Saturday, December 22, 2007

Selected 2005 Grambling preseason stories

Two veterans to compete for top offensive position
By Nick Deriso

GRAMBLING - All eyes were on competing quarterbacks Bruce Eugene and Brandon Landers throughout Grambling State's spring sessions.

They will be again in the fall. Coach Melvin Spears said he won't make a final determination on who will lead GSU's offense until after the arrival of heralded quarterback prospect Larry Kerlegan.

So these sessions, though upbeat, didn't reveal much about the offensive scheme for 2005.

"We'll evaluate the films, see how well we played. We'll look at Kerlegan when he gets here. But there will be no big changes in what we do," said Spears, who was 6-5 as interim last year after finishing with three wins in the final four games.

Eugene, a former two-time Walter Payton Award finalist, was just one of several injured players from last year who rejoined the offense - including senior receiver Moses Harris.

"Practices were a lot more up tempo," said Landers, who shot to conference freshman of the year honors when Eugene went down in Week 1 of last season. "We were moving from station to station in a more timely manner."

Talented newcomers from the 2004 season, like freshmen receiver Clyde Edwards and lineman Tavarus Cockrell, also returned as savvy veterans.

"Injuries last year meant our kids got an opportunity to play at a young age," said Spears. "We had 15 freshmen playing last year - and that's been the difference this spring. They had participated and could work on the little things now. They got better."

Eugene's heralded return, though marred by an obvious weight gain, was capped by a stellar performance at GSU's Black and Gold game. He was 19-of-34 for 275 yards, including three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Landers, on the other hand, was just 4-of-13 for 100 yards.

"I felt like it was a good spring practice, that there was good competition," said Landers, the former Carroll standout. "The spring game was tough for me, but you have games like that. We will go back and evaluate the film then go from there."

Despite that game's disparity, coaches insist that the position hasn't been filled yet.

"Bruce Eugene brings great leadership," said GSU offensive coordinator Sammy White. "His experience tell him to change the play, if need be. Brandon has different skills. When he first came in, straight out of high school, that was big adjustment - just getting used to the speed of the college game. But he's been working, and he's gotten stronger."

RB: Senior Ab Kuuan's MVP performance in the Bayou Classic - along with a sturdy spring game - has solidified his position as the offense's every-down rusher.

"He's become a complete back," said Spears. "He does all the little things."

Kuuan, oozing confidence, finished the Black and Gold scrimmage with 11 carries for 151 yards and a touchdown.

"He's starting to see the hole better," said Landers. "He's beginning to get a great feel for where he's supposed to be when he gets the ball. He's built a lot of confidence."

A bevy of talented change-of-pace runners back up Kuuan - including Michael Rainey, a newcomer who impressed coaches throughout the sessions with his toughness. Ruben Mayes, a punishing runner and blocker, returns at fullback.

OL: The loss of starting center Lance Wright, a team leader, and right guard Darryl Rodgers might have meant a steeper learning curve. But Wright had been out since the first play of the Jackson State game last October, when he went down with a lower-leg injury.

Cockrell got some valuable experience as a substitute, as did senior Chris Wiggins.

"They have had a chance to gel," Spears of the offensive line. "Wiggins is the most athletic guy out there. He can play all five spots, including center."

Left tackle Jonathan Banks, left guard Charles Wilson and right tackle Andre Bennett return. They will be bolstered by mammoth Mississippi State transfer Donovan Davis.

"We will have a couple of different combinations, with new guys who are coming in here," Spears confirmed.

TE: GSU hasn't had a reliable performer here since the departure of all-conference tight end Gershone Jessie in 2003. Coaches aren't that concerned, though, since their scheme doesn't rely on the tight end to make plays. Jerome Spears made two big catches in the spring game, but it appears Matt Feeheley will get most of the snaps.

WR: The return of Harris, who broke his ankle in the week before 2004's season opener, balances the unit across from the burner Edwards.

"Moses' conditioning is not where it needs to be," said White, "but he's coming on in a hurry. We didn't push him too much this spring. We want to make sure he's ready for fall."

Harris had four catches for 51 yards, including a score, in the Black and Gold scrimmage. Edwards added a 39-yard reception.

Henry Tolbert will play the slot. The senior caught three passes for 49 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game.

GSU's thunderous four- and five-wide sets will feature Reginald Jackson, Kovarus Hills and Paul Hardiman.

"Hills is pushing all of those guys," said Spears. "He's certainly going to be in that rotation. Paul Hardiman is asserting himself. All he's got to do is become a little more physical."

Depth chart
QB: Brandon Landers*, Bruce Eugene
TB: Ab Kuuan*, Michael Rainey
FB: Ruben Mayes*, Terrion Rodgers
WR: Clyde Edwards*, Moses Harris
SLOT: Henry Tolbert*, Tim Abney
TE: Matt Feeheley, Jerome Spears
LT: Jonathan Banks*, Derrek Governor
LG: Charles Wilson*, Jamar Dorsey
C: Tavarus Cockrell, Chris Wiggins
RG: Chris Wiggins, Tommy Dural
RT: Andre Bennett*, Doug Smith
* - returning starter

g g g
Replacing defensive line, secondary brings battles
By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Battles for starting jobs on the defensive line and secondary took a backseat to the ongoing quarterback derby this off-season at Grambling State.

Perhaps they shouldn't have.

"We've got a dogfight right now at defense end, with (sophomore Jason) Banks and (converted senior tight end Matt) Duhe," said GSU coach Melvin Spears. "There's a great competition there. But the good thing is they are all interchangeable. We can allow all of them to play."

Coaches also converted another offensive player, wide receiver Bakari Guice, in an effort to replace Lewis Carter at the corner. The junior was lost to a knee injury before spring sessions had begun.

Guice showed promise, as did Texas Tech transfer Ivory McCann, but the team jumped at an opportunity to sign Oregon transfer Marques Binns - who coaches say will push them all.

All-conference defensive tackle Lennard Patton, who sat out last season with academic problems, brought needed experience to a unit that lost three of its four starters - including Houston Texans draftee Kenneth Pettway.

Patton, who is already getting postseason game invites, lived up to the hype: He had seven solo tackles in the spring game, including five for a loss of 21 yards. Patton added four sacks for a loss of 49 yards and a safety, along with a recovered fumble.

The other spring starters were tackle Kevin Wiggins, Banks and Jena product Jason Hatcher. But then Matt came over from tight end.

"The big, big surprise is Matt Duhe," said Spears. "That light has finally come on."

LB: This unit was decimated by graduation, with the loss of Pettway, Marcus Yanez and John Petty. But no one played better down the stretch run in 2004 than returning middle linebacker Dimitri Carr. The Farmerville product finished as GSU's leading tackler.

David Hicks and Joshua Bester have emerged at the top of the depth chart on the strong and weak side, respectively.

But two other performers had impressive showings at the spring scrimmage: Tim Wilson had nine tackles, including five solo. Cedric Harris, a sophomore from Monroe's Neville High, had seven tackles, with three for a loss of 12 yards.

Linebackers coach Andre Robinson said Harris was this unit's most improved player during the spring.

"He's gotten bigger, after having a really good off season," said Robinson, himself a former consensus All-American linebacker at Grambling. "I'm pretty pleased with all of the guys."

Richwood product Michael Gilbert - who, like Bester, is a converted strong safety - has been working on both the strong and weak sides as a backup.

Out last season with academic problems, Hicks has also been playing behind Carr, but Wilson is Carr's main backup.

DB: Greg Fassitt, a smart junior from New Orleans, secured a starting position on one side of the defense, while the other remains competitive.

"Greg Fassitt can just flat-out play," said Spears. "He's got a 3.3 GPA, and does everything the right way. A model guy."

Guice, a product of Wossman in Monroe, showed steady improvement throughout the camp and will play nickel situations.

"Bakari has great speed," said Spears. "He just has to gain some confidence in playing a new position - and come to the weight room this summer."

While the school continued to sort through transfer problems for McCann, coaches continued tinkering.

Sterlington's DeMichael Dizer, along with talented newcomers Tyrone King Jr. and Deshon Pennie, were competitive. But GSU will also bring in Binns, the Oregon transfer.

"I think Ivory is one of the most promising guys out here," said Spears. "But we don't know now about his situation with Texas Tech."

Binns left with 61 tackles, one interception and one fumble recovery in 26 games during the past three seasons at Oregon. His best season was a breakout freshman year in 2002 when he had 30 tackles after a starter went down.

Zaire Wilborn and Jermaine Mills - who Spears calls "Mr. Consistency" - are the starting safeties.

Specialists: The team returns a stellar return tandem in Landry Carter and Keantwon Gray. These two combined to help lead GSU to the top of Division I-AA in returns for several weeks last season. Carter, then a freshman, was the No. 12 kick returner in the nation.

But the kicking and punting game is less settled. GSU lost Brian Morgan, the conference's top kicker last year, to graduation. Punter Tim Manuel returns, but he sometimes struggled through his freshman season - finishing ranked No. 9 in the 10-team conference.

Several promising kicking recruits are expected to arrive in the fall.

Depth chart
DE: Jason Hatcher*, Antonio Hughes
DT: Kevin Wiggins, William Nance
DT: Lennard Patton, Johnathan Favors
DE: Matt Duhe, Jason Banks
WLB: Joshua Bester, Michael Gilbert
MLB: Dimitri Carr*, Tim Wilson
SLB: David Hicks, Cedric Harris
CB: Bakari Guice, Deshon Pennie
SS: Zaire Wilborn, Bryan Langford
FS: Jermaine Mills*, Antonio Rainey
CB: Greg Fassitt*, DeMichael Dizer
* - returning starter

GSU buzz list
Signal-calling smoke signals: GSU coach Melvin Spears said no decision had been made in the quarterback battle, but senior Bruce Eugene was taking the majority of the snaps with the first team by the end of spring - and had the far better spring game.

Secondary consideration: Sterlington product DeMichael Dizer could work his way into multiple-set cornerback situations, and might even see game-time action elsewhere in the secondary. "He had probably the best camp of them all," said Spears. "He can play safety or corner, and with great speed. We saw a lot from him."

Hills climbs up: Clinton sophomore Kovarus Hills secured a role in the wide receiver rotation. "He got better every day," said Spears. "He's a Sammy White-type player, a game-time player. You can't really tell how fast he is."

Duhe gets defensive: Matt Duhe flourished at defensive end this spring. "He is playing," Spears said, "at another level." Like starter Jason Hatcher of Jena, Duhe is a converted tight end.
- Nick Deriso,

g g g
Guessing GSU's success
Preseason rankings quite varied for Tigers
July 1, 2005

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Grambling State is either one of the Top 10 Division I-AA programs in the nation - or has tumbled all the way down to No. 36, depending on the preseason predication.

GSU coach Melvin Spears sees both rankings as grist for the inspirational mill.

"I don't think it necessarily matters," Spears said. "It can be a pride thing, but you can't let either one leave you stranded in one place. Either way, it can be used to motivate our troops."

A middle ground might be found in's consolidated Top 25 preseason rankings, where Grambling - which finished 6-5 overall, but third in the SWAC's West division with a 3-4 mark - was a respectable No. 19. That was the highest ranking for a Southwestern Athletic Conference school.

GSU fared best in Street and Smith's, where writer Lut Williams had the Tigers at No. 9 in I-AA.

"That's a whole lot of respect built up over the years with Coach (Eddie Robinson) and Doug (Williams)," Spears said. "We've just got to play like a No. 9 team."

Grambling returns its top rusher in Ab Kuuan, last year's Bayou Classic most valuable player, as well as top receiver Clyde Edwards on offense. Former two-time Walter Payton Award finalist Bruce Eugene and Brandon Landers, last year's conference freshman of the year, are battling for the quarterback spot.

Street and Smith's preview said that returning experience makes Grambling the team to beat in the West this year, facing Alabama State from the East in the title game. It did not select a conference champion.

"The loss of Eugene in Melvin Spears' first game as head coach knocked conference favorite Grambling State for a loop," said Williams, editor of the online Black College Sports Page. "With Eugene back after being granted a medical redshirt by the NCAA, the Tigers will come in as West division favorites."

Still, GSU could only manage No. 24 in Lindy's Poll. Hampton was the top-ranked historically black college in that poll, debuting at No. 13.

"We just want to go out and prove them wrong," said Eugene, a senior who missed 2004 with a knee injury. "We know when the dust clears, we will be in it - regardless of preseason ranking."

The worst preseason ranking for GSU comes courtesy of the poll, which had Grambling at No. 36 - one spot behind Southern. The top-ranked black school in the AGS poll was again Hampton, at No. 22.

"A lot of folks are putting us down in the pack, because we've got some holes to fill - in particular defensively," said Spears, who lost five starters - though returning linemen Jason Hatcher and Jason Banks combined for 10 sacks. "We need to find out if we can play consistent football."

Grambling's overall preseason rankings were damaged by finishing 94 out of 120 schools in's final Gridiron Power Index for 2004.

That score is weighted down by the sometimes-weak SWAC's strength of schedule, something the GPI includes as a main statistical base. For instance, the Tigers only cracked the Top 20 in that rating system once (at No. 20, in 2001) during their 2000-02 three-peat conference title run under Doug Williams.

Still, the uneven nature of the talent in their home conference, some writers said, could easily spark another title run for the Tigers - though the instate Bayou Classic rivalry game always looms as a deal breaker.

"After opening with Alcorn State followed by Alabama A&M, the G-Men should take a 2-0 record into a payday game against Washington State in Seattle," said Steve Brown, a radio host who writes for "Afterwards, expect them to roll off six consecutive victories until they face rival Southern - where they could pick up their only conference loss of the season. Unfortunately, it could be such a loss that could thwart their championship hopes in a tight Western Division race."

Athlon, Phil Steele's and Sporting News, a trio of the best-known football prognosticators, didn't mention Grambling because they do not produce preseason Division I-AA previews.

GSU's star power
A trio of Grambling State athletes have been recognized in the positional preview series by The Sports Network's Matt Dougherty.

Senior quarterback Bruce Eugene, on the comeback from a season-ending knee injury in 2004, was named the No. 7 returning quarterback in Division I-AA.

"On numbers alone, Eugene could earn a spot in the top two or three or even No. 1," writes Dougherty. "Eugene finished in the top three of the Walter Payton Award voting in 2002 and 2003, and leads all returning quarterbacks with 84 career touchdowns and 9,122 yards passing."

Meanwhile, Dougherty named junior Ruben Mayes as the top fullback and senior Jonathan Banks as the No. 2 offensive tackle in Division I-AA.

"The mammoth Banks returns at left tackle for a Tigers line that boasts three players over 350 pounds," writes Dougherty.

GSU also swept Street and Smith's offensive and defensive players to watch in the Southwestern Athletic Conference for 2005. They are Eugene and defensive lineman Lennard Patton.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Remembering: The 2004 season

A happy ending
GSU overcame series of setbacks to finish on high note
Thursday, December 2, 2004

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - One collision in the north endzone of the Grambling State practice field, on the Tuesday before the season opener, summed up this year.

Texas Tech transfer Ivory McCann came down on the leg of projected No. 1 receiver Moses Harris. His ankle would be broken, and McCann's paperwork didn't clear. Neither played a down of football for GSU.

A season of lost promise for the Southwestern Athletic Conference's top passing attack would follow, as GSU finished 6-5 and out of title contention for the first time since 1999.

No. 2 receiver Tim Abney also missed the year with a nagging groin injury. Senior All-American quarterback Bruce Eugene then tore his ACL in Week 1. Center Lance Wright, a senior team captain, also suffered a season-ending injury.

The Tigers' offense never recovered from those personnel losses: After averaging 465 yards per game last season, GSU averaged 374. The Tigers converted on third down 45 percent of the time last year, but fell to 32 percent in 2004.

Scoring dropped by 10 points per contest. After totaling 57 touchdowns in 2003, GSU finished with 36 - three fewer than its opponents - this season.

But, in the end, GSU overcame its inexperience, both among its players and coaches, to fashion a winning season.

"All you can do is play with the hand that's dealt," said Melvin Spears, named interim coach in February after the sudden departure of sixth-year coach Doug Williams to the NFL. "Nobody knows going in that my quarterback is going to get hurt in the very first game. Or that two or three of the receivers weren't going to play. You've just got to play. And we've come out every week and done that."

With a hole now in his well-known vertical scheme, Spears struggled to adapt. Not until Week 9 did GSU settle into a pounding run game that would win its final two contests - including the emotional in-state rivalry game against Southern.

Perhaps that was expected.

"Over the past five or six years, this team might have had a good running game, but what we've done best is making receiving plays," said offensive coordinator Sammy White. "That got us on the scoreboard. That got us to championships."


GSU stumbled badly in its first two games with true freshman Brandon Landers under center. There were also problems on defense, which had worked under four coordinators in less than one calendar year.

Before he left, Williams hired Tom Lavigne to run the defense and Luther Palmer to work with the defensive line. Lavigne replaced Heishma Northern, who had filled in for Michael Roach when Roach abruptly quit early last season.

But Spears almost immediately fired Lavigne and moved Palmer, with whom he had a better working relationship, into the coordinator spot.

"When we came in this fall, it would have been nice to have spring to work," said Palmer. "But we'd only had seven or eight weeks to put in this new terminology. We were still teaching them how to do their jobs, and let every thing flow to them."

Former Grambling State great Calvin Spears then returned to coach the secondary - which vastly improved in technique, if not in big-play potential. That unit didn't make many glaring errors, but finished with eight interceptions for a conference-worst 1 yard - yes, 1 single yard - in returns.

But the year turned on offensive turnovers, anyway.

Despite Week 3's thrilling come-from-behind victory over Bethune-Cookman, Landers was, after all, a freshman - gutsy, but inexperienced and prone to fatal errors. He would lead the conference in yards per completion, but also interceptions.

So, the Cincinnati game may best be remembered as the moment when Spears began to trust in Landers' nascent promise a bit too much. Those mishaps would cost GSU some games - including Jackson State, when coaches called a staggering 46 passing plays.

It was easy to get lost in the upside, though: Landers was named the SWAC's co-newcomer of the week after accounting for 293 of Grambling State's 360 yards in total offense in the 24-23 win against Bethune-Cookman.

"The one thing that Brandon brings to the game is such poise," Spears said. "He took over that ball game - and I think the guys were starting to rally around Brandon Landers."

Northern was given the task of quarterbacks coach as Landers tried to make his way - and did an admirable job. By Week 11, Landers had settled down into quiet efficiency.

"I just want to thank the coaches for the opportunity," said Landers, The News-Star/Glenwood SportsCare prep offensive player of the year at Carroll High in 2003. "I've just got to keep studying film, keep studying every kind of defense that they can throw at me. I just want to keep improving."


The season quietly began to improve with stellar play by the special teams, where Northern did his best work as a coach. Not only were the Tigers second in the SWAC for kick coverage, Tallulah freshman Landry Carter shot to national recognition as he helped GSU to the top spot in all of Division I-AA for kick returns in early November.

Sophomore Keantwon Gray ripped off two returns of more than 90 yards in consecutive games against Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Jackson State.

Carter was named SWAC specialist of the week after he gained 240 yards in returns in the Tigers' win over Prairie View. But that contest would be marred by an on-field fight, which brought suspensions from the conference and fines for Spears from President Judson. In all, nine members of the GSU team and eight from Prairie View - along with an assistant from each school - were suspended. That made the Tigers' game at Mississippi Valley a more competitive affair.

Upon returning home , GSU continued to rely on its traditional pass-first mentality, even as the losses piled up.

Freshman wide receiver Clyde would earn co-newcomer of the week honors in late October after catching seven passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns against Jackson State. Yet, GSU fell in that game, part of an 0-4 year at Robinson Stadium.

"We were trying to figure out their motivation - whether that be playing in front of a national crowd, or just having pride in Grambling," said Calvin Spears. "It's not soul searching for talent. It's soul searching for effort. That's all we were missing."

Some of the blame for the offensive struggles could have been an over-reliance on the pass. The freshman quarterback was game, even in the face of so much adversity.

"Brandon has a lot of character about himself," said White. "When he fumbled the ball, or threw an interception, he kept his head in the game."

If Spears stayed with the vertical attack too long, he said it was the best option against the defensive looks that opponents were giving GSU. "We got everything that we wanted," said Spears. "But when you're in the red zone, your guys have to beat their guys. We just didn't cash in."

But no one could argue with the late-season success of this team's rushers. GSU's Ab Kuuan and Rueben Mayes grinded out 159 yards - and a startling combined average of eight years per carry - in a loss to Alabama State that was keyed on passing errors.

The coaches took notice. When the Tigers committed to the run, their season finally got on track. On the strength of that late surge in rushing yardage, GSU rushed for six more touchdowns this year than it had in 2003.

"We had to get 60 minutes of play out of this young team," said Spears. "Some of it was doing the little bitty things; it was execution. They had to buy into what we were doing. You saw that in the last game."


The capstone on the season was that Nov. 27 victory over Southern, putting GSU one game over .500. The Tigers averaged 5 yards per attempt and 279 total yards rushing in New Orleans.

"That is such an emotional game. There are reunions, the spectacle, the bands. But in the end, it's about football," said Spears, who will now become part of a national search to permanently replace Williams. "It comes down to guts, to heart - to the players who really want it."

The win was so transformative, as GSU teetered on a losing campaign, that the school sponsored a Wednesday victory parade then a party at Men's Memorial Gym on campus. Cheers of "Keep Coach Spears" broke out.

GSU's defense - which limited Southern to 300 fewer total offensive yards this year - slowly rounded into shape, as well. Opponents were held to 1,031 fewer yards passing, and five fewer touchdown tosses. Though the defense gave up a scant 51 more total rushing yards, there were actually 9 fewer rushing scores.

"Eventually, we are going to be very, very good in this secondary," said Spears. "Our team stuck together, no matter what was said. They may have been rattled sometimes, but they endured."

Grambling State, perhaps fittingly, scored 105 of its 294 points this season during the fourth quarter. The last quarter of play in this 11-game season was also the Tigers' best. GSU would win three of the final five games, notching its 51st non-losing season since 1945.

"I think it finished up in a way that showed how much we had progressed," said Spears, who is awaiting word on Eugene's application for a medical exemption. "We're going to look at it as building momentum. The seasoning of these freshmen makes our future look very bright - and we're getting some people back."

Final record:
6-5 overall, 3-4 in the SWAC.

Best game: GSU finally put together four quarters of football in the Nov. 27 Bayou Classic, rushing with consistency and making stops when needed. The coaching staff also showed the needed patience, sticking with the run-first game plan - even when Southern pulled ahead.

Worst game: Having lost, in quick succession, three of its best playmakers on offense, GSU stumbled badly at Alabama A&M on Sept. 11 - the only game this year where the Tigers weren't competitive. How bad was it? GSU, while its freshman fill-in quarterback was sacked six times for 54 yards in losses, was 0-for-18 on third down in the 21-9 drubbing.

Turning point: Falling to Alabama State on Nov. 6 ensured an unprecedented losing season at Robinson Stadium, but it also convinced the coaching staff that junior Ab Kuuan was ready to run. GSU would account for 735 of its 1,656 rushing yards on the season in the final three games - and go 2-1, including an emotional Bayou Classic victory.

Most telling stat: Senior quarterback Bruce Eugene's season-ending injury forever altered Spears' interim campaign. He played less than three quarters of football in 2004, yet still ended up at No. 4 for total offense on the GSU roster.

Most valuable player: Walk-on freshman sensation Landry Carter, a McCall-Tallulah product, did it all. Not only was he the top punt and kick returner, Carter was also GSU's third-leading receiver with 177 yards and third leading rusher with 211 yards. That helped him notch a team-best 1,046 all-purpose yards.

Top offensive player: Freshman Carroll product Brandon Landers, despite problems with ball placement that had the young quarterback leading the conference in picks, was a rallying point for the offense. His passing average per game was fourth in the SWAC - and his yards per completion, 17.3, was tops.

Top defensive player: The biggest loss on defense is senior Kenneth Pettway, a player of uncommon drive and intensity who would perform well both end and outside linebacker. He was second in the SWAC in 2004 for both sacks and tackles for a loss.

Top special teams player: Carter led Division I-AA nationally for several weeks on kick returns. He helped GSU finish the year atop the conference standings with an average of 23.9 yards per attempt - despite being kicked away from late in the season, notably by Southern.

Unsung hero: Senior kicker Brian Morgan quietly put together one of his best seasons, finishing 29-of-30 on extra points, 13-of-20 on field goals and second among SWAC kickers with 68 points. He also ably filled in on punting duties, averaging 36.3 yards per attempt.

Top newcomer: True freshman receiver Clyde Edwards, given the same jersey number of the departed record-smashing Tramon Douglas, displayed flashy big-play brilliance - and quickly earned a starting position. He finished the season as GSU's leading receiver in receptions, total yards and yards per game.

Emerging star: Junior running back Ab Kuuan, who coaches hoped would become an every-down runner in the offseason, exploded for consecutive 100-yard games in the final three weeks of the year - including a MVP performance on national television at the Bayou Classic.

Key injury: Senior quarterback Bruce Eugene - who led the SWAC in passing yards and total offense a season ago - went down in the season opener against Alcorn State. GSU would go from scoring 36.6 per game last year to 26.7, from passing for 3,853 yards a season ago to 2,452.

Returning starters, offense: (9) QB Brandon Landers, WR Clyde Edwards, TB Ab Kuuan, FB Rueben Mayes, LT Jonathan Banks, LG Charles Wilson, RT Andre Bennett, TE Matt Duhe and WR Zerrick Haymon.

Returning starters, defense: (7) DT Jimmy Zachary, DT Joshua Kador, DE Jason Banks, LB Dimitri Carr, CB Greg Fassitt, CB Lewis Carter and FS Zaire Wilborn.

Returning specialists: (2) P Tim Manuel, KR Landry Carter
- By Nick Deriso

Friday, November 09, 2007

Remembering: How ULM/Grambling happened

Nick's note: As Grambling prepares for its Saturday game against nearby Louisiana-Monroe, we take a look back at the two-year period leading up to this first-ever match up of programs located less than 40 miles -- but, when it came to football, worlds -- apart:

Grambling, ULM discuss gridiron clash
January 14, 2005

By Paul J. Letlow and Nick Deriso
Officials at the University of Louisiana at Monroe and Grambling State University have discussed a historic first meeting in football that could take place in the 2005 season.

ULM athletics director Bobby Staub said he stopped in Grambling on a recent drive from Dallas to visit with GSU vice president for finance Billy Owens.

The two discussed the potential of such a game, and conversation is ongoing.

"We've played them in other sports," Staub said. "I sat down with Billy three months ago to investigate the possibilities of playing

"The bottom line is that trying to find dates that work makes things problematic."

While both sides have been receptive, working out the scheduling matrix has proved to be an obstacle.

"The dates didn't work, but we agreed to stay in touch," Staub said.

Staub and new GSU athletics director Willie Jeffries have not met, but Jeffries said he spoke to ULM coach Charlie Weatherbie about playing as recently as Wednesday.

"We talked this week," said Jeffries, who arrived on campus Jan. 4. "We're looking into the game, and Monroe itself. We'd like to explore the willingness of the city's businesses to sponsor an event like this."

Owens said he is awaiting word from Jeffries on moving forward.

Although its philosophy involves scheduling more non-conference I-A home opponents, ULM has played host to Division I-AA teams from other Louisiana universities - Nicholls State, Northwestern State and McNeese State - in recent years.

Grambling State has played San Jose State and Louisville, both members of college football's top classification.

Staub said the game could be a box-office smash, long-missed at ULM.

"It's like the benefits of us and Louisiana Tech playing," Staub said. "It's a school 30 miles down the road. My bottom line is: Who can we bring in to energize the fan base, put fannies in the seats and generate revenue?"

Fans had a positive reaction, too: "The atmosphere would be electric and the rivalry could be extended beyond one game," said Grambling resident Paul Taylor, a fixture at GSU practices and games. "Not only could this be a classic game, but it would help ULM's bid to stay in I-A football with a sellout crowd."

GSU has been there before:

That 2003 visit to San Jose State - a market that has struggled to generate football attendance - helped the Trojans to their first sellout in 13 years. SJSU is a member of the Western Athletic Conference, along with Louisiana Tech.

The timing of these talks, even if an on-field meeting isn't arranged this year, is fortuitous.

In an interview with The News-Star published Sunday, University of Louisiana System president Sally Clausen said she would like to see ULM, GSU and Louisiana Tech compete against each other more often.

Meetings among the three have occurred only occasionally over the years.

ULM and Grambling have not played in men's basketball since the 1999-2000 season, while ULM and Tech have not played since 1990-91. Tech and Grambling have never played.

In women's basketball, ULM and Grambling played this season - but in a tournament in Mississippi. ULM and Tech have not played since 1998-99, while Tech and Grambling have never played.

In football, ULM and Tech last played in 2000.

Owens confirmed that GSU proposed playing on Oct. 17 or 24, but he said ULM couldn't make those dates. Switching Southwestern Athletic Conference games has sometimes been difficult for GSU, and could stall the proposal.

But if a date can be agreed upon, the next phase of the negotiations for a ULM-GSU match-up would involve compensation.

Grambling's budget depends heavily on checks from football games - away dates that often bring $200,000 above and beyond expenses, according to Owens. GSU would have to weigh the option of playing closer to home for a smaller paycheck, but with fewer expenses.

One solution could be a revenue-sharing plan contingent on ticket sales or attendance.

"I think it would be great if we could play," said Staub. "And hopefully we can work something out in the future."

Should the GSU game fall through, Staub said another I-AA team could fill a home date for the Indians in 2005.

"I've talked with a number of I-AA schools, including Grambling," Staub said. "We may look at a I-AA at home. If we can get a home and home with another I-A school, that may happen."

GSU meanwhile, is in a series of negotiations for games - including a possible trip back to San Jose.

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ULM vs. Grambling?!: Much obliged
Friday, January 14, 2005

By Nick Deriso
Thank you, Bobby Staub.

Thank you, Willie Jeffries.

Thanks for arriving here with open eyes and open hearts. To think, Louisiana-Monroe and Grambling State - just 37 mile markers apart down Interstate 20 - have never played football.

They could now, since ULM's Staub and GSU's Jeffries both say they are open to the idea. A game has been discussed for several weeks, with a date and financial considerations the lingering sticking points.

Both seem like small concerns after so much history has already been lost.

Imagine Heisman winner John David Crow coaching the Indians in 1975 against an Eddie Robinson team that included future Southwestern Athletic Conference Hall of Famers Doug Williams and Sammie White.

Grambling was founded in 1901; ULM followed 30 seasons later. All-time record on the gridiron: 0-0.


Apparently, nobody dared to question that before you guys, named athletics director at ULM and GSU in the past few months. Thank you.

This will inevitably lead to a discussion about the fading ULM rivalry with Louisiana Tech - if only because GSU would have to drive through Ruston to play the Indians.

But while the surface issues might seem the same - after all, is there a better way to spike revenue than with a local rivalry? - this proposal involving Grambling must inevitably have a different resonance.

ULM, whatever its actual racial makeup, is considered a primarily white institution. GSU is perhaps the nation's best-known historically black college.

Thirty-seven miles. Yet, so far apart.

But does that really mean they can't play football? No. At least, I hope not.

Looks like you guys, around football so long, think they should too.

Sure, people will always take sides in this game. But, at its best, that's not because anyone is white or black. Players of all races and religions are booed and cheered, benched and idolized.

Sports are a great equalizer. But you already know that. And I thank you for it.

Thanks for realizing that this dialogue, even if nothing has come of it just yet, is its own reconciliation for a town still shuddering from questions of race in a police shooting.

Jeffries, the first black coach of a Division I-A program, put things in perspective: "It's a football game, but it could be so much more."

Thanks for seeing that. For knowing it in your heart.

Now, there are stumbling blocks.

GSU has to have guaranteed money from its football schedule to float its budget, a situation that was complicated by the SWAC's decision to mandate nine conference games per season. Playing ULM must make financial sense.

Would GSU keep driving down the interstate, whatever the cash incentive, if it suffered a losing streak like Tech had against the Indians in the 1980s?

And what if, by some chance, the Indians lose to these Division I-AA Tigers?

"A game like this is a recruitment game, with the winner getting first dibs on prized Monroe recruits," said GSU fan Paul Taylor of Grambling. "It could mean an end to the coach at ULM if he loses."

Still, a possibility like this kindles so many larger hopes.

Can we make this work? Can we have fun doing it?

There are those Indians fans who might never venture to tiny Grambling to see the World Famed Tiger Marching Band. There are those GSU supporters who have never seen the wildly energetic coaching style of Indians coach Charlie Weatherbie.

They sit, in this conversation, not 37 miles apart … but side by side at Malone Stadium - as a community.

Thanks, most of all, for that.

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'Great for fans': Grambling to play ULM
First meeting for schools set for Nov. 10 at Malone
Sunday, February 18, 2007

By Nick Deriso
The University of Louisiana at Monroe has never met Grambling State on the football field.

Until now.

The two area programs will play Nov. 10 for the first time ever, in a match scheduled for Malone Stadium in Monroe.

ULM athletics director Bobby Staub has confirmed contracts have been signed, though details of Grambling's payout were not released.

"Any time you get to play someone in close proximity, it's a benefit," Staub said. "We were able to work it out in a way that was good for both of us."

The ULM-Grambling game will mark the first between area schools since the Warhawks were crushed 42-19 at home by Louisiana Tech seven seasons ago. That series was played from 1953-2000, with an overall record of 29-14 in the Bulldogs' favor.

The Division I-AA Grambling, meanwhile, established a pattern of playing upper division opponents over the years — a run that includes Louisville, San Jose State, Washington State and the University of Houston since 2000 — but has yet to face either of northern Louisiana's I-A programs.

"It's something that could grow," said Grambling athletics director Troy Mathieu. "It's essentially a home game for each of us, and that's great for fans."

ULM and Grambling were nearing a contract to play in 2005, but Staub could not come to an agreement with former GSU athletics director Willie Jeffries. The Tigers ultimately scheduled Pac-10 foe Washington State, and a subsequent stumble at Seattle was their only loss in an 11-1 campaign two seasons ago.

"The fan interest has always been there," said Sicily Island native Michael Watson, a 1977 Grambling graduate. "Now, the two schools have finally decided to take advantage of this money-making opportunity. This will be an economic boost to the northeast Louisiana region. The civic and business leaders need to really put a cooperative effort into making this game a huge event."

The Nov. 10 playing date comes at a key time in the season for Grambling, which needed an out-of-conference opponent to keep from sitting out consecutive Saturdays before its in-state rivalry game against Southern in New Orleans.

"I like where it falls on the schedule, in terms of helping to keep our players focused for what could have been almost a month between games," Mathieu said.

The Warhawks opened their 2006 season at home with Alcorn State, which — like Grambling — is a member of the Southwestern Athletic Conference. The Thursday night game drew a season-high Malone Stadium crowd of 18,106.

Staub said the success of that contest had little impact in signing Grambling to play this year.

"We weren't looking for any one conference to play against," Staub said. "You just try your best to start close to home, and Grambling worked out. At the end of the day, you are trying to sell tickets — and we think Grambling will do that."

ULM opens this season with Tulsa at Malone Stadium and is scheduled to play nonconference games at Clemson and Texas A&M in September — along with a visit to Alabama in November. Grambling has already filled its other nonconference date in 2007 with the University of Pittsburgh in a game to be played Sept. 8.

The Warhawks also play three Sun Belt Conference games at home. GSU plays Alabama A&M, Mississippi Valley and Texas Southern at Robinson Stadium, then travels to play Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Jackson State, Alabama State and Alcorn State.

Grambling's annual games against Prairie View A&M and Southern are played at neutral sites.

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For fans, ULM-Grambling game well worth the wait
Sunday, February 18, 2007

By Nick Deriso
Exuberant local fans are hailing a once-in-a-lifetime football game between ULM and Grambling.

The talk wasn't of a shared, but separate, history — but of bragging rights around town.

"At last! This game is long overdue," said Grambling supporter Michael Watson of Sicily Island. "I've been waiting on this game since my collegiate days in the mid-70s. We really used to run a lot of smack back and forth about a possible gridiron match up."

School officials have confirmed that ULM will play host to Grambling on Nov. 10, a first for the two teams.

"It could be an exciting opportunity for both programs," said ULM supporter Tim Holcomb, a News-Star fan blogger. "Regional match ups like this always seem to carry a little bit more emotion — and the large crowd that the two teams are likely to draw sure seems to make it a win-win for both schools."

ULM hit the gridiron for the first time in 1951, establishing a 225-333-8 overall record. Its 1994 move up to I-A followed a national championship six years earlier in the lower classification, when ULM was known as Northeast Louisiana.

Over that span, the Warhawks have won five league titles — four in the Southland (1983, '87, '90 and '92) and one in the Sun Belt (2005).

Famous ULM products include Super Bowl quarterback Stan Humphries. Heisman Trophy winner John David Crow also coached at the school for six seasons beginning in 1975.

For years, ULM's biggest regional rivalry was nearby Louisiana Tech, but that series has gone dormant since 2000. This is the second time school officials have contacted Grambling about an out-of-conference date; details couldn't be worked out before the 2005 season.

"I think it's a great idea," said Warhawks fan Chris Rightsell. "I think ULM and Louisiana Tech should follow suit."

Grambling got started much earlier than ULM, fielding its initial football squad in 1928.

Coach Eddie Robinson (1941-97) oversaw a Division I-record 408 of the historically black college's 484 all-time victories. No historical I-A program has a better winning percentage except Yale.

Along the way, GSU earned 21 Southwestern Athletic Conference titles. Seventeen came under Robinson, a coaching legend who sent hundreds of players into the NFL — including four Pro Football Hall of Famers and Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams, his eventual successor.

"Grambling's football achievements are well known, and the list of athletes it has produced over the years is equally impressive," Holcomb said. "For them, the match up with ULM offers the opportunity to evaluate themselves against I-A competition. For ULM, a game with Grambling would add another much-needed home game to our schedule."

Both schools have rosters dotted with local talent, creating still more intriguing storylines.

ULM signee Antron Mason, for instance, succeeded current Grambling starter Brandon Landers as quarterback at Carroll High in Monroe.

"I think that game happening for the first time ever is great," he said. "I've got some former teammates who play for Grambling — Jesse Smith, Desmond Lenard. It will be fun to play and fun to see."

Oddly, ULM and Grambling have faced off in other sports. They played a women's basketball game in 2004-05 and a men's contest in 1999-2000.

But never in football. That's made this game — even if the one-year contract is never renewed — an instant classic.

"Let's just say that the Warhawks better be ready for battle," Watson said. "We're gonna come to Malone Stadium to show y'all how to tailgate before and after a big victory!"

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The time that Grambling got a new arena

Nick's note: With basketball season -- and the first games played at Grambling's long-awaited new arena -- upon us, here is a look back at the facility's long and winding road to completion.

A welcome addition
Arena will offset gym's deficiencies at Grambling State
June 11, 2005

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Grambling State basketball coach Larry Wright looks around Memorial Gym, and he sees history.

Too much history.

"My coach played in this building - and I'm 50," said Wright, the Southwestern Athletic Conference's 1975-76 Player of the Year under legendary former coach Fred Hobdy.

He says the aging gymnasium, even with a sweeping remodel in 2002, is dragging down recruiting efforts.

"Renovation here is just like putting a Band-Aid on cancer," said Wright.

In fact, Memorial looms over the program, even though the men won eight of their final 10 games in 2005 to earn a SWAC Tournament berth - a finish that ranked Grambling as one of the hottest teams in the conference.

"The renovations have held up," said Wright, "but most high school kids have buildings that are better than this one."

His next comment is telling: "When I am recruiting a kid, I try to do it without him ever visiting this facility."

Wright hasn't made any prospect announcements during this late signing period. Yet, he finds hope for the future in a long-awaited new basketball building, which is finally taking shape behind Robinson Stadium on campus.

The project - envisioned more than 20 years ago during the administration of Joseph Johnson, who served as GSU president from 1977-1991 - will be capable of seating 7,500 for sports events, and as many as 9,000 for other occasions.

"A new building would help," said Wright. "At least the kids wouldn't choose based on a raggedy building. Not only will it help basketball, it will help the university as a whole. We just had graduation outside. That's not just an athletic issue. It would be nice to have parents to come in and sit in an air conditioned building for commencement."

The 135,000-square-foot facility, to be known as the HPER building, will feature an arena to accommodate sporting and nonsporting events alike. The men's and women's basketball teams will play and practice there, but the building will also include classrooms, administrative offices, banquet areas and faculty offices - as well as locker rooms, weight rooms, storage areas and offices for supporting services.

Meanwhile, Wright struggles to attract players who don't have traditional connections with Grambling.

Take starting junior guard Brion Rush, who averaged 17.6 points and nearly 31 minutes of playing time per game last season.

"It didn't make a difference about the facility, because his coach went to school here," said Wright. "We were able to get him for that reason. That trust. But those kids who don't have that history, we couldn't have gotten them."

Memorial isn't to blame for every lost recruit. Wright points to coveted West Ouachita prospect Anthony Ford, who signed with conference foe Alcorn State last week.

"We thought we had a shot at him. We really did," said Wright. "It seemed to me he just wanted to leave. I guess he wanted to get away from home."

Three years ago, Grambling installed a new heating and cooling system, plumbing system, and locker rooms in Memorial - at a cost, according to vice president of finance Billy Owens, of $2 million.

That simply slowed the inevitable, said Wright. A new facility, with modern amenities, is a standard facet in the recruiting process of today's young people.

"When I came to Grambling, years ago, I didn't care what I played in," Wright said. "I could have went to school anywhere, but I was coming to Grambling. Kids are not like that anymore. Let's face it, integration came and Grambling will not get the same kids that Grambling used to get. Willis Reed isn't coming. But the new building makes you feel better. At least you know you have a chance now."

Next spring - the targeted opening date of GSU's first new basketball facility in generations - can't come soon enough.

"I drive by it," Wright said, "and I know, somewhere, Coach Hobdy is very happy."

GSU program seeks area recruits
Grambling State was in the running for West Ouachita's Anthony Ford, though he eventually signed with Alcorn State last week. Texas Tech's Bobby Knight also lured Ouachita's Jay Jackson two seasons ago, then Richwood's Terry Martin Jr. this past off-season.

Still, GSU men's coach Larry Wright, a Richwood High product, has had his own local successes.

He signed Bastrop guard Marcus Watson - a member of The News-Star/Glenwood SportsCare All-Northeast Team - last year and has both Wossman forward Jamar Lewis and West Monroe guard Donte Gordon on the squad as seniors for next season. Vidalia senior Ron Ellis just finished his eligibility last year.

"We have talented players here, and we're going to continue to try to get them to Grambling," said Wright, a former assistant at Ouachita Parish High before taking over his alma mater's basketball program in 1999. "We hope to sign a couple of kids who are pretty good athletes. What we've got to do is bring in kids and keep them for four years - and hopefully, toward the ends of their careers, they have improved."
- Nick Deriso,

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Building momentum
March 17, 2006

By Nick Deriso
Grambling men's coach Larry Wright loses his best player with the graduation of do-it-all guard Brion Rush.

So why's he so optimistic about next season? The answer is slowly rising behind Robinson Stadium.

GSU's long, long, long-awaited Health, Physical Education, Recreation Building is all but done. (The project has been talked about around Grambling since the 1970s.)

In addition to housing the HPER department, this 134,573-feet facility will become home to the university's basketball programs and serve as a multi-purpose assembly center for hoops and community events.

Wright expects to tip off in the new gym next fall. He also expects to make the building a cornerstone in recruiting efforts in the meantime.

"They no longer can say we don't have the facility," said Wright. "That's part of building this program back to respectability."

Constructed by Lincoln Builders at a cost of about $19 million, the HPER building will have game-seating capacity of 7,500 - and approximately 9,000 for other events like graduation, which has traditionally been held outdoors.

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At long last, a new beginning for Grambling hoops
August 6, 2007

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — Larry Wright was recruited into Grambling State back in the 1970s with the promise of a new basketball facility.

Thirty years later, he was still talking about the proposed building when he took over as the GSU men’s coach.

In many ways, Wright didn’t know if it would ever happen.

He’d played at Memorial Gymnasium for the late legendary former GSU coach Fred Hobdy. Since 1999, he’s coached every one of his own home games there.

So the long-awaited 160,450-foot facility that’s slowly been rising on the western side of campus was all the more remarkable.

"It’s a dream come true, to see Grambling have a good facility like everybody else," Wright said. "Years ago when I came to Grambling, that facility was in the works. They were talking about it even back then."

A ribbon cutting and official dedication ceremony for the new basketball arena is set for 1 p.m. today.

"Finally," Wright says, still marvelling, "we get to see it open."

The project was envisioned during the administration of Joseph Johnson, who served as GSU president from 1977-1991, but it didn’t pick up steam until 1994 — when legislation was finally passed to issue $1 million in bonds.

Work never began. Another decade passed before $17 million in top-priority bonds was approved in 2004 to fund construction, with another $6.75 million set aside for use when needed.

The Shreveport-based Newman Marchive Partnership firm then began consctruction two years ago.

It’s about more than basketball, though. The arena also houses the university’s kinesiology sport and leisure studies department, faculty offices, the athletic ticket office, a weight room, dance studio, concessions areas and the team store.

A crowd of more than 6,000 was given a sneak preview of the facility during local memorial services for the GSU’s late former football coach Eddie Robinson last month.

So finally will the next group of Grambling hoops recruits, a long-made promise turned real.

"When you go into a kid’s home, you can talk to them about the school, the tradition of your school, and everything else," Wright said, "but in the end that kid wants to see where we are going to play. To have to take a kid to our former gym, it was not up to par with what everybody else has. At one time, Memorial was one of the best facilities in our conference. But now it’s the worst. We are just glad to have a new one."

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It's home, sweet home for GSU basketball teams
Ribbon-cutting for new facility set to be held today
May 19, 2007

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING -- Larry Wright was recruited into Grambling State back in the 1970s with the promise of a new basketball facility.

Thirty years later, he was still talking about the proposed building when he took over as the GSU men's coach.

In many ways, Wright didn't know if it would ever happen.

He'd played at Memorial Gymnasium for the late legendary former GSU coach Fred Hobdy. Since 1999, he's coached every one of his own home games there.

So the long-awaited 160,450-foot facility that's slowly been rising on the western side of campus was all the more remarkable.

"It's a dream come true, to see Grambling have a good facility like everybody else," Wright said. "Years ago when I came to Grambling, that facility was in the works. They were talking about it even back then."

A ribbon cutting and official dedication ceremony for the new basketball arena is set for 1 p.m. today.

"Finally," Wright says, still marveling, "we get to see it open."

The project was envisioned during the administration of Joseph Johnson, who served as GSU president from 1977-1991, but it didn't pick up steam until 1994 — when legislation was finally passed to issue $1 million in bonds.

Work never began. Another decade passed before $17 million in top-priority bonds was approved in 2004 to fund construction, with another $6.75 million set aside for use when needed.

The Shreveport-based Newman Marchive Partnership firm then began construction two years ago.

It's about more than basketball, though. The arena also houses the university's kinesiology sport and leisure studies department, faculty offices, the athletic ticket office, a weight room, dance studio, concessions areas and the team store.

A crowd of more than 6,000 was given a sneak preview of the facility during local memorial services for the GSU's late former football coach Eddie Robinson last month.

So finally will the next group of Grambling hoops recruits, a long-made promise turned real.

"When you go into a kid's home, you can talk to them about the school, the tradition of your school, and everything else," Wright said, "but in the end that kid wants to see where we are going to play. To have to take a kid to our former gym, it was not up to par with what everybody else has. At one time, Memorial was one of the best facilities in our conference. But now it's the worst. We are just glad to have a new one."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Remembering: Grambling enters period of turmoil

Nick's note: This was, of course, just the beginning of a remarkable period of change for Grambling at the dawn of the administration of school president Horace Judson (pictured at right). In the four years that followed, Grambling would see Willie Jeffries come and go as athletics director, followed by an interim and then Troy Mathieu. Spears would be let go in 2006 and replaced by Rod Broadway. Then, in a series of shattering losses over an eight-month period, Grambling would mark the passings of seminal legends Collie J. Nicholson (September 2006) -- who is extensively quoted in the following piece -- then Ernie Ladd (March 2007) and Eddie Robinson (April 2007).

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Back to earth
The good ol' days of steadiness in the GSU athletics department are over.
July 12, 2004

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Will Grambling State ever again see the bedrock stability it once knew?

Not in today's topsy-turvy world, said Collie J. Nicholson, the sports information director at GSU for 30 years, beginning in 1948.

But even Nicholson is taken back by 2004's evolving situation. "There have been changes made over the years," he said, "but not to this degree."

A year ago, fans of the Grambling State football program were still savoring a third consecutive Southwestern Athletic Conference championship.

The Tigers didn't add a fourth - finishing with a respectable nine wins, but still one game short of the 2003 SWAC title game in Birmingham.

A year ago, Michael Roach, coordinator for each of those championship teams, was running GSU's defense. One game into the 2003 season, he resigned - citing personal and family concerns.

A year ago, receiver Tramon Douglas had just broken future Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerry Rice's conference record for receiving yards. An off-season injury would so alter his senior season that Douglas would go undrafted by the NFL.

Heishma Northern, in his sixth season at Grambling as coach of defensive backs and special teams, took over for Roach. Defensive line coach Gabe Northern, in his third season with the Tigers, handled the linebackers last season.

But as 2004 dawned, Heishma Northern was not asked to continue as defensive coordinator. Gabe Northern was fired.

Coach Doug Williams, the architect of GSU's first SWAC titles and first winning seasons since 1994, hired Tom Lavigne as defensive coordinator - but would resign his post before Lavigne took over. Williams is now with the NFL's Tampa Bay franchise.

Lavigne, a GSU graduate, was subsequently fired by interim head coach Melvin Spears, Williams' long-time offensive coordinator and assistant head coach.

A year ago, Albert Dennis III - a former player whose father was also one of Robinson's first team captains - was the athletics director. He had overseen three conference titles in football, the completion of a new baseball facility and the groundbreaking on a basketball gym.

But, after the University of Louisiana System board hired Horace Judson as new president for GSU, Judson fired Dennis on his first official day in office.

Then, an item on Spears' resume came into question - a situation that was apparently resolved after a trip to Northern Arizona University over the weekend.

All of this turbulence seems particularly noteworthy when placed alongside a bit of relevant trivia: Williams was just the second GSU coach since Franklin Delano Roosevelt's presidency.

Eddie Robinson had earned 408 career victories from 1941 through 1997, setting an all-time record for wins that would stand until last season - and he did it all at this country school, located in the hills of western Lincoln Parish.

Williams, his replacement, would coach for 51 fewer years at Grambling. A school that was the very model of stability has apparently caught up with the times.

"I don't think it will ever be as stable as it used to be," Nicholson said. "Things have changed to such a degree, that I think this is the norm nowadays."

Questions about a master's degree from Northern Arizona prompted Spears to travel to Flagstaff to resolve the issue over the weekend. A dean there confirmed to The News-Star on Friday that Spears had completed the required courses, but still needed to finish minor paperwork to receive his degree. His transcript was expected to be updated early this week.

"Really it's a question of having a degree posted, not having completed the degree requirements," said William Wright, chair of the department of research, foundations and leadership - in which Spears studied at Northern Arizona from 1993 until taking job with Williams before then 1998 season.

But that still leaves the question of who will be athletics director at Grambling State - and what all of this has done to a team that some expected to return to championship form in 2004.

"My first concern," said Williams, upon hearing that Spears' resume was under review, "is for those players. I pray for them."

So far, the team has tried to carry on as usual, said senior linebacker Kenneth Pettway.

"When it involves your coach, it's going to be on the players' mind all the time," Pettway said. "He comes in every morning, then to every workout every evening. He's in his office if you need someone to talk to. Then, when there comes a time that he might not be there, it's difficult for the team."

Judson hasn't officially addressed the AD situation since asking Dennis to step down more than a week ago.

While the school rebounded in football during Dennis' tenure, Grambling State hasn't captured the SWAC Commissioner's Cup, an all-sports trophy, since 1997-98 - the last year before Dennis took over for Robert Piper.

Left unfinished is an away game against Mississippi Valley, which outside promoters hoped to move from Itta Bena, Miss., to Chicago's Soldier Field. Dennis said just days before he was fired that GSU had still not completed negotiations on moving that contest.

Then, there is the opening for a defensive coordinator. Spears was reviewing applications before questions about his resume had him on a plane to Arizona.

"I've got applications coming in, but the administration hasn't signed off on the new job description for the position. Until that point, we are not ready to comment," he said last week. "A bunch of guys have sent resumes. Quite naturally, you're talking about Grambling, so a lot of people are going to be interested."

Despite such upheaval, GSU assistant Mark Hall still leads the team in a tough but reliable regimen of weights and summertime conditioning. Players say there's nothing more that can be done, during this off-season of change.

"It must be very difficult for them to understand that these problems are off the field," said Nicholson, major architect of the legendary Bayou Classic. "But they can still make Grambling proud."

A year ago, the path didn't seem so rocky. But Pettway says that doesn't mean the team is confused about what's ahead.

"As a team we came together and had a meeting," said Pettway, a 2003 transfer from Southern Arkansas who was this past spring's most impressive performer. "Our workout stayed intense. We still show up for running every day. Even though things are going on around the team, our goal remains the same: To win the championship. We are staying focused, even though things are going on."

Monday, October 01, 2007

Remembering: The debut of 'The Rob'

TIGER PAUSE: Grambling's Robinson Stadium opened 25 seasons ago with fanfare, blowout
September 15, 2007

By Nick Deriso
Football had been, more often than not, the last thing on Eddie Robinson's mind.

The longtime former Grambling coach's 1983 opener against Alcorn State, handily won but never forgotten, would be the first game played at a new facility bearing Robinson's name.

Not that Alcorn State hadn't been an entertaining, formidable foe. Still, even while his assistants tried to script a game knotted at 7-0 during halftime, Robinson was elsewhere — fulfilling the obligations of a dignitary more than that of a ball coach.

"It was a struggle for him," said longtime GSU assistant Melvin "Jim" Lee. "He had made so many sacrifices. He knew that the program would profit very much from a new stadium."
So, even while the game teetered in the balance, Robinson could be found speaking before a packed crowd outside the locker room.

"Things are happening today," he said, "that usually never happen while the person is living."

Grambling's suffocating defense, coupled with a canny misdirection on offense, would do the rest. The Tigers scored a trio of late-game touchdowns to secure the dominating 28-0 victory.

“Our team was excited about becoming part of history, the first team to play in the stadium named after the man that was our coach,” said Robert “Big Bird” Smith, then an All-America defender for Robinson.

Alcorn is remembered now as the first opponent to descend into Grambling’s unique, now-legendary sunken structure – but not the first to leave with a loss. Robinson would win a total of 37 games at “The Rob” before retiring 15 seasons later.

“Walking down the hill, it presented quite a challenge for any opposing team,” said Lee, an offensive assistant for 40 seasons at GSU. “One player saw the stadium and said it looked like going down inside Hades.”

Grambling’s offensive line had been decimated by graduation, leaving returning senior quarterback Hollis Brent exposed. Calvin Nicholas, a talented safety, was moved to receiver in an effort to replace the departed Rufus Stevens.

Robinson spoke with what appeared to be a shy candor about GSU’s struggles. He said Lee had been forced to tinker with the team’s fabled Wing-T offense – adding some I-formation looks.

Points, Robinson guessed, would have to come from running back James Robinson, the Tigers’ second leading rusher from a season before. He’d be joined in the backfield by Texas A&M transfer Ronny James.

“We’re going to use the ‘I’ as much as we can make it work,” Robinson said, in the days leading up to the game. “It just adds a lot to our attack, if we can open some holes.”

During the transition, Grambling was going to rely on coordinator Fred Collins’ muscular “Trees of Terror” defense, which went on to produce seven of the program’s 12 all-conference players that year – including first-teamers Smith, Reginald Pugh, James Polk and Ed Scott.

Robinson gave a stirring pre-game speech, Smith recalled, and his unit rose to the challenge.

“Coach made the comment that he never made a tackle, he never scored a touchdown, and he never won a game,” Smith said. “He said the wins did not belong to him. They belonged to the players – to (well-known former Grambling standouts) Gary (‘Big Hands’ Johnson), Doug (Williams), Sammy (White) and Trumaine (Johnson).”

GSU would have to take down a resurgent Alcorn State team, led by fellow Southwestern Athletic Conference coaching legend Mario Casem.

Grambling’s battles with Alcorn were already the stuff of lore, with Robinson winning or sharing 13 league titles up to that point, while Casem took six.

ASU, however, had been without a championship since 1979 – and was just 16-14 over the previous three campaigns, falling to Grambling in both 1981-82. Casem was building toward a final championship as a coach in ’85, though, and boasted six returners on offense and eight on defense.

He pushed Grambling to a defensive, scoreless deadlock through the initial quarter.

Alcorn sacked Brent seven times in the first half, totalling more than 40 yards in losses. GSU linebacker Mike Dennis’ interception return for a touchdown had been the lone first-half points.

All that talk of switching to the ‘I,’ though, proved to a clever Robinson ruse. Grambling rarely called the formation – and it was, in fact, the GSU passers who secured this historic first win.

Alcorn was apparently caught off guard.

Grambling's Hollis and Anthony Anderson combined for 247 yards in the air against a defense that would go on to lead the SWAC in 1983, while Alcorn’s two passers could manage only 81.

Grambling’s Marvin Thomas, Wayne Hill and Nicholas hauled in those second-half TD catches. Most impressive was the 91-yard streak by the converted defender Nicholas, who hauled in an Anderson pass on a post pattern with 5:21 remaining, and ran through a defender on the way to the final points of the game.

Meanwhile, the Grambling defense never let Alcorn past the Grambling 33.

GSU only allowed 44 yards rushing over the initial two quarters. Glenn Hall also added another pick late, securing the game with 1:47 left.

The flamboyant Casem, during a raucous post-game press conference, took it all in stride: “Playing Grambling is like making love to a gorilla,” he said. “You can not quit until he gets enough.”

Smith chuckles at the memory. “Opening day, we did get enough,” he said.

The Robinson Stadium stands already teemed with 10,000 fans as grand-opening ceremonies began an hour and a half before Alcorn took the field.

Then-Louisiana Gov. Dave Treen spoke, as did Robinson – who was supposed to be the guest of honor. An abiding humility, however, wouldn’t allow Robinson to completely inhabit the spotlight.

With him was wife Doris, their children, and his mother. Robinson talked about them, and about his players.

“When you say Robinson Stadium,” he said that day, “it has to mean every person who has played football here. This honor that has been bestowed on us is a great one.”

Built then at a cost of $7.5 million dollars, the facility was said to seat 22,500 fans and includes a unique tiger-inspired design on the chairbacks below the westside pressbox. Striped in the team’s familiar black and gold colors, “GSU” is spelled out in red – a tip of the hat to former Grambling president R.W.E. “Prez” Jones, who favored this accent color.

Smith, who had been a freshman recruit when construction was first begun in 1980, was among those who witnessed this remarkable transformation.

“To have an opportunity to watch that spot turn from a wooded area with a pond into a deep hole on our campus and finally into a football stadium was amazing,” said Smith, later a line coach at Grambling.

The stadium was originally named for the Robinson family, since state law prohibits the honoring of a living person. That is expected to change in the wake of Robinson’s passing in April of this year at age 88, the result of complications related to Alzheimer’s disease.

Treen acknowledged, during the opening event, that Robinson Stadium would always stand as a tribute to Division I’s winningest coach.

“We all know who the distinguished member of that family is,” Treen said. “Sept. 3 will go down as an historic date because we are here today to dedicate this magnificent facility to this institution, and to a person who is an institution – Coach Eddie Robinson.”

Getting there had been a force of will for Robinson, who battled through budget cuts that radically changed design elements – to the very elements themselves. A late-summer rainshower caused one side of the hollowed-out ground to collapse in a mudslide, threatening the opener.

Robinson, involved in every facet of construction, deeply felt each setback. But he never wavered.

“He put a lot being into developing that stadium,” Lee said. “There was pressure to keep it going forward. It wasn’t an easy thing – though it was well deserved.”

Grambling played Casem to a virtual draw while he was at Alcorn, though Robinson eventually opened up a 13-8 lead after Casem returned to coaching at Southern.

Robinson would retire in 1997 having amassed 408 wins over a career that spanned six decades to the early 1940s. Through it all, their mutual respect endured – as did Casem’s propensity for the quick, appropriate quip.

Attending Robinson’s funeral earlier this year, Casem attempted to frame Robinson’s towering presence: “He was like Mount Fuji in Japan. He was always there, and he was always majestic.”

Robinson will be remembered again, as Grambling opens the 2007 home slate on Saturday against Alabama A&M. It will be the first game held at Robinson Stadium since its namesake’s passing.

Smith said this place, even as three head coaches have followed at GSU over the last decade, will always echo with cheers for Robinson.

Robinson himself seemed completely aware of that part of his legacy, the one made of concrete and steel, as he left the stadium on opening night more than a quarter century ago.

The suddenly quiet coach, awash in emotion, reached down and grabbed a single blade of grass from the Robinson Stadium turf.

“That we should have been thought worthy of this distinction gives us mixed emotions,” Robinson said, “of humility and profound gratitude.”
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Lee's list: Best ever at 'The Rob'

As Robinson Stadium enters its 25th season, I asked longtime Grambling assistant Melvin "Jim" Lee -- who coached at his alma mater for 40 seasons after helping the Tigers to a 1955 national championship as a player under Eddie Robinson -- to name his Top 5 most memorable games at the facility.

First, there was a good bit of reminescing: "We gained so much from our time with Coach," Lee said. "We got a chance to see the country and a portion of the world. It was something that being in a smaller school, you never thought would happen."

Then, we got down to Lee's list:

Grambling gamely battled, but ultimately fell to A&T by two, 37-35, in the legendary coach's final home contest.

After 57 seasons, and a still-standing Divison I record of 408 wins, Robinson's remarkable career was through. Lee had played for him, then coached with him, for nearly 50 of those years.

"It was memorable because it was the last game, and what it meant to Coach," Lee said, "not because of way we played. The kids tried their very best, but we just didn't have the talent."

Grambling's march to a final national black college championship for Robinson included an emotional win over Jackson State, who had bested GSU in each of the previous two seasons.

Grambling won 34-31.

"We were able to have a really good game from Stevie Anderson out of Jonesboro," Lee said. "We beat them, after they'd had our number for years. That was a good team and a great game."

Lee remembers well TSU's "really big hitters," including future New York Giants standout Michael Strahan, then a junior.

The game, as was often the case back in the day with Texas Southern, was very tight. A homecoming crowd at "The Rob" brought additional intensity to the proceedings.

"We got down to the very last, and Gilad Landau came in," Lee said. "Two seconds on the clock, and he kicked it right down the middle for the win."

Final score, Grambling 30-27.

Freshman kicker Willian Wrighten, on his fourth attempt, kicked a 21-yard field goal with no time remaining to give South Carolina State a two-point win during a nationally broadcast Thursday night ESPN game from Robinson Stadium.

The first kick was nearly from midfield, a desperation move. But a series of penalties on Grambling, including roughing the kicker and offsides, eventually made this nearly a chip shot.

Grambling fell 15-13.

"We weren't satisfied with the outcome, of course, but it's certainly one I remember," Lee said. "What a game."

There has never, and may well never be, a more famous game at "The Rob" than this titanic struggle against future NFL MVP and Super Bowl quarterback Steve McNair.

Grambling scored and scored and scored, only to be matched stride for stride by McNair -- a senior who had never lost to Robinson and Lee. GSU won in the final tally, but barely: 62-56. And even then, the Tigers had to fight off a late ASU drive.

"It came down, again, to a last play with just seconds on the clock," Lee said. "Thank goodness we were leading by a few. That was a very satisfying."

Monday, September 24, 2007

Grambling greats: Clyde Edwards

Edwards steps in quickly with Douglas' departure
August 27, 2004

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING- Talk about playing like there is no tomorrow.

Grambling State's Clyde Edwards, a true freshman, is not only pushing for a starting position but can be found wearing departed All-American Tramon Douglas' No. 5 jersey.

In any other year, the talented Houston-Westbury High recruit might be redshirted. But not when the head coach has the word "interim" in front of his title.

"You've got to win now," Coach Melvin Spears admits. "But there's always a sense of urgency. One of the things that players really appreciate is that you let the best guy play. Seniority doesn't rule here. It's about playing on the field."

Spears took over after former coach Doug Williams unexpectedly resigned in February for a personnel job in the NFL. But Spears was only given one season to prove himself. School officials have said that a national search will begin to find a permanent replacement for Williams at the end of the year.

But in many ways the transition has been seamless: Spears had been Williams' offensive coordinator and assistant head coach for the previous six seasons. Not much changed - even if Williams' outsized personality is often missed.

GSU's conference-best passing attack, with Douglas' graduation, finds itself in a similar situation.
"The funny thing about our offense is that it doesn't revolve around a go-to guy," said Sammy White, who was promoted to offensive coordinator after seven years coaching receivers.

While Douglas had 77 catches, returning senior Moses Harris had 50. Three other receivers combined for 99 receptions in 2003, as well. But Harris will have to find consistency in his final season of college eligibility.

That's a common theme for a team that was behind or tied after the first quarter of play in half of its games last season. A notorious slow starter, Grambling State only scored more points in the first half on three occasions a year ago.

"What we have been concentrating on is getting our guys to play consistently, every down," Spears said. "If we can do that, then the season will take care of itself."

New defensive coordinator Luther Palmer has installed a self-contained defense designed to thwart the SWAC's high-powered passing attacks.

"It's more man-to-man coverage, rather than zone," said top defender Kenneth Pettway. The team's leading tackler in 2003, Pettway will split time between the linebacker and defensive end positions.

The active aggression of one of the SWAC's best defensive lines should ease the transition for a remade secondary that lost three of four starters - including the team's top interception threat in corner Octavius Bond.

"The bottom line is making plays," said Palmer, who joined the GSU staff after a long tenure at Virginia Union. "With the athleticism these guys already possess, all we have to do is coach them into technical superiority."

One game short of an historic fourth straight trip to the SWAC title game in 2003, the coaches focused on small details this off-season.

Personal responsibility has been the order of the day. Everybody has to tend to his own business this season.

"We're taking it one game at a time," Eugene said. "At Grambling, every game is big. Everybody brings their best game to our stadium."

Look for a more nuanced attack on offense, as Grambling State begins to fully explore the talents of junior running back Ab Kuuan - who narrowly edged out Eugene as the team's leading rusher in 2003.

Key rushing performances - including the first seven touchdowns by running backs - came in a trio of games after Douglas aggravated a knee injury in Week 4 against McNeese State. Two late rushing touchdowns then sealed a win on a rain-soaked field at Jackson State.

"We know the talent we have at the receiver spot," said Lance Wright, the senior center. "Every team we play has got to honor the pass. The run came out at the perfect time last year, when we needed to change the pace a little. Now, teams will have to respect the run, too."

But there will never be three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust swirling up from the bottom of Robinson Stadium. In a season where the future is now, a quick-strike offense still makes sense.

"With Bruce, the balance is going to tip toward passing," White said. "You've got to use your best players to the best of their abilities."

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Saving the day has been child's play for GSU freshmen
September 20, 2004

By Nick Deriso
CINCINNATI- Remember when they used to make freshmen carry the older players' shoulder pads back in after practice?

Now, they're carrying the team.

Witness Grambling State's first win of the 2004 season. Quarterback Brandon Landers hands off to Landry Carter, who runs it in from four yards in the third quarter on Saturday against Bethune-Cookman, GSU's first points on the day.

Defensive end Jason Banks also notches two sacks for 14 yards in losses.

Landers tosses a 46-yard scoring strike to Clyde Edwards to get GSU to within two points.

Every one of the playmakers mentioned is a freshman. GSU would beat Bethune-Cookman 24-23 on Saturday in the Ohio Classic.

"I couldn't ask for anything better," said Landers, a Carroll High product named offensive player of the year just last spring by The News-Star. The ... high school ... offensive player of the year.

"To be on the Cincinnati Bengals field, being a young player," Landers marvelled from inside Paul Brown Stadium. "I've waited for this my whole life."

His whole life. Landers was born on Groundhog Day, Feb. 2, 1985.

But we've never seen anything like this before: Kid's stuff is now the stuff of legend. Landers has led GSU to 32 fourth-quarter points in three games.

"Leaders," Landers mused, and he couldn't be more right, "are born."

Born in the second Reagan administration.

And not just Brandon Landers, who replaced All-American Bruce Eugene after the senior suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first game of 2004.

First-year Georgia running back Danny Ware exploded for three scores against Georgia Southern. Tennessee's Brent Schaeffer became the first true freshman to start an SEC opener since 1945. A youngster named Darius Walker might have turned Notre Dame's season around with 115 rushing yards and two touchdowns in a second-week win over Michigan.

Landers' first start was somewhat less glamorous. But playing through it made him a better quarterback in Cincinnati.

"They were sending six or seven people at me last week (against Alabama A&M)," said Landers. "So (interim GSU) Coach (Melvin) Spears told me that we were going to the shotgun (against BCC), and that I should be patient and stay with it. He put the ball in my hands."

That Alabama A&M nightmare included just 11 completions on 40 tries. GSU didn't convert a single third-down - putting freshman punter Tim Manuel just one punt away from the school record for attempts in a game.

"Bouncing back from a performance like that," said Eugene, "is all about character."

Alabama A&M was credited with a five sacks, but Landers was hurried and pushed around all night.

"He's taken so many licks," marvels offensive coordinator Sammy White. "To keep getting up, that says a lot about him."

Landers would flourish Saturday in the shotgun, a scheme that made all the more sense when senior center Lance Wright left the game with an injury.

"What we were trying to do was to take some of the pressure off of Brandon," said Spears. "When you get down a couple of touchdowns, you've got to keep passing. But we wanted to give him a better opportunity. At halftime, we told him: `It's your show. Show us what you've got.' "

But just in case the freshmen get too comfortable, however, note that Landers' first collegiate win came with some veteran help.

Junior Henry Tolbert made a key scoring grab to narrow BCC's lead to two points in the third quarter. And Eugene attended Saturday's game, encouraging the team during warmups and helping out with playcalling upstairs with running backs coach Vyron Brown.

"We're going to keep him around," Spears said of Eugene, laughing. "He'll basically be our cheerleader - and he'll also help us with Brandon."

Saturday's game was Eugene's first since undergoing knee surgery a week ago on Thursday.

"I can help him, because I've been there," said Eugene, who was given wide latitude last season to audible from the line based on what he saw on the field. "That hands-on experience will make a difference."

A Landers scramble for a quick 53 yards seemed to loosen up this offense in the third quarter. The team's biggest second-half adjustment had to do with confidence.

"Those are the intangibles that Brandon brings to the table," said Spears. "He had great poise. In the end, he looked like Bruce Eugene back there - and that's a good comparison."

The move into the booth will also ensure that Eugene can stay for the entirety of the game, without enduring whatever pain comes from standing on the sidelines. Eugene, who moved around on crutches, is applying for another year of eligibility on a medical waiver.

"Everything is progressing very well for Bruce," said Spears, who is also taking a more prominent role in the offense, after concentrating on the defense early in the season. "As he heals, we'd like to give him an opportunity to look at the game from a different perspective. Hopefully, when he gets back, he will have a better understanding - and be a better player."

You could criticize GSU's hard-headed focus on making Landers pass. After all, he had attempted 62 throws in five quarters of play before arriving in Cincinnati. But whether they ran or he threw, there was going to be a learning curve.

"When you lose your trigger guy, it makes you a little stagnated - until you get the new trigger guy in place and working," said Spears. "I knew you would start seeing an outstanding quarterback soon - one who happens to be a freshman - in Brandon Landers."

NICK DERISO, named columnist of the year this summer by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association, is sports editor at The News-Star, 411 N. Fourth St., Monroe, 71201. Contact him at (318) 362-0233 or at

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GSU putting its hands together
WRs Harris, Edwards form tough duo
April 8, 2005

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Grambling State senior Moses Harris has returned from an ankle injury. But that doesn't mean Clyde Edwards, last year's top receiver, is going to sit.

Coaches are using them in complementary roles during spring sessions, at the so-called X and Z spots, in an effort to confuse and stretch opposing defenses.

"I'd say my ankle is about 90 percent healed," Harris said, as Thursday's practice got under way. "I feel a whole lot better being out here with my team, though."

Harris appears ready to make good the promise of a 50-catch 2003 season, when he averaged 65 yards in receptions per game. Lined up on the other end of the line from Edwards this week, he has provided a double-barrel receiving threat in practice.

"He's not 100 percent, but he still looks good," said Sammy White, the former GSU receiving star and coach who was named offensive coordinator before last season. "He is running good, disciplined routes and he's catching the ball. Having another go-to guy out there feels good."

While Harris healed in 2004, Edwards blossomed into a freshman of the year candidate - shooting into the starting lineup with gutsy play and calm reserve. But Edwards sometimes struggled to get open, because opponents keyed on him.

"Moses being back is a big plus," said White. "Now, it'll be tough on any defense with him playing across from Clyde."

Head coach Melvin Spears called it a welcome sight, adding that GSU hasn't had two legitimate top-end speedsters for some time.

"When you look at when we had Scotty (Anderson) and Ellis Spears (in 2000), it has always been easier when you have two receivers to do the things that we like to do in a vertical, stretch offense," said Spears, GSU's offensive coordinator back then.

That eye-popping aerial attack, with former coach Doug Williams as its architect, would win the first of three straight conference titles for Grambling. But the offense would come to rely more on possession receiving from the sticky-fingered Tramon Douglas while Harris matured.

A part-time performer in 2002 as a sophomore backup to Thyron Anderson, Harris emerged as the team's No. 2 receiver behind Douglas in 2003.

His best showing that season was against Alabama A&M in Shreveport, when Harris had 140 yards and a touchdown on just five catches. He also had seven receptions for 111 yards in 2003 against Mississippi Valley State, with another score.

Those performances earned Harris a preseason first-team All-Southwestern Athletic Conference selection last year, and he was the presumptive No. 1 receiver.

His spring was highlighted a season ago by a stellar Black and Gold game performance, where Harris had two touchdown receptions - first for 70 yards and then for 24. Harris even scored from 74 yards out on a receiver reverse.

But his senior season came crashing to a halt on Aug. 30, when Texas Tech transfer Ivory McCann fell on his ankle in the north end zone of the practice field.

The unit was left without its top target.

"Clyde grew up really fast," said White. "He was our leading receiver last year - that's saying a lot. But we lost 50 catches with Moses gone. With him out there too, Clyde can't go anywhere but up."

That's saying something, considering Edwards bested all GSU receivers with 30 catches for 608 yards in 2004.

"I was happy," Harris said of Edwards, "to see someone step up."

Coaches have been impressed with their first glimpses of these two on the field at the same time.

"Moses and Clyde complement each other," Spears said. "Defenses can't roll to one player or the other. Add an outstanding guy in the slot, and you can stretch the whole field - and make those defenses earn their pay."

The team is also eagerly awaiting the arrival of two transfers, LeKeldrick Bridges from Georgia Tech and Brandon Tobias from Wisconsin.

"We have some more talent coming in the fall," Harris said. "This will be one of the fastest receiving corps that Grambling has ever had."

Catch 'em
Here's a look at GSU's top receivers in these spring sessions:
--Clyde Edwards, 2004: 30 catches for 608 yards and four scores. Averaged: 55 yards per game.
--Moses Harris, 2003: 50 catches of 713 yards and six scores. Averaged: 65 yards per game.
- Nick Deriso

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Getting to know... Clyde Edwards
October 4, 2005

By Nick Deriso
It's perhaps no surprise that Clyde Edwards, quiet as a church mouse during the week, sneaks up on people every weekend.

Even his coaches.

"He's a guy who doesn't make a lot of mistakes," said GSU coach Melvin Spears, "but also a guy who doesn't say much. He's a (Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Famer John) Stallworth type, in that at the end of the day he's had six or seven catches, because he's so mild mannered."

Saturday's Prairie View game was an apt example. The headlines went to his quarterback, who spread seven touchdowns to four receivers and a running back.

Perhaps most notable, however, was the second of Edwards' scores - this staggering 74-yard catch and run. Not only was that the game's longest reception, it was Eugene's 94th career passing touchdown, one more than the school record.

Not bad for Edwards, a guy who suddenly has to share attention with two seniors who battled injuries last year, Moses Harris (broken ankle) and Henry Tolbert (nagging hip).

"It's a learning process," said Edwards, GSU's leading receiver in 2004 while the others recuperated. "I know these guys are older and they have been here, that they have been through it. I've got to sit back and learn from them while I can."

Edwards is bolstered by an offensive scheme that is nothing if not democratic.

Here's what Grambling offensive coordinator Sammy White says, by way of explanation, when asked where the plays are designed to go: "Whoever is open. That's the way this offense works."
Clearly: Eleven GSU players caught a pass against Prairie View.

"It doesn't matter," Edwards demurred, "because we are all family here. We will compete because we are all competitors. But in the end, we are all one team."

He quietly amassed a pair of scores and more than 100 receiving yards, a career day for others, against Prairie View.

Discord isn't in this guy's vocabulary. Well, it is - since Edwards is one of the team's sharpest minds. But it isn't when he's in the locker room.

"I know they aren't going to be here forever," Edwards said of Harris and Tolbert. "I hope to be better prepared to play when they leave."

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Game week focus on...
October 11, 2005

By Nick Deriso
Grambling State's pass offense is tops in the Southwestern Athletic Conference again, averaging 332 yards per game now that senior quarterback Bruce Eugene has returned from injury.

Eugene - who leads the conference in passing and total offense - gives the bulk of the credit to his receiving corps.

After all, GSU boasts four of the current Top 10 receivers in the SWAC for yards per game: No. 1 Henry Tolbert, No. 5 George Piggott, No. 7 Clyde Edwards and No. 8 Moses Harris.

"I'll take my wide receivers over anybody's defensive backs," Eugene said. "All I have got to do is get it to them - then they make a guy miss. If they want to come up and challenge us, we are up to it. If they play zone, that's fine too. We will try to pick you apart."

Eugene has been democratic in distributing the ball, as well. Eleven different players have receiving stats through the Mississippi Valley win. Six players have scored, with four of them scoring twice or more.

"We have so many guys competing," said GSU coach Melvin Spears. "But when you talk about wideouts, there has always been outstanding wideouts here."

Grambling is just .3 of a point away from topping the SWAC in scoring per game - and 15 of its 18 touchdowns arrived through the air. More than 1,300 of GSU's 1,659 total yards of offense have been courtesy of a Eugene pass.

Despite this year's early successes, Eugene shies away from calling this his best group of receivers. Not yet, anyway.

"I broke a lot of records in 2002," Eugene said of a season where he finished atop Division I in both total offense and points on the way to SWAC Offensive Player of the Year honors.

"But these receivers could get there," he added. "They have the talent."

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Missing in action

April 01, 2006

Junior receiver Clyde Edwards didn't appear in today's Black and Gold Game, a controlled scrimmage to end Grambling's spring sessions.

GSU coach Melvin Spears has kept him out of practice not because of any injury - but to avoid one. Spears lost top target Moses Harris in preseason practice back in 2004 when a defender fell on his ankle.

"We're familiar with our thoroughbreds," Spears said. "We wanted to give these younger guys a chance."

So, we saw breakout performances from LaKeldrick "Burner" Bridges and Kovarus Hills.

Still, that doesn't explain senior Henry Tolbert's continued presence. Spears couldn't get him off the field: "He just wants to work," said Spears, chuckling.

Defensive tackle Melvin Matthews also missed the scrimmage, after the unexpected death of his father. The team will travel to Clinton on Monday to attend the funeral.

Edwards, for his part, said he expects a smooth return in the fall."I'm an athlete, so I want to be out there," Edwards said. "But it's for the best."

The Houston native developed a special connection as a freshman with quarterback Brandon Landers in 2004, leading all receivers. Bruce "The Big easy" Eugene returned from injury in Edwards' sophomore year, and Edwards held steady at No. 2 on the team in receptions and yards last year.

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Duo tones
June 20, 2006

Grambling receivers Henry Tolbert and Clyde Edwards have been named the No. 2 tandem in Division I-AA by The Sports Network's Matt Dougherty.

Together, they had 128 catches for 2,406 yards and 29 touchdowns, averaging nearly 20 yards a catch - each - as Grambling won its 21st Southwestern Athletic Conference championship in 2005."

The duo should help keep the Tiger offense rolling without (departed SWAC offensive player of the year Bruce) Eugene." Dougherty writes. He also ranked Tolbert at No. 4 in Division I-AA individually, while Edwards was No. 16.

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Plenty to grab
GSU not lacking in experienced receivers this season
August 14, 2006

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — Forget Grambling State's triumphal conference championship last year. With this team, all anybody wants to talk about is 2004.

That was the last time redshirt sophomore quarterback Brandon Landers was under center, filling in for the injured Bruce Eugene.

Without Eugene, GSU would go 6-5. A season later, with Eugene back, the Tigers won a title at 11-1.

GSU's receivers have a unified response on the nagging issue of '04: That was then.

"Most people felt Bruce carried us," said junior wideout Clyde Edwards, Landers' top target when both were freshmen. "That's just more motivation."

Edwards has added 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns to his resume since 2004.

Back then, Henry Tolbert was in the midst of converting from running back to receiver — and was bothered all year by a nagging hip injury. A campaign later, he could be found leading the Southwestern Athletic Conference in receptions, yards, touchdowns and catches per game.

Tim Abney was also out in '04. He returned from a groin problem and, even missing three games, finished fourth among GSU receivers for yards and touchdowns in 2005.

"This is a veteran group of guys, guys who have helped us win big games," said GSU coach Melvin Spears. "Brandon Landers has had a chance to become familiar with them, practicing behind Bruce last year and competing this fall. If they work hard and remember to do the little things, we could be right there in the end."

That's to say nothing of LaKeldrick "Burner" Bridges, a Georgia Tech transfer who is expected to garner playing time. Junior Kovarus Hills and sophomore Nick Lewis are also having terrific camps.

"There could be as many as eight receivers ready to play in September," said Grambling offensive coordinator Sammy White. "We sure could have used that experience two years ago."

Back in 2004, the GSU offense had 2,004 fewer passing yards, 40 fewer touchdown receptions and 1,900 fewer yards of total offense than it did last season.

Again, though, that was then.

"Landers has had a year to sit behind Bruce and mature," Tolbert said. "I believe he can take us right back."

Tolbert, of course, is the known commodity — the one getting all the preseason awards, from All-SWAC to spots on The Sports Network and Black Athlete Sports Network I-AA All-America squads.

Bridges has stolen his share of headlines, though: After all, he had a stunning 168 yards and a touchdown on just three catches in the Black and Gold scrimmage to end the spring sessions — and he could have had more.

Two 60-yard passes were badly overthrown, though Bridges was open; he also had a 48-yard reception taken away on a teammate penalty.

"He's really special, with so much consistency," said White, a former Grambling and NFL receiver who coached the unit under Doug Williams for six seasons.

"LaKeldrick Bridges, you can tell is just waiting to break free," White said. "As good as he is in practice, we will see more I suspect in the games."

Some question Bridges' toughness as an every-down wideout, since he's slight at 6-2 and 185 pounds. But the Dallas native has already wowed the coaches by taking a few good licks, then popping right back up.

"He's stronger than he looks," White said. "He played against some of the best athletes in the state of Texas, so he knows how to take a hit."

Edwards, as is his way, looks to be the sleeper — a quiet collector of impressive stats.

"You put on game film, and he's so productive," White said. "Clyde runs routes with so much precision, and rarely has a drop."

That's part of what gives the team uncommon confidence, even with Eugene gone. Get it to us, each of the wideouts has said separately, and we'll do the rest.

"I'm looking for this receiver group to be one of the best in the league," Spears said. "We have a mixture of players who will come in and do a very good job for us. That should help smooth the way."

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Edwards does everything
December 07, 2006

Grambling junior Clyde Edwards, a player of stirring athletic ability, played most of the season finale at cornerback - then was named All-Southwestern Athletic Conference as a receiver just days later.

"He's the most complete football player on this year," enthused GSU coach Melvin Spears. "He makes plays on both sides of the ball."

Edwards led the league in 2006 with 56 catches, and was second both with an average of 72 receiving yards per game and with 789 total yards. Then he held Alcorn State's Charlie Spiller -- ranked 10th in the SWAC for all-purpose yards to just one catch for 16 yards.

"He stands for everything that Grambling is," Spears said. "He slowed down the best receiver in our league -- besides ours, of course."

Edwards, named GSU's freshman of the year in 2004, now has more than 2,300 career yards. Over that span, he has carried a GPA that ranks amongst the highest on the roster.

And he shows up big at key moments, from that critical score in the nailbiter against Bethune as a freshman, to his season-high 161 yards in a hometown playing of the Bayou Classic as a junior to that two-touchdown performance in the home opener against Jackson this season.

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The junior jinx?
March 13, 2007

Clyde Edwards knows all about what happened to the last few standout Grambling receivers during their senior years.


Tramon Douglas and Henry Tolbert, who scorched their way through the conference (not to mention Grambling's record books) as juniors, ended up struggling with inconsistency and injury a season later.

Edwards just doesn't think it applies to him.

"They both had monster junior years," he said. "I had a good season last year, but not nearly as big as theirs. I've still got a lot to prove."

Like whether he can break the jinx.Douglas had 787 fewer yards and 15 fewer catches between his junior and senior campaigns. For Tolbert, it was 661 fewer yards and 26 fewer catches (as well as 15 fewer touchdowns).

They both missed time with injuries, including a badly damaged knee for Douglas.

It's almost becoming a tradition lately at Grambling, though: Moses Harris had 12 fewer catches and 108 fewer yards, though he was out a year with that broken ankle between his junior and senior seasons. But Levi Washington also had 14 fewer catches and 28 fewer yards in his final year. That's powerful mojo.

You go back to what Edwards said about big years: He actually had 226 more yards a sophomore than he did last season. Maybe he's got a point.

"I won't get complacent," Edwards insists. "I'll tell you that."

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Silent, but deadly
March 24, 2007

The play that produced Grambling senior Clyde Edwards' 36-yard third-quarter reception during today's Black and Gold spring game, the one that set up his own six-yard score, is a practice-field favorite.

"It's especially designed to be a big play," Edwards said.

And there apparently won't be as many of those in a new GSU offense that looked as measured as its first-year head coach.

Rare today was the four-wide look, and never did we see five receivers and an empty backfield. As familiar as that has become over the last few years, that's not Rod Broadway's style.

Still, there remains a dangerous outside force, if needed. He is an arrow in this offense's quiver that shouldn't be forgotten. In the effort to get back to basics -- as honorable as that may be -- it's important not to forget something.

Clyde Eugene Edwards II.

I call him SBD, silent but deadly. Edwards is as quiet as he is efficient, and Brandon Landers has never had a better relationship with a receiver as a college quarterback.

"He's that guy you can count on," Landers said, marvelling at the thought of Edwards' scoring grab in traffic. "He's someone you can lean on."

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Falling back?
July 19, 2007

It's no surprise, even to the team's best remaining players, that Grambling is getting little notice after a disastrous three-win season.

"We're going to be a young team," said senior GSU receiver Clyde Edwards, a second-team FCS preseason All-American. "And, after what happened last year, that might have some people looking over us."

Street and Smith's 2007 SWAC Preview, in a typical prediction, put Grambling at No. 4 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference's Western division, behind Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Prairie View and Southern.

Guys like Edwards are eating that up. He loves the challenge.

"You take some punches over the course of your career," Edwards said. "I've had some up times at Grambling and some down times. I just want to do my best and go out on a high note."

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Edwards, once quiet, now quite pivotal for Grambling
August 19, 2007

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — The rare performer who is as consistent on the field as he is off, senior Grambling receiver Clyde Edwards still surprises people.

“I’m more of a quiet guy,” the Houston native said, quietly.

He’d like to see his team — a 3-8 disaster last season, GSU is picked by nobody to win the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s Western Division in ’07 — slip up on some people, too.

“As talented as we are, we feel like we can play with anybody,” Edwards said. “Last year, we had what it takes to win, but for a few plays here and there.”

First-year coach Rod Broadway might have trouble sorting out the reasons for that down season — after all, GSU fell six of eight times this year by a touchdown or less. — but not who gives Grambling its best shot at pulling out of the downturn.

That would be Edwards, who enters the season with 2,400 career yards.

“It didn’t take long over the spring to see that he was one of our best players,” Broadway said. “I would like for him to show more leadership, not only with the receiving corps but the entire offense.”

He’s a show-by-doing standout.

“My biggest thing is, I want to lead by example,” Edwards said. “I feel like if I am doing what I need to on the field, then others will follow.”

They’d be following him right into Grambling lore.

If Edwards matches his average over the past two campaigns — 55 catches and 10 touchdowns a year — he will pass Tramon Douglas in the school record books.

His 11 scores last season, even as the team struggled to a 3-8 record, ranks among the best performances in Southwestern Athletic Conference history. Edwards is already No. 13 overall in career yardage among SWAC receivers.

The model of consistency, he has hauled in at least one pass in each of his last 26 games, dating back to 2004. Better still are his trademark acrobatic one-handed grabs, including a dramatic catch against Alabama State at home last season.

He’s the same way off the field, maintaining a 4.0 in seven of his eight semesters at GSU thus far.

“I’ve been blessed; my parents always stressed school, and taking care of things in the classroom,” Edwards said. “Football is what I lived to do. So i just try to do my best to please parents on one side and myself on the other.”

Broadway and first-year offensive coordinator James Spady have made no promises on how they will adapt Grambling’s pass-oriented passing attack, other than to say Edwards will get his touches.

Together last season at North Carolina Central, Broadway and Spady helped craft an attack that led their conference with 211 passing yards per game, while setting school and league records with 24 touchdown passes by a freshman. Broadway’s offense also averaged 30.8 points per game in 2005, a new school record.

“In the past, we were always a home-run team,” Edwards said. “It’s a little bit different now. We are looking to be more of a ball-control offense. I’ve had a chance to sit down and talk with the coaches; they understand our strengths. They know where the talent is, and they will use that.”

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Spreading it around
August 24, 2007

Grambling quarterback Brandon Landers is being asked to do less in the new system being installed by a first-year coaching staff.

The talk has been about managing the game. About taking what they give you. About playing smart.

One thing that won't change: His favorite target, one Clyde Eugene Edwards II.

"Right away, we formed that chemistry," said Edwards, who has caught 86 passes for 1,400 yards and 15 touchdowns with Landers as a regular starter at GSU in 2004 and '06.

Even Edwards admits, though, that their fluid relationship can occasionally become too much of a good thing. The Landers-Edwards connection comes as a surprise to no one.

"Sometimes, it kind of gets us in trouble," he said. "We almost rely too much on it."

That shouldn't be the case in 2007 with the return of tight end Tim Abney in an offense that stresses short passes. Emerging talents like Nick Lewis and Reggie Jackson should garner some attention -- and Brandon King, who's been working at fullback, also has nice hands and could become a reliable target.

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Edwards has quietly put together career for the ages at Grambling
By Nick Deriso
October 10, 2007

GRAMBLING — He's perched near the edge of some of the most significant receiving marks ever recorded at Grambling State.

Yet Clyde Edwards stands there, somehow, in half-lit anonymity.

Make no mistake: Edwards, a quiet tactician, is well regarded. The senior receiver from Houston just isn't what anybody would call famous.

"I'm not real flashy," Edwards said, "so people tend to overlook me, I guess."
First-year Grambling coach Rod Broadway finds it curious.

"I think Clyde represents everything that is good about college football," Broadway said. "He's a model person, a 4.0 student, and an outstanding football player."

But better than GSU receiving superstars of yesteryear like Trumaine Johnson and Henry Tolbert? What about Tramon Douglas? Scotty Anderson?

Yes and yes. Yes, and yes.

Edwards, with a deftness that somehow has denied him that kind of legendary status, is right there with them.

After adding three catches for 66 yards and a score in last week's 40-0 blowout of Mississippi Valley, Edwards now has made 163 career receptions for 2,720 yards and 31 touchdowns.

With six games left, that's already more career receiving yards than Johnson — a flashy two-time SWAC offensive player of the year in 1980 and '82.

That's also more touchdowns than 2003 all-conference receiver Douglas and just one back from Johnson and Tolbert, who set once-thought unassailable records in 2005-06.

"When you sit down and compare them, he's going to rank above all of them," said Sammy White, a former Grambling receiver who has coached that unit at his alma mater for 10 seasons. "He never stopped working, and now he's quietly passed them all. But his demeanor is one where he won't boast. Quiet people can get left behind the scenes sometimes."

Clyde Edwards is, in fact, the best Southwestern Athletic Conference receiver that no one's ever heard of.

"He can play with anybody in the country; I'm convinced of that," Broadway said. "I was (a former assistant coach) at Florida, I was at North Carolina, Duke and East Carolina, and he could have played on any of those football teams. He's an exceptional talent. I'm glad Clyde's on our team."

His profile has also occasionally been the victim of circumstance. Though Edwards was part of 2005's league title team, Grambling went 6-5 in '04, Edwards' freshman season, and then saw a coaching change after a disastrous 3-8 campaign during his junior campaign in 2006.

Yet Edwards never wavered, even if the team did. His career mark for catches already ranks him at No. 13 all-time among SWAC receivers, a list that includes such luminaries as Jerry Rice (Mississippi Valley State, 1981-84), Sylvester Morris (Jackson State, 1996-99) and Michael Hayes (Southern, 1999-2002).

White, 1975's SWAC offensive player of the year, recognizes in Edwards the same timeless commitment to craft once demanded of Grambling players by his former mentor, the late Eddie Robinson.

"Coach would have loved him," White said. "Clyde could have played in any era at Grambling. He just comes out and works his butt off."

The GSU offense has diversified with Broadway's arrival, and senior receiver Reginald Jackson has been the beneficiary as opponents belatedly have begun to focus on Edwards.

So far, that's kept Edwards from a signature breakout game. He is averaging just five receptions, 62 yards and one touchdown a game in 2007.

"I'm getting off to a slow start," Edwards said. "I feel like I've got a lot to improve on right now. The offense has changed, but at the same time, I think I can do some things better."

Even at that rate, though, Edwards is still on pace to finish with 193 career catches for 3,092 yards and 37 scores for Grambling — besting Anderson for scores, tying Douglas for receptions and finishing second to Anderson in yardage.

Those numbers also put Edwards at No. 5 all-time in the SWAC, behind only Rice, Texas Southern's Darrell Colbert (1983-86), Hayes and Texas Southern's Donald Narcisse (also 1983-86).

Edwards, a solid and steady presence, somehow overtook some of the league's most recognizable names yet largely avoided making one for himself.

"He's a good person, and that's so important," Broadway said. "He's got good character, and a good work ethic. You can never say enough good about kids like that. Those kids don't get enough headlines. It's always about those who get caught drinking or fighting. They dominate the headlines, where kids like Clyde get some but not nearly as much as he should get."

Edwards says, in the end, he is fine with that. It comes as no surprise that his focus is on the work.

"I can celebrate and think about all of the records later," Edwards said. "What you want out of your season is to have consistency. Over my career I've been able to do that, and I take pride in the fact that my team and my coaches know every Saturday what they are going to get out of me. The rest — hopefully another championship — comes on its own."

1. Scotty Anderson, '98-00, 3,182
2. Henry Tolbert, '03-06, 3,043
3. Tramon Douglas, '00-03, 2,970
4. Clyde Edwards, '04-current, 2,720
5. Trumaine Johnson, '79-82, 2,718

1. Tramon Douglas, '00-03, 193
2. Scotty Anderson, '98-00, 188
3. Henry Tolbert, '03-06, 182
4. Clyde Edwards, '04-current, 163
5. Trumaine Johnson, '79-82, 135

1. Scotty Anderson, '98-00, 35
2. Trumaine Johnson, '79-82, 32
2. Henry Tolbert, '03-06, 32
4. Clyde Edwards, '04-current, 31
5. Tramon Douglas, '00-03, 30

(Through Mississippi Valley game, 2007 season)