team slumped at season's end. He almost single-handedly helped change the complexion of the Grambling offense.

GSU ran 409 times in 2007, most in three seasons and almost 76 more attempts than last year. Even through that trio of stumbles, Grambling finished '07 with an average of 134 yards per game on the year — also the most since '04 and 40 more per game than a season ago.

"Frank stepped forward and carried the load for us this year," Broadway said. "He has a chance of becoming a great player."

With three years still to play, Warren could easily pass Walter Dean for second all-time in rushing at Grambling — and might even challenge the school record of 3,795, set by Eric Gant in the early 1990s.

GSU's last 1,000-yard rusher was Brad Hill, who had 1,023 yards for former coach Doug Williams six years ago. Before that, Gant's 1,243-yard campaign under Grambling legend Eddie Robinson dates all the way back in 1993.


Final record: 8-4 overall; 8-1 in Southwestern Athletic Conference

Best game: On Oct. 27 against Texas Southern, Grambling did what you are supposed to do in a homecoming game: Beat your opponent like a drum. GSU set season-high marks for rushing and passing touchdowns, and yards rushing.

Worst game: Some thought Grambling had a shot at knocking off upper-classification ULM on Nov. 10. Instead, GSU was held to negative yards rushing, while surrendering a season-high number of interceptions and sacks. The eventual 28-14 loss at ULM was part of a three-game slide to end the year.

Turning point: That skid actually started against Alabama State on Nov. 3. Grambling was held scoreless after the 8:03 mark in the second quarter, and the offense never really got in sync again.

Most telling stat: Grambling's offense averaged 31 points a game before Nov. 3, then 20 points in the four games that followed. GSU went 1-3 over that stretch.

Most valuable player: Freshman running back Frank Warren averaged a first down on every two attempts. He had nearly 1,000 yards from scrimmage, with five rushing touchdowns and one receiving score.

Top offensive players: Reginald Jackson led all receivers in yards and catches, while fellow senior Clyde Edwards was tops in scoring. Edwards also set school marks for career yards, catches and touchdowns.

Top defensive players: Defensive backs Zaire Wilborn and Jeffrey Jack led all tacklers, with 67 stops each. Senior tackle Jason Banks became an important voice in the locker room.

Top special teams player: Senior kicker Tim Manuel was 13-of-19 on field goal attempts and 29-of-34 on extra-point tries to lead all Grambling players with 68 total points. He also averaged 40 yards a punt.

Unsung heroes: Tim Abney, whose career was hampered by injury, provided both senior leadership and an important check down option in a new offense that values short passes.

Emerging star: Junior Keefe Hall grew into his role at middle linebacker, finishing second on the team with 62 tackles. Nobody recovered more fumbles.

Key injury: We never got to see what converted quarterback Larry Kerlegan could really accomplish in the slot, as he sat for extended stretches with a nagging ankle injury.

Returning starters, offense (7): QB Brandon Landers, RB Frank Warren, LT Everett Edwards, LG Revay Smith, RG Muhammad Karim, FB Dante Cheek and WR Kovarus Hills.

Returning starters, defense (6): DT Melvin Matthews, DE Christian Anthony, LB John Carter, DB Kenneth Anio, DB Jeffrey Jack and DB Nigel Copeland.

Returning specialists (1): LS Carlton Johnson.

Notes: With Clyde Edwards, Reginald Jackson and Tim Abney all departing, a new face will have to quickly emerge to stabilize the receiving corps. ... Other signing day priorities: Offensive linemen and a kicker. ... Other emerging stars: RB Cornelius Walker, DE Christian Anthony, QB Tonie Spears, DB Nigel Copeland.

-- Nick Deriso,

Monday, March 09, 2009

Remembering: Grambling's David Lewis

In memory: David Lewis made a personal impact at Grambling
June 20, 2008

By Nick Deriso
For me, next season's Grambling home football opener -- no matter the outcome -- will be a somber experience.

Absent from the Robinson Stadium pressbox will be David Lee Lewis, who died last week and was honored during a memorial on Thursday morning in Ruston.

A criminal justice professor at GSU for two decades before retiring a few years back, Lewis was one of those quietly important contributors, even if few outside of his classroom or "The Rob" ever knew it.

And, I'm honored to say, he was my friend.

Lewis was remembered during those emotional services as a mentor to scores of criminal justice majors, emerging leaders-in-the-making who went out into the world to make it a better place. And as a force behind countless community efforts, including those to erect a museum in honor of Grambling's late football coaching legend, Eddie Robinson.

Lewis was a tireless volunteer, a deeply committed soldier, for Grambling, for Lincoln Parish, for America. His so-called "retirement" never lessened that passion.

He was also, as a longtime scoreboard operator at GSU, a guy I knew as a student of the game who scouted pro football referees. He could expertly spot the ball on an inside running play with one eye -- even while still focusing on the pressbox vittles with the other.

Generous and sharp, David Lewis was a steady presence, the voice of reason, but also a deeply humorous guy. He once correctly predicted, within 20 people, the abysmal attendance at a meaningless out-of-conference game -- and I still owe him some money on that.

In fact, I never covered a GSU game at Robinson Stadium without Lewis at the scoreboard, and we never missed an opportunity to trade barbs, stories and quips. He bested me every time.

Still, while he could see the intrinsic humor in life, David Lewis was never a frivilous person. His standards were high, sometimes impossibly so. Lewis had a sharp focus, and a serious one, on leaving this place better than he found it, and for honoring those who did what was right.

He was instrumental, for instance, in helping to secure the former women's gymnasium as the future home for exhibits in memory of Robinson. Countless students, friends and family members spoke on Thursday of similar efforts in their own lives, gestures often made away from public notice.

Mr. Lewis' commitment to service and pride in citizenship touched students and family alike. His son Bobby -- one of five children he often lovingly mentioned -- was serving in the war on terror when he heard of Lewis' passing.

The list of boards and associations he had served on was read aloud during Lewis' funeral, and it took a remarkable amount of time. But Lewis, known to those closest to him as "Big Daddy," always had a moment for his children, for his grandchildren, for his students, for his school.

He coordinated local youth activities, sent out notes and cards on special occasions, and worked diligently to promote and protect community programs -- touching hundreds of young people's lives. And that was on top of a 20-year tenure as a professor and then the criminal justice department's undergraduate program director at GSU.

It seemed fitting that Dr. Ruby Higgins, a former GSU administrative official and dear friend of Lewis', would suggest on Thursday that an endowed scholarship be established in his honor. Lewis, though he never made the cover of Sports Illustrated, wove himself into the very fabric of Grambling.

The dizzying achievements of Robinson, former basketball coach and athletics director Fred Hobdy or second school president R.W.E. Jones have been, at least more recently, well documented in publications like that.

But it takes an every-day attention to detail by a cast of thousands to stitch together a legacy like Grambling's. There are others who made smaller contributions that were, if not as widely recognized, just as important on a personal level.

Mr. Lewis was one of those people. He'll be missed.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The time that ... Maurice Clarett considered a transfer to Grambling

Wait for greatness?: Reports have Clarett pondering move to GSU
September 9, 2003
Grambling State's Doug Williams spent all day talking about Maurice Clarett - perhaps the nation's best collegiate runner, but perhaps one without a school.

A writer from ESPN called. Some of Williams' friends in the National Football League, too. And a lot - a whole lot - of college representatives.

Both Williams and GSU athletics director Albert Dennis confirmed that they had not heard from the sophomore running back on Monday.

In fact, the only person Williams didn't talk to, he joked, was Clarett.

"That's been the talk of the day," Williams said, chuckling. "We've gotten calls from all over."

Clarett helped lead Ohio State to its first national championship since 1970 last season - and has been in trouble with the NCAA ever since.

Still, when the ESPN guy called, GSU's sixth-year coach was typically blunt: "I don't think a headache comes with the kid. He didn't shoot anybody. They didn't arrest him for drugs. He didn't rape anybody. Ain't no problem with the kid."

The New York Times broke a story this summer indicating that Clarett could have received preferential help with exams last season. Then the NCAA made inquiries into gifts that Clarett allegedly received that could be related to a possible relationship with an agent.

Clarett was held out of practices, then suspended for six games.

Next came a traffic stop, one where Clarett said he was "test driving" a car that was suspiciously loaded to the roof with video and stereo equipment. Then he gave a false report concerning who the stuff belonged to.

The NCAA is now investigating that - and there is some indication that Ohio State isn't optimistic about Clarett's eventual return.

News reports had Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel staging a team picture this Wednesday - with no spot saved for the troubled running back.

In steps NFL legend Jim Brown, who has become an advisor for the Clarett family - and is a friend of Doug Williams'.

On a Saturday night radio program, Brown strongly suggested - should Clarett be declared ineligible for the Buckeyes - that he consider transfer to Grambling State.

"I think that if the Claretts would consider transferring, Grambling would be an ideal situation for the kid," Brown told ESPN Radio's Bob Valvano. "Doug Williams is a great coach. He could hone his game. He'd be in school. It's a great situation. Doug would be perfect for the kid, but that's up to him and his mother."

If Clarett were to transfer down to I-AA Grambling, he would have to sit out the remainder of the 2003 season - but could start in 2004, setting himself up for a look in the NFL draft the following spring.

The earliest Clarett could be in Black and Gold would be the spring game of 2004 - but only after first serving whatever NCAA sanctions are eventually handed down. He would also have to enroll this year, and remain eligible to play throughout his suspension.

Williams says to be mentioned as a possible landing spot for what many thought would be a Heisman Trophy candidate speaks volumes about where the program is headed - and where it's been.

A third-straight Southwestern Athletic Conference championship in 2002 was just the latest signature moment, he reminds, in a Grambling State legacy that includes countless NFL draftees - and four Pro Football Hall of Famers.

"Grambling brings national visibility," Williams said, "even if we are I-AA. Scouts are coming here every day. That means he's getting everything that he would have gotten there - except 100,000 people at the game."

The talk of a new running back of Clarett's talent and speed would be welcome news for GSU team that's always trying to balance its offense.

Quarterback Bruce Eugene led Division I-AA in total offense and points scored - but he was also the team's second leading rusher. That trend remained on Saturday in the Tigers' first SWAC game of the year.

Williams can only imagine what it would mean to have Eugene handing off instead to Clarett - who had 1,237 yards and 16 touchdowns last season.

"We don't have a Maurice Clarrett. It would be a big difference," Williams said. "It would take a lot of pressure off of Bruce. There's nothing I can do, but keep my phone line clear."

With that, Williams - understandably - excused himself and hung up.

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Ohio State officially releases Clarett, sparking local interest
September 10, 2003
GRAMBLING - The first in a sequence of events that could bring one of the nation's best collegiate running backs to an area school has happened.

Tuesday, Ohio State released Maurice Clarett - the hero of the Buckeyes' national championship game earlier this year - from his scholarship with the school. The move came hours after Clarett was charged with lying about items stolen from him in a borrowed car - part of a string of off-field problems since the Fiesta Bowl.

Northeastern Louisiana entered the narrative when the Clarett family's adviser in this matter, Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown, encouraged Clarett to transfer to Grambling State University - should he be released by Ohio State.

That happened on Tuesday - though NCAA penalties have yet to be decided.

Brown suggested Clarett's transfer over the weekend on an ESPN radio program, though no one at Grambling State has yet heard from him or his family.

"We could use him," said sixth-year GSU coach Doug Williams. "I don't think Ohio State would have won the national championship without Maurice Clarett."

Williams entered a Tuesday news conference dominated by talk of Clarett carrying a Tigers jersey with No. 13 on it. "That's what he would wear," he joked. "Isn't that what most of the questions will be about?"

Williams didn't have any more information about the possible move - though he met with his offensive coaches to discuss the possibility of having the talented rusher join the Tigers, who have just begun defending their third-consecutive Southwestern Athletic Conference title.

"It would alter our offense to more of a running attack," Williams said, "and would take some pressure off of (junior quarterback) Bruce Eugene. It would give us a chance to win a fourth straight."

Clarett was charged, according to the Associated Press, with misdemeanor falsification, said Columbus, Ohio, city spokesman Scott Varner. If convicted, Clarett could face up to six months in a jail and a $1,000 fine.

Clarett had already been suspended indefinitely by the team after charges of academic irregularities and improper gifts. Ohio State has been working for more than two weeks on a response to several pages of allegations sent by the NCAA to the university.

New allegations of cash transactions were raised by a Cleveland television station on Monday. "It's out of our hands," Williams said of the latest charges. "That would be up to the NCAA."

If Clarett transferred to another Division I-A school, he would have to sit out a year in addition to any suspension or ineligibility handed down by the NCAA. He could transfer to a Division I-AA, II or III and be immediately eligible to play after the possible penalties.

Williams said Tuesday that he learned about Jim Brown's suggestion of a transfer - and of each new wrinkle in the Clarett case - from the Internet and news reports. He said Brown's faith in his coaching abilities was a tip of the hat to GSU.

"He has a lot of respect for what we have done here at Grambling," Williams said of Brown. "I think he feels, as an adviser, that Maurice would need someone he can relate to a lot better than some other places."

NCAA spokeswoman Kay Hawes would not speak to the Associated Press about the Clarett case but did say that if a suspended or ineligible player transferred, the athlete's new school would first have to declare him ineligible, and would then seek his reinstatement through the organization.

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NCAA leaves Clarett with trio of options
· Troubled running back hit with suspension, not banned from playing.
September 11, 2003
The NCAA handed down a season-long suspension Wednesday for troubled Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett, but didn't ban him from playing.

With an earlier release from the football team already announced, Clarett now faces three options:

· Give up collegiate football and go to class.

· Petition the NFL for early entry into the draft.

· Transfer to a Division I-AA school - some have said it might be Grambling State, where regulations state Clarett would be eligible to play his junior year before reaching the required age for pro draft.

Players must wait until three years after their high school graduation to enter the NFL. Clarett will be a sophomore this season.

GSU coach Doug Williams, who learned of Clarett's possible interest in the Tigers on the Internet, says the first two possibilities are unlikely - in particular, petitioning the NFL.

"The unfortunate part about challenging the rule," Williams said, "is that he would probably never get the opportunity to reap the benefits. The NFL would drag the case out so long, that he would be eligible for the draft anyway."

Jim Brown, a family advisor, first raised the possibility that the NCAA's most electrifying runner - Clarett scored the game-winning touchdown in the Fiesta Bowl on his last play for the Buckeyes - might transfer to the Lincoln Parish school to finish out his college eligibility.

That set off a national media maelstrom, including stories on ESPN and FOX, on the wire services and in most major newspapers.

Like Brown, Williams has insisted that Clarett needs more football experience - and that, sure, Grambling would be a great option - before the running back contemplating joining the NFL.

"It's silly to question Williams and Brown on this point," columnist Michael Wilbon wrote in the Wednesday edition of The Washington Post. "One is a Super Bowl MVP and the other the greatest football player ever."

Even so, Williams is not allowed by NCAA rule to contact Clarett.

"No, I'll call (current Grambling running backs) Ab Kuuan and Rueben Mays," Williams said, and laughed loudly.

So, he remains pragmatic. "Even if (Clarett) comes here," Williams said, "he'll still have to serve the suspension that the NCAA has imposed upon him."

Clarett, who is accused of lying to the NCAA, school investigators and the police through a series of troubles this off-season, will get to keep his scholarship at Ohio State, school officials said. But his attorney told the Associated Press: "He's considering his options right now."

The NCAA and Ohio State continue to investigate Clarett. The school has been working for more than two weeks on a response to a multi-page set of allegations from the NCAA.

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Clarett turns focus to NFL
· Suspended RB will now try to enter pro league; GSU still waiting on a call.
September 15, 2003
There's a reason why Grambling State coach Doug Williams didn't hear from suspended Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett this week.

"My lines must be down," Williams joked. "They ain't ringing."

No, Clarett - who was being encouraged by family advisor Jim Brown to transfer to GSU - has decided to ask that the NFL change its eligibility rules instead.

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue confirmed to The Associated Press on Sunday that Clarett's attorneys have requested that he be allowed to play early. Tagliabue said NFL lawyers would discuss the situation, perhaps next week.

The NFL stipulates that players wait three years after high school graduation to play. Clarett, who was suspended for one year this week over various NCAA violations, is a sophomore.

This signals the presumptive end to a flirtation with GSU that began with a phone call from an old friend of Williams'.

Jacksonville Jaguars executive James "Shack" Harris, a Carroll High and GSU alum, asked Williams on Sept. 7 what he thought of Clarett.

"We talk all the time," Williams said, so he thought nothing of it. "I told him I think he is a hell of a running back. He said, `OK, I'll call you back.' Evidently, he and (Clarett family advisor) Jim Brown had been talking."

When Williams got home, he discovered just what that call meant while browsing the World Wide Web.

"You go to the Internet, you find out that Maurice was considering coming to Grambling," Williams said. "I didn't know that's what James was talking about. I'm thinking that Jacksonville was trying to find a way to get him into camp."

Williams met with his offensive coaches early last week, as the buzz about the Buckeye got louder.

A running back of his caliber, Williams said, would have meant a change in the team's pass-oriented scheme behind SWAC offensive player of the week Bruce Eugene.

"We would find a way to throw it as much as we ran it. We had talked about giving it to him 25 to 30 times. But all that was hypothetical. Now, we'll just have to throw it 60," he said, and chuckled.

Tagliabue told the AP that the NFL remains opposed to changing its age restriction, instituted 13 years ago with the agreement of the Players' Association.

Reporters also asked Tagliabue, a former NFL lawyer, about the possibility of the rule being overturned by a lawsuit: "My feeling as commissioner is that we have a very strong case and that we'll win it."

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NCAA checks GSU's actions over Clarett
September 25, 2003
GRAMBLING - Troubled football star Maurice Clarett apparently won't be coming to Grambling State University, but the NCAA could be.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association is investigating comments made by coach Doug Williams concerning the suspended Ohio State running back - indicating that they could have been a violation of recruiting rules.

Both Williams and GSU athletics director Al Dennis have consistently said they never spoke to Clarett - who was widely reported in early September to be considering a transfer down to the Division I-AA school.

But the inquiry refers to a section of the regulations stipulating that colleges may not contact a student-athlete at another NCAA or NAIA four-year institution - even indirectly - without written permission from the player's current athletics director.

Specifically mentioned is an article posted at on Sept. 9 and a televised news conference the next day on campus. "They are saying that we indirectly made contact with the kid" through the media, Dennis said.

GSU received notice in a letter from Chris Strobel, the NCAA's director of enforcement for secondary infractions, on Sept. 15 asking for more information.

"All of these comments attributed to him were in response to questions being asked," Dennis said - noting that the story appeared nationally on ESPN when Clarett family adviser Jim Brown mentioned Grambling State as a possible transfer option.

Dennis also confirmed that Grambling State never received any clearance to talk to Clarett and GSU wasn't seeking it. "When all of this broke, our registration was already closed. He wasn't coming to Grambling, anyway," Dennis said.

Calls to Strobel were not returned on Wednesday. The letter doesn't mention possible sanctions or a deadline for responding.

"I'm puzzled by the idea that we would get a letter, if there was no contact by either party," Williams said.

He then said he suspects that entering a Sept. 9 news conference while carrying a No. 13 GSU jersey sparked this inquiry. Clarett wore that number at Ohio State.

"I was poking fun at the local media that I see every week," Williams said. "This is very small. There are a whole lot of things that have happened with Clarett that are bigger than poking fun with a No. 13 jersey. I find it hard to believe."

The jersey, Dennis reminds, belongs to current Grambling State punter Darien Morgan.

"This wasn't an attempt to contact Clarett," Dennis said. "If he's asked a question - would you like to have a player of Clarett's ability on your team? - can that be construed as trying to contact him? We don't see it that way."

Clarett has since apparently decided to forgo the rest of his college eligibility, announcing his would sue for early entry into the NFL draft this week.

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Transcript from Sept. 9 news conference at GSU
September 25, 2003
Coach Doug Williams enters as media members discuss possible Maurice Clarett transfer to Grambling State)

Williams: Good morning. Hot topic, today, huh? By the way, I brought a jersey today. (Holds up No. 13 GSU jersey.) You probably didn't think I had a No. 13. That's what he'd wear!

The News-Star's Nick Deriso: What are you talking about coach? Who?


Williams: I don't know! That's what all the questions are going to be about this morning, ain't they?

(More laughter.)

After opening comments about the previous week's opponent, Alcorn State.

KTBS-Shreveport's Tim Fletcher: Coach, have you heard from Maurice Clarett?

The (Ruston) Daily Leader's O.K. Davis: Or anybody associated with him?

Williams: No, the only thing I've heard was actually this morning on ESPN. From what I've heard on ESPN, it doesn't sound like he's going to play anywhere. From what they said, Ohio State has supposedly finished their report and they realized he had taken some cash - which would probably make him ineligible anywhere he would go. That's what I heard this morning on ESPN.

Davis: So he's not going to Southern, either.

Williams: That's good news. (GSU assistants) Coach Spears and I, Coach White and Coach Hayes, were in there yesterday talking about our game plan, thinking about our running attack, to take some pressure off Bruce Eugene. But now, we just got to go back to doing what we've been doing.

Davis: If that report is true, would most schools back off?

Williams: That would be out of our hands. All of that would NCAA's business.

Fletcher: What would be the advantage of him coming to Grambling?

Williams: We'd have Maurice Clarett - and a lot of other people wouldn't. We could use him. If you look at it, 1,267 yards and 16 TDs - I don't think Ohio State would have won the national championship without Maurice Clarett. I figure, if we had him, it would give us a chance to win a fourth straight.

Fletcher: What's the advantage for Maurice?

Williams: Gives him an opportunity to play and help us win a championship - and to continue his education.

Davis: Would you run him more than five times a game?

Williams: We would find a way to throw it as much as we ran it. We had talked about giving it to him 25 to 30 times. But all that was hypothetical. Now that we probably won't have him, we'll just have to throw it 60.

Unidentified television reporter: I'm just curious what your reaction was when you heard about all this.

Williams: Actually, it was surprising. Saturday morning, (Jacksonville Jaguars executive) James Harris called me - he and I talk all the time. Evidently, he and (Clarett family adviser) Jim Brown had been talking. He called me and asked me what I thought about Clarett. I didn't know exactly what he was talking about. I said, I think he's a hell of running back. (Laughter). He said, I'll call you back. The next thing I know, when I get home, you go to the Internet and find out that Maurice considered coming to Grambling. That's what James was talking about when he asked me what I thought. I was thinking that the Jacksonville Jaguars were trying to figure out a way to get him to camp. Actually, he and Jim Brown had been talking, if his family agreed and if everything was all right at Ohio State, that he could transfer here.

Fletcher: Jim Brown mentioned specifically how playing for you would be an advantage. How did that make you feel?

Williams: I've known Jim for some time and I've got a lot of respect for him - and he has a lot of respect for what we have done here at Grambling. As the adviser, he felt like Maurice would need somebody he could go and relate to a lot better than at other places.

(After several comments about appealing the NFL Draft rule and the next week's opponent, Alabama A&M, Williams gets up to leave.)

Fletcher: One more about Clarett. What's your plan now? Do you just sit back and wait, or you gonna call James Harris or call Jim Brown?

Williams: No, I'm gonna call (GSU running backs) Ab Kuaan and Rueben Mays. That's what I've got. (More laughter.) That's what I've got to work with. That's all I can do. Right now, Clarett does not bother me, because I never talked to him, never talked to his family, never talked to Jim Brown. I never imagined having the kid in the backfield, No. 1 -

Davis: You weren't going to have him this year anyway.

Williams: No. Even if he came here, he still has to go by the suspension that the NCAA imposes upon him. There was no reason to get happy about having him, unless it was for next year.

An athletics staff member or other representative of the institution's athletics interest shall not make contact with the student-athlete of another NCAA or NAIA four-year collegiate institution, directly or indirectly, without first obtaining the written permission of the first institution's athletics director (or an athletics administrator designated by the athletics director) to do so, regardless of who makes the initial contact. If permission is not granted, the second institution shall not encourage the transfer and the institution shall not provide financial assistance to the student-athlete until the student-athlete has attended the second institution for one academic year. If permission is granted to contact the student athlete, all applicable NCAA recruiting rules apply.

Dear Mr. Dennis,
This is in regard to information that was obtained by this office, which indicates a violation of NCAA recruiting legislation may have occurred in the institution's football program.

Specifically, in an online article of The News-Star on September 9, 2003, and during a televised press conference on September 10, 2003, head football coach Doug Williams indirectly contacted four-year college prospective student-athlete Maurice Clarett. In the article and during the press conference, Mr. Williams confirmed his interest in having Mr. Clarett transfer to the institution and discussed how Mr. Clarett's talent would be a valuable asset to the football program. Unless the institution previously had received written permission to contact Mr. Clarett from Ohio State University, it appears a violation of NCAA Bylaw has occurred. If written permission to contact had been received from Ohio State University, then Mr. Williams' comments appear to have violated NCAA Bylaws 13.11.6 and/or 13.11.8

In order that complete and accurate information is on file with the enforcement department, it would be appreciated if you would review this information and submit the results of our inquiry into writing. In responding, please provide a statement indicating whether the above information is accurate. In order to support your response, please provide (1) a statement from Mr. Williams; (2) a copy of the permission to contact form provided by Ohio State University to the institution, if any; and (3) a statement indicating whether the institution believes it has violated NCAA legislation in this matter.

I appreciate your assistance in the review of this matter. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely, Christopher S. Strobel Director of Enforcement for Secondary Infractions

Note: The bylaws 13.11.6 and/or 13.11.8 do not apply to Grambling State, because the school says it does not have written permission from Ohio State to talk to Clarett. These rules, in general, deal with the way signings are announced to the media once permission has been granted.

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Williams says talk about Clarett helped university
September 25, 2003
By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - "People are talking about Grambling," sixth-year coach Doug Williams said, smiling and shaking his head at more talk of Maurice Clarett - a story that broke over this tiny country school like a thunderclap.

Williams was congenial over the past few weeks - answering every question about the troubled Ohio State star, often tossing out one-liners, regularly reminding all those assembled that he hadn't spoken to Clarett and trying to turn the conversation back to the games at hand.

Still, the questions came.

Are you going to call Maurice Clarett?

No, I'm going to call (GSU running backs) Ab Kuuan and Reuben Mays.

Have you heard from Maurice Clarett?

My lines must be down. They ain't ringing.

Now, it appears Williams shouldn't have been so quick with the quip. The NCAA has made an inquiry, saying Williams' comments to the media might be a violation of their recruiting regulations.

"I think the NCAA is too serious about finding a violation," Williams said. "The rule they cite is so vague."

They call it indirect contact - a no-no, because schools are forbidden by rule from talking to athletes without permission from their current university's administrators.

Williams calls it PR.

"It was spreading like wildfire," Williams said of the news. "I don't know if the university really understands the impact of the publicity that Grambling got. We were across the country every day! That was good publicity."

He's defiant in his denial of tampering: "I didn't call him. He didn't call me."

That wasn't the point.

Now, there is no question that Williams would have been happy to have Clarett - baggage or no baggage.

Williams hasn't brought GSU back to SWAC dominance - back to challenging the nation's best Division I-AA school until the waning moments of last Saturday's game - with players of destiny.

He's done it with players who've had problems - but, more importantly, had desire.

Williams and his coordinators have coached up for so long, it is hard to believe their offices haven't levitated to the top floor of the Stadium Support Facility.

It wasn't always like that.

Eddie Robinson's GSU was a flickering beacon of opportunity, the place where the best and brightest of those under America's boot heel came to make their names.

But, as this country moved deeper into the second half of the last century, different opportunities opened up for blacks. The desire to win overcame other, more hateful impulses. African-Americans not only were recruited, but starred on college teams in towns where they once dared not stop for gas.

This coincided with the fading of the Southwestern Athletic Conference as a place where the obvious black talents resided.

The Doug Williamses, the Walter Paytons, the Jerry Rices, the Steve McNairs came along less frequently. They didn't have to play at historically black schools to get noticed.

There's an oddly powerful joy in that - if only because every athlete is now entitled to an audition, if not a place in the team photo.

It's odd, though, because - as with everything in America - there was a cost: With a vast majority of what they call "draftables" already cashing in on scholarships from schools that promise an alphabet soup of success (TV, PR and BCS), what's left for Grambling?

GSU is not going to get a Maurice Clarett on the way up. They're going to get him on the way down, if they get him at all.

In the modern period, the Tigers win or lose with those who are left. Lately, it's been mostly winning - thus, Clarett's apparent interest in transferring to GSU after a rocky end at Ohio State.
He wasn't coming. We now know that.

Williams looked like he knew it from the beginning, so he was enjoying the spotlight as it dilated on his alma mater.

He considered the hullabaloo much about something, all right: Recruiting. And not Maurice Clarett.

Robinson constructed the Grambling legend with the pick of the African-American talent pool. But a Buck Buchanan (the first pick in the 1963 AFL draft) or a Tank Younger (the future four-time NFL Pro Bowler between 1951-55) may as well be biblical figures to today's youngsters.

You've got to do whatever you can, Williams says, to get the word out about your program - even a storied one like Grambling State.

Willie Davis? Charlie Joiner?? Heck, the average new recruits were learning their ABCs when Doug was hoisting the Super Bowl MVP trophy with Washington.

But Clarett, without ever running a single yard, gave Grambling State currency. Kids today would notice if collegiate football's best runner last year - the national championship's crowned prince - was even hinting at joining this country school.

It meant Grambling State had arrived. Again.

The news of this inquiry will travel just as fast, marking as it does the first time Williams has stepped into any possible NCAA trouble as a head coach at GSU.

Should something come of this initial investigation, it could hurt Williams' chances at moving on to a job at a larger program. Generally, the toughest NCAA sanctions for a I-AA school involve limiting recruitment - a particularly cruel irony.

But, for now, it's hard to argue with Williams' logic: "I'm trying to help my school. The NCAA probably needs to be dealing with something else, you know? Clarett never went to class here. He didn't get stopped here in his car. There are a whole lot of other things they need to worry about, rather than Grambling."

Nick Deriso is sports editor at The News-Star, 411 N. Fourth St., Monroe, La., 71201. An online archive of his columns is at www. You can contact him at (318) 362-0234 or at

The NCAA inquiry specifically mentions a story posted Sept. 9 at Here are Grambling State coach Doug Williams' comments from that piece:

"That's been the talk of the day," Williams said, chuckling. "We've gotten calls from all over."

"Grambling brings national visibility, even if we are I-AA. Scouts are coming here every day. That means he's getting everything that he would have gotten there - except 100,000 people at the game."

"We don't have a Maurice Clarett. It would be a big difference. It would take a lot of pressure off of (GSU quarterback) Bruce (Eugene). There's nothing I can do, but keep my phone line clear."

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Grambling: NCAA problems began with jersey
September 26, 2003
GRAMBLING- While the NCAA apparently views the event as "isolated or inadvertent" - and, thus, not as serious - Grambling State coach Doug Williams still can't believe he got in trouble over a jersey.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has begun an inquiry into possible "indirect contact" with Maurice Clarett at GSU.

The NCAA specifically mentioned a news conference - part of which later aired nationally on ESPN - where Williams entered carrying a Grambling State jersey with the suspended Ohio State runner's number on it.

"What," Williams said, "is `indirectly contacting' someone? If I had talked to (Clarett family adviser) Jim Brown and said: `We want him.' That's contacting him. But holding up a jersey? Something is wrong with this picture."

Prospective schools must get permission from an athlete's current athletics director before they can talk to transfers. Brown had said publicly that he favored a transfer down to Division I-AA Grambling State for the soon-to-be-suspended star.

"I came in a little light-heartedly," Williams said. "I knew a lot questions were going to be coming about the Clarett situation."

The good news for Grambling State is that the infraction has been referred to Chris Strobel, who is the NCAA's director of enforcement for secondary infractions.

There is a significantly lower threshold of penalty for those violations. Post-season penalties, for instance, are reserved for major infractions.

"We won't have any comments about the specific situation," said Kay Hawes, the NCAA's associate director of media relations. "It's NCAA policy not to comment on current and on-going investigations."

But being as the letter came out of the office of secondary infractions, what is at stake for GSU comes into sharper focus.

A secondary infraction, as defined in the NCAA Bylaw 19.02.2, "is one that is isolated or inadvertent in nature, provides or is intended to provide only a minimal recruiting, competitive or other advantage and does not include any significant recruiting inducement or extra benefit."

Like holding a jersey up in a news conference.

"It shouldn't have even been an issue with Grambling," Williams said. "That jersey did not have `Clarett' on it. If I had put his name on the back of the jersey, that would have been a different thing. I would have agreed with them wholeheartedly."

As outlined in NCAA Bylaw 19.5.1, the stiffest sentence handed down for these lower-level infractions would involve Williams - who could be restricted from recruiting trips for one year or perhaps suspended for one or more games.

The school could also face fines up to $5,000 or lose financial aid scholarships. Most of the other penalties do not apply because Clarett never suited up for Grambling State.

Still, those are a lot of possible headaches over the exhibition of a jersey, something Williams said was meant to be a joke.

"We have a No. 13 in every color," he said. "That's the bottom line. We didn't go out and buy it."

Yet, GSU officials contend that this footage, recorded at a local news conference then shown on ESPN, is largely responsible for the NCAA inquiry.

"It makes it look like, the way ESPN showed it, that he was saying that we want Clarett," athletics director Al Dennis said. "That jersey belongs to our punter, Darien Morgan."

Williams has one more bone to pick: The tape didn't include his comments.

"Not a word was spoken," Williams said, meaning the NCAA couldn't have known the context to go with those images. "All they saw was No. 13 - and they interpreted it any way they wanted to."

While no deadline has been set for GSU's response, Dennis said he hopes to have the school's response ready to send today.

Also mentioned in the letter of inquiry was a related story posted at on Sept. 9, called "A Wait for Greatness."

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Grambling avoids NCAA penalties
December 20, 2003
The NCAA, as first reported at, has completed its inquiry into comments about troubled running back Maurice Clarett made by Grambling State University coach Doug Williams and will not penalize the school.

GSU is, however, required to give updated training on indirect contact with a prospective player and review NCAA policy on recruiting, GSU athletics director Al Dennis said.

Kay Hawes, the National Collegiate Athletic Association's associate director of media relations, said the association has a standing policy not to comment on investigations.

"They disagreed with us that there was a secondary violation," Dennis said of the NCAA. "So, we will go back over our education process and use that press conference as an example to show how things can go wrong."

Lane Howell, the school's rules compliance officer, will touch on these rules during monthly meetings.

The NCAA issued a letter of inquiry to GSU on Sept. 15 after Williams answered interview questions concerning the possible transfer of the former Ohio State running back. The school was asked to explain comments first published by The News-Star's Web site - and images that later appeared on ESPN.

The inquiry referred to a section of the regulations stipulating that colleges may not contact a student-athlete at another NCAA or NAIA four-year institution - even indirectly - without written permission from the player's current athletics director.

"Our intent was never to make contact with the young man," Dennis said. "But because of the way the report went out, they still felt it was a violation."

The NCAA reviewed a tape of the Sept. 9 news conference, a printed transcript and other material submitted by Grambling State before ruling that a secondary infraction occurred.

These infractions, as defined in the NCAA Bylaw 19.02.2, are those that are "isolated or inadvertent in nature, provide or are intended to provide only a minimal recruiting, competitive or other advantage and do not include any significant recruiting inducement or extra benefit."

There is a significantly lower threshold of penalty for secondary violations. Post-season penalties, for instance, are reserved for major infractions.

As outlined in NCAA Bylaw 19.5.1, the stiffest sentence handed down for these lower-level infractions would have involved Williams - who could have been restricted from recruiting trips for one year or perhaps suspended for one or more games. The school could also have faced fines up to $5,000 or lost financial aid scholarships.

Williams has said he suspects that entering the news conference while carrying a No. 13 Grambling jersey sparked the inquiry. Clarett, who then was reportedly considering a transfer and remains suspended from the Ohio State football team, wore that number.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Recruiting: Grambling's 2008 signing day class

Here are Grambling State University's announced football signees, with same-day analysis, from National Signing Day in February 2008:

Grambling sought to solve its problems up front
February 7, 2008

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING -- Grambling State wore down up front last season, ending 2007 by losing its final three games.

That made second-year GSU coach Rod Broadway's mission clear as National Signing Day approached.

Offensive linemen, and more offensive linemen. And more offensive linemen.

"We took guys that we thought could come in and help us," Broadway said. "We didn't go out and just recruit. We knew we had to go out and get some linemen -- which we did."

Did they ever.

Grambling signed three Louisiana offensive linemen -- including Marksville's Demetrius Porter and Darius Rose and Julian Wyndon, both of Captain Shreve -- along with Georgia product Sanford Banks and Alabama native Quint Roberts.

And that's just the recruits who are 6-6 and under.

"We got seven guys, and most of them are 6-4, 6-5 and in the 300 pound range," Broadway said. "They are pretty athletic."

Grambling also added two behemoths in Chris Beardon, a 6-8, 300-pounder out of Georgia; and Greg McGrue, a 6-8, 260-pound Alabama native.

"We've taken some steps," Broadway said. "We need to bring in five or six every year, with the shortage that we feel we have. We can't do it in one recruiting class. It's going to take a couple to really fix that situation."

Broadway also added three prospects up front on defense, and expects to continue to collecting talent on that line, as well. He held back four scholarships, and said he expects as many as two defensive linemen from Florida, where he was a long-time assistant to Steve Spurrier in the 1990s.

GSU is also still pursuing in a kicker in the wake of Tim Manuel's departure. A pair of quarterbacks will provide depth, and push for playing time, behind returning seniors Brandon Landers and Larry Kerlegan. Grambling also signed three prep players with experience at linebacker, another position in need of depth.

Still, it's clear the focus was on the offensive line.

"It's no big secret what happened last season," Broadway said. "We knew what our problems were, and we've taken some steps to improve them. We think we've got some who can come in here and play for us next season, and hopefully there are some who can play two or three years for us. Hopefully, we can get to the point where are not depending on anybody to come in and play right away."

Breakdown: 21 signees (15 offense, 6 defense)
Sleeper: Grambling came away with the area's best-kept secret, Rayville quarterback Justin Higgins -- a duel-threat to run and pass, but also to play and stay eligible.
Sudden impact: An offensive line that wore down late in 2007 has been radically remade.
One that got away: Grambling was actually pursuing a pair of kickers, a position of need, but ended Wednesday without one.
Instant analysis: Second-year Grambling coach Rod Broadway took a different approach than his predecessor, signing a smaller, more targeted class. He said he wanted depth a several positions, most notably on the offensive line, and the class perfectly mirrored that focus.

Brendan Crawford, 6-5, 205, Chapin (El Paso, Texas) HS: Passed for 2,207 yards and 20 touchdowns, while also rushing for 466 yards and nine more scores.
Justin Higgins, 6-1, 190, Rayville (La.) HS: Former Louisiana Class 3A MVP; threw for 2,109 yards and 21 touchdowns, while running for 967 yards.

INSTANT ANALYSIS: Crawford and Higgins provide the needed depth for a program entering 2008 with two seniors under center.

Sanford Banks, 6-5, 303, Carver (Columbus, Ga.) HS:
One-star recruit, listed at 5:93 in the 40-yard dash by Rivals called Banks the No. 68 recruit in Georgia.
Chris Beardon, 6-8, 300, Towers (Stone Mountain, Ga.) HS: A one-star prospect; a 2008 DeKalb County Football Coaches Association All-Star.
Greg McGrue, 6-8, 260, Huffman (Birmingham, Ala.) HS: A two-star prospect, and ranked No. 34 overall in Alabama by Rivals.
Demetrius Porter, 6-5, 280, Marksville (La.) HS: Named Class 3A all-state; ranked as the 37th best prospect in Louisiana by Dandy Don's Football Recruiting Web site.
Quint Roberts, 6-6, 325, Anniston (Ala.) HS: Member of one of the top Alabama prep lines; participated in the 2007 Atlanta NIKE Combine.
Darius Rose, 6-6, 250, Captain Shreve (Shreveport, La.) HS: Honorable mention All-District; had previously committed Division II.
Julian Wyndon, 6-3, 315, Captain Shreve (Shreveport, La.) HS: An all-district performer last year for the 5A Louisiana school; helped his team to the LHSAA playoffs.

INSTANT ANALYSIS: Grambling landed a few big fish in McGrue, Beardon and Roberts. Good thing: The entire line is likely to be rebuilt.

Nico Brown, 6-0, 160, Jonesboro-Hodge (La.) HS:
Named honorable mention all-state WR; had 48 receptions for 479 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior.
Elijah Dauzart, 6-1, 195, Peabody (Alexandria, La.) HS: Earned consecutive honorable-mention state Class 4A honors at WR; had 500 receiving yards and nine TDs.
Myron Hobbs, 6-3, 185, John Ehret (Marrero, La.) HS: WR averaged 17.4 yards per catch; Max Emfinger ranked Hobbs No. 13 in his Louisiana Super 75.
Donovan Moss, 6-4, 240, Shades Valley (Irondale, Ala.) HS: Targeted as a first-year TE project; teammate of fellow signee Van Phillips.
Van Phillips Jr., 6-2, 205, Shades Valley (Irondale, Ala.) HS: Lettered in four sports; tight end as a sophomore, he then switched to receiver.
Rodale Pippen, 6-0, 185, Halifax County (South Boston, Va.) HS: ATH, with 2,000 passing yards and 25 scores to go 500 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns.

INSTANT ANALYSIS: Hobbs could work his way onto the field quickly. Pippen looks like the kind of eye-popping phenom who can tear his way through lower-classification football.

Michael Harris, 6-2, 240, Bastrop (La.) HS:
DT made 72 tackles with three sacks as a senior; part of three consecutive Class 4A state titles.
Devin Herd, 6-2, 260, Pineville (La.) HS: Class 4A all-state honorable mention; earned special mention honors on Jim Stefani's Underclassmen Recruiting Blog.
Sirderrick "Big Bear" Landreth, 6-2, 310, Huntington (Shreveport, La.) HS: A one-star DT; helped his team to the Class 5A playoffs.

INSTANT ANALYSIS: Grambling signed an all-Louisiana group in hopes of one day replacing emotional leader Jason Banks.

Maurice Crawford, 6-2, 245, Glenwood (Smiths, Ala.) HS:
Selected first-team all-state at linebacker; finalist for the ASWA Mr. Football honor.
Naquan Smith, 6-1, 185, Mays (Atlanta, Ga.) HS: Second-team all-city; played both SS and LB; reports 77 tackles last season.
Stephan McCord, 6-2, 180, McGill-Toolen (Mobile, Ala.) HS: Starting DB on the state's top-ranked defense; earned honorable mention all-region honors.

INSTANT ANALYSIS: Each could see early playing time, since the loss of hard-hitting safety/linebacker Zaire "Pitbull" Wilborn left a big hole in this defense.

-- Nick Deriso,

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Grambling recruiting notebook: Quarterback signees will make for intriguing fall
February 8, 2008

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — Rayville's Justin Higgins, the state's most productive prep passer, could change the complexion of practices this fall at Grambling State.

He'll join a stable of quarterbacks that includes incumbent senior quarterback Brandon Landers and backup Larry Kerlegan — not to mention new signee Brendan Crawford of Chapin High in El Paso, Texas.

And right away, too.

"We're going to give everybody a chance; you've got to prove yourself every day," Grambling coach Rod Broadway said. "Brandon is our starter, but he's got to keep getting better. Justin might be the guy to make him better."

Landers, entering his fourth year as a starter, also prepped locally, at Carroll High.

A dual-threat, Higgins is coming off District 1-3A MVP honors, having passed for 2,100 yards while running for another 1,000. The agile Crawford, taller than the 6-1 Higgins by four inches, passed for 2,200 yards while rushing for 500, as well.

"We're quite hopeful that we can win with Brandon, but we are going to give Justin a chance, and we will give Crawford a chance to play," Broadway said, "and we will go with the best one we have."

In the end, however, Broadway said the focus of this recruiting period was protecting Landers, not replacing him.

"Brandon is not our problem; our problem is up front," Broadway said. "That kid showed a lot of courage, even while he got the heck beat out of him over the course of the year. When we protect him, he's a different player. We signed a couple, but we think he can be the guy."

<B>Home, sweet home:</B><B> </B>Grambling, undergoing that radical reconstruction on the offensive line, offered more than the chance to start for prep prospects.

"I liked the surroundings," said Sanford Banks, the 6-5, 303-pound Columbus, Ga., product. "It felt like it was home."

Same with Greg McGrue, the 6-8, 360-pounder from Birmingham, Ala.

"Grambling had everything I had been looking for," said Banks, who also reported interest from Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Purdue and Southern Miss. "I really liked the campus and the support for me there."

Banks and McGrue were part of a seven-man class of linemen signed by Grambling on Wednesday.

"They told me I was at the top of their list," said Banks, who Scout said ran a 5.93 in the 40. "I think I have a great chance of starting, if I just work hard."

McGrue, a two-star prospect, was listed at No. 34 overall in Alabama by Rivals. Banks was ranked No. 68 in Georgia by Rivals, which gave him one star.

Like many of the new faces on the GSU roster, McGrue first became aware of the program through its nationally televised annual rivalry game against Southern, the Bayou Classic. Growing up in Birmingham, he also had a chance to regularly see Grambling — which has appeared in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game, held in that city, five times since 2000.

"I've been going to the SWAC Championship, and just about every year, it seemed like it was Grambling," McGrue said. "Between that and the Bayou Classic, you just got to know all about the program and its history."

Last season, Grambling reversed a 3-8 record from 2006, but finished on a month-long swoon that included losses to ULM, Southern and then Jackson State in the SWAC title match.

Banks said he felt a rebuilt line could help GSU finish turning the corner.

"I see that they are heading in a great direction," Banks said. "That's another reason I chose them. The only way they can go is up. Grambling had a great season, but they can do better. It will be up to us newcomers to help the upper classmen bring that championship home."

Alabama signee Van Phillips Jr., the tallest receiver in this signing class, has the size Grambling has so often lacked over the past few years.

His dad, Van Phillips Sr., said he was also impressed with how Grambling's towering legacy continues to play out.

Phillips Sr. said his son was impressed by "the tradition of Coach Eddie Robinson, the growth of the university, the wholesomeness of the recruiting process, the spirit of unity between head coach Broadway and his assistants, how he was recruited by linebackers coach Andre Robinson (a Birmingham-area native) and receivers coach Sammy White — and the way the president of the university remained with the recruits after his presentation. All of that was very impressive. Finally, GSU talked more about life after football — the importance of a college degree."

A one-star recruit, Phillips said he also drew interest from Auburn, Middle Tennessee State, Memphis and Arkansas State, among others. Phillips Sr. said his son had five scholarship offers from other Division I programs.

Here is an updated list, with biographical information, from National Signing Day at Grambling State:
OL Sanford Banks, 6-5, 303, Carver (Columbus, Ga.) HS: One-star recruit, listed at 5:93 in the 40-yard dash by Rivals called Banks the No. 68 recruit in Georgia.
OT Chris Beardon, 6-8, 300, Towers (Stone Mountain, Ga.) HS: A one-star prospect. Earned a spot in the 2008 DeKalb County Football Coaches Association All-Star Showcase.
WR/DB Nico Brown, 6-0, 160, Jonesboro-Hodge (La.) HS: Named Honorable Mention All-State by the LSWA; caught 48 receptions for 479 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior.
QB Brendan Crawford, 6-5, 205, Chapin (El Paso, Texas) HS: Named to both the APSE and the TSWA Class 4A all-state team as an honorable mention. Lifted Chapin to second place in 1-4A after passing for 2,207 yards, 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions, while also rushing for 466 yards and nine more scores.
LB Maurice Crawford, 6-2, 245, Glenwood (Smiths, AL) HS: Selected to the Alabama Sports Writers Association All-State First team; participated in the AISA All-Star Game. A finalist for the ASWA Mr. Football honor; also a member of Glenwood's basketball team.
WR Elijah Dauzart, 6-1, 195, Peabody (Alexandria) HS: Earned consecutive honorable-mention state Class 4A honors. Had 38 catches for 500 yards and nine touchdowns; also plays basketball. Dauzart added 24 receptions for 372 yards and five touchdowns as a junior. PelicanPreps lists him at 4.74 in the 40-yard dash.
DE Michael Harris, 6-2, 240, Bastrop (La.) HS: Made 72 tackles with three sacks as a senior; helped his team capture three consecutive Class 4A Louisiana state championships.
DL Devin Herd, 6-2, 260, Pineville (La.) HS: Named a 2006 Class 4A LSWA All-State honorable mention; earned special mention honors on Jim Stefani's Class of 2007 Underclassmen Recruiting Blog.
QB Justin Higgins, 6-1, 190, Rayville (La.) HS: Former Louisiana Class 3A MVP, is a duel-threat who threw for 2,109 passing yards and 21 touchdowns, while running for another 967 yards.
WR Myron Hobbs, 6-3, 185, John Ehret (Marrero) HS: One-star recruit, was an honorable mention Class 5A all-state selection. Hobbs averaged 17.4 yards per catch, with 732 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns last season. Max Emfinger, the respected scout, ranked Hobbs No. 13 in his Louisiana Super 75. reports a 4.52 time in the 40-yard dash
DT Sirderrick "Big Bear" Landreth, 6-2, 310, Huntington (Shreveport) HS:, which gave the 6-2, 310-pound Landreth a one-star rating, had him at 5.0 in the 40-yard dash. Helped lead his team to the LHSAA Class 5A playoffs.
DB Stephan McCord, 6-2, 180, McGill-Toolen (Mobile, Ala.) HS: Starter on the state's top-ranked defense; earned honorable mention all-region honors last season in which he returned two interceptions for touchdowns in a single game. Also ran track and played prep basketball. Brother of T.J. McCord, a Grambling defensive back.
OT Greg McGrue, 6-8, 260, Huffman (Birmingham, Ala) HS: A two-star prospect, and ranked No. 34 overall in Alabama by Rivals -- which called McGrue a "massive offensive lineman with superior strength." Euns a 5.4 in the 40-yard dash and, with an 18 on his ACT and a 3.2 GPA, is eligible to play.
TE Donovan Moss, 6-4, 240, Shades Valley (Irondale, Ala.) HS: Targeted as a first-year project recruit; teammate of fellow signee Van Phillips. A key member of his school's basketball team.
WR Van Phillips Jr., 6-2, 205, Shades Valley (Irondale, Ala.) HS: Lettered in four sports, while maintaining a 3.2 GPA. A tight end as a sophomore, he switched to receiver and began bulking up from about 167 pounds.
ATH Rodale Pippen, 6-0, 185, Halifax County (South Boston, Va.) HS: Mulitple All-Western Valley District honoree. Had 2,000 passing yards and 25 scores to go 500 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns last year. Rivals reports a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash.
OL Demetrius Porter, 6-5, 280, Marksville (La.) HS: Named to the 2007 Class 3A LSWA All-State Team; participated in the 2007 Baton Rouge NIKE Combine. Ranked as the 37th best prospect in Louisiana by Dandy Don's Football Recruiting Web site.
OL Quint Roberts, 6-6, 325, Anniston (Ala.) HS: Member of one of the top Alabama prep lines; participated in the 2007 Atlanta NIKE Combine.
OT Darius Rose, 6-6, 250, Captain Shreve (Shreveport) HS: Honorable mention All-District. Had previously committed Division II.
SS/LB Naquan Smith, 6-1, 185, Mays (Atlanta, Ga.) HS: Second-team all-city and defensive player of the week by The Atlanta Journal Constitution as a junior, then honorable mention all-state last season. Reports a 4.53 in the 40-yard dash, with 77 tackles last season. MaxPreps also lists two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
OL Julian Wyndon, 6-3, 315, Captain Shreve (Shreveport) HS: An all-district performer last year for the 5A Louisiana school; helped lead his team to the LHSAA Class 5A playoffs.