Monday, February 26, 2007

On Grambling AD Troy Mathieu

GSU's AD search is stealthy
School won't name any candidates for job
April 9, 2006

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — Grambling State has fastened a tight lid on its second search for an athletics director in as many years.

"We'd like to keep it confidential," said interim Grambling AD Duer Sharp, "until (GSU president) Dr. (Horace) Judson is ready to announce. We'd just like it keep it as private as possible."

Calls to Judson this week were not returned.

Since July 1, 2004, Judson's first day in office, Grambling has had a non-interim athletics director for just 308 days. That in turn has led to extended periods where positions underneath the AD are unfilled, including the critical position of compliance officer.

Judson fired former athletics director Al Dennis III on that first day as president in 2004. Former longtime South Carolina State coach Willie Jeffries didn't assume the AD job until Jan. 3, 2005 — and had resigned by Oct. 31.

Sharp, who then took over as interim, said Grambling has no plans to reveal when candidates are interviewed, or who the finalists are, in advance of making a hire.

"I don't think we'll announce anything," he said. "That's not a route we'd like to go."

Sharp, associate commissioner for the Southwestern Athletic Conference, is an executive on loan under a management-assistance agreement approved by the University of Louisiana System board in late October.

GSU posted the job opening for athletics director on Nov. 7, but didn't begin interviewing candidates until after the new year.

Sharp said the hiring process was slowed both by Jeffries' contract, which extended through Jan. 3, and questions over budget cuts on the state level in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Still, a void in leadership likely led to an ongoing NCAA investigation into the school, which began in January.

It's become a source of grave concern to GSU alumni, who insist that the process ought to be moving more quickly.

"They need to speed it up. Jackson State fired their coach and had a whole staff in place a few weeks later," said Ezzard Burton, who attended GSU in the mid-1970s and is active in the Monroe/Ouachita chapter of the Grambling University National Alumni Association.

"I'm not speaking to the alumni association as a whole, but I've talked to a number of people," Burton said. "I've been in Monroe for 23 years and worked with the alumni association for 19 of them. We challenge the administration to get these things in place. I'm for this president, but he needs to get in a hurry."

Sharp has said that Judson and vice president for finance Billy Owens contacted SWAC commissioner Robert Vowels with this unique interim proposal. He also said he intended to return to the conference office and would not apply to be the permanent replacement.

Finalists in the search that ended with Jeffries' hiring included: Troy Mathieu, assistant superintendent for athletics for the Dallas Independent School District; Clarence Underwood, who served as assistant athletics director, senior associate AD and then AD at Michigan State between 1990-2001; and Wilbert Curtis Williams, former athletics director at Alabama State.

The University of Louisiana System board's joint athletic and finance committee originally approved a $90,000 salary for Jeffries.

Sharp said the school has received "between 30 and 40 applications" for the position. He described the process as being in its "middle stages."

"Before you bring somebody on campus, you want to do background checks, and talk to references and others not on the reference page," Sharp said. "The hardest thing is finding a timeline. There are so many things going on, and fitting the schedules of the candidate, mine and Dr. Judson can be a problem."

Dennis replaced Robert Piper, who took over in 1997 as athletics director only to step down three years later when he fell ill with stomach cancer. Dennis then served for 2½ years as the assistant athletics director for business affairs before taking over as interim AD in 2000.

Legendary former coaches Eddie Robinson and Fred Hobdy, along with former president R.W.E. Jones, have also served as GSU athletics directors over the years.

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Top of his class
April 11, 2006

By Nick Deriso
The best candidate for Grambling State's athletics director job has already applied once: Troy Mathieu, the superintendent for athletics at the Dallas Independent School District.

He was a finalist in the 2004 search that led to the hiring of longtime former South Carolina State coach Willie Jeffries, who resigned less than a year in.

Mathieu is in charge of a 19-person department in inner-city Dallas with a 2005 budget of $4.7 million that's similar to GSU's total operating sports revenues of $5.5 million from 2004, the most recent numbers available. The DISD, our nation's 12th largest school district, serves more than 160,000 students over 351 square miles.

That means Mathieu is familiar with succeeding within a power structure like Division I football where black colleges are sometimes relegated to outsider status.

Better still, before moving to Dallas, Mathieu was executive director of the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, a job he took over at age 29 and held as the only African-American in high-level bowl management for years. There, he oversaw the beginning of a successful corporate relationship with Nokia.

So he knows how to sell it. Personable, energetic, connected, well-seasoned but still emerging as a leader, Mathieu is the person that Grambling should have hired in the first place two years ago.

GSU has a chance to rectify that now.

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GSU's seach nets finalists
Each finalist would bring major experience to vacant position
April 23, 2006

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — Three finalists have emerged in Grambling State's six-month-old search for an athletics director.

They are: Grambling product Patrick Carter, athletics director at Alabama State; Troy Mathieu, athletics director for the Dallas Independent School District; and Vivian Fuller, who has experience as an AD at three Division I programs.

Interim GSU athletics director Duer Sharp had no comment on the candidates, other than to confirm their names. A timeline for hiring has also not been set, Sharp said.

Any decision by Grambling president Horace Judson must then be approved by the University of Louisiana System board, which oversees the university.

The athletics director at Grambling would work on a total operating sports revenues of upwards of $5.5 million, according to GSU's 2004 budget, the most recent numbers available.

Several critical hires must also be made quickly, including senior women's administrator, sports information director and women's soccer coach. A number of other current coaches, including those in men's and women's basketball, are working without contracts.

Grambling hasn't had an AD since October, when Willie Jeffries stepped down less than a year after taking over. Sharp — an assistant commissioner in GSU's home league, the Southwestern Athletic Conference — has been filling the role in the meantime.

There has been in recent days a significant alumni push for Carter, a Grambling native who holds a 1985 bachelor's and 1989 master's from GSU.

He has served as athletics director at Alabama State, a competitor in the SWAC, since March 2004. There, he administers an $8.5 million budget. Carter's resume material has said that he increased corporate sponsorships at ASU by 100 percent.

He also possesses critical experience in compliance, notable in the wake of an NCAA probe opened at Grambling earlier this year.

Carter was involved in different compliance roles with the SWAC from March 1997 until taking over in Alabama. Earlier, he served as an assistant commissioner involved with compliance with the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association — an NCAA Division II conference of twelve historically African-American institutions — from August 1991 to March 1997.

Fuller holds a distinct place in history, becoming in 1997 the first black woman to run a Division I athletics department with a football program — and one of only a handful of women ever. But she remained at Tennessee State for just two seasons, despite winning a conference championship on the gridiron.

Fuller later filed a lawsuit against TSU, that state's only predominantly African-American public university, saying she was dismissed for aggressively seeking to protect women's sports. Her replacement was later fired after the NCAA placed Tennessee State on three years probation for a myriad of violations.

Fuller has since worked as an athletics director at the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore. She previously served as AD at Northeastern Illinois University of Chicago, associate athletics director at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and assistant director of athletics at North Carolina A&T.

Fuller earned a bachelor's from Fayetteville State in 1977, a master's at Idaho in 1978 and a doctorate from Iowa State in 1985. She was a track athlete at Fayetteville and served as volleyball and softball coach at A&T in the early 1980s.

Through Mathieu has run a high-school program since 1997, his inner-city district is surprisingly robust.

He's in charge of a 19-person department with a 2005 budget of $4.7 million, similar in size to GSU's. The DISD, the nation's 12th largest school district, serves more than 160,000 students over 351 square miles — and has produced several Grambling prospects, including breakout receiver LaKeldrick "Burner" Bridges. Mathieu has overseen more than $50 million in facility improvements and construction while with the DISD, and negotiated multi-million sponsorships deals with Coca-Cola and Bally Total Fitness.

Before moving to Dallas, Mathieu was executive director of the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, a job he took over in 1993 at age 29 and held as the only black person in high-level bowl management for years. There, he negotiated the successful longtime corporate relationship with Nokia, a $30 million deal.

He holds a 1987 master's degree from Western Illinois and a 1983 bachelor's — which he reportedly completed in just three years — from McNeese State.

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GSU's AD dilemma more complex with strong finalists
April 24, 2006

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — Interviewers evaluating Grambling State's final trio of candidates for athletics director did so with the aid of a rating sheet.

Grades — on a scale of "5=UNSATISFACTORY" to "1=OUTSTANDING" — were to be given to each applicant on salient qualities like self-confidence, planning and organizational ability, and leadership.

All standard items in a good manager's toolbox.

The question of experience, however, is where a decision on who will be GSU's sixth athletics director becomes more complicated.

Grambling has whittled its six-month AD search down to three options — Patrick Carter, Troy Mathieu and Vivian Fuller — after considering as many as 40 applications.

Fuller might be considered the early frontrunner, if only because she grades well on experience in the broadest sense. She has served as athletics director at three college institutions over the years.

Carter, on the other hand, got his first AD job at Alabama State in 2004, after serving in a variety of capacities in conference front offices previous to that. Mathieu, AD for the Dallas Independent School District, has never worked as an administrator at the collegiate level.

Still, Fuller could meet resistance as a pioneering woman's administrator.

There were no female athletics directors last season in GSU's Southwestern Athletic Conference. Too, with the firing this month of Texas Southern's Priscilla Slade, that leaves just one woman on the SWAC Council of Presidents, Alabama A&M's Virginia Caples.

Fuller might answer that she's been there before: Upon taking over as AD at Tennessee State in 1997, she became the first black woman to run a Division I athletics department with a football program — and one of only a handful of women ever.

Carter, on the other hand, is attractive because of a more nuanced kind of experience: He has deep ties with the SWAC.

As a Grambling native, a GSU graduate, an athletics director inside the school's home conference, and a long-time former employee in its league offices, Carter is intimately familiar with the unique atmosphere surrounding the department.

He would be able to sell the school's brilliant legacy because he grew up around it.

That time spent at the conference level is notable, too, since it was primarily in the area of compliance. Grambling is awaiting word on an investigation that the NCAA opened last January.

Granted, most of the possible sins could end up being those of omission rather than commission: In the nearly two years since July 1, 2004, the school has either had a vacant AD chair or an interim for all but 313 days.

It couldn't hurt, though, to bring in a guy like Carter — who grades well after working in enforcement capacities at the 12-member Division II Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association and then the SWAC for nearly 15 years before taking over at ASU.

The question is: Can Carter bag the corporate whale?

For his part, Mathieu possesses critical experience in negotiating and managing lucrative corporate sponsorships and national events. Before accepting the position at DISD in 1997, he was executive director of the Sugar Bowl, one of the college football's most profitable postseason games.

In the late 1990s, the event's budget ran to more than $18 million annually. The organization's television contract with ABC was a $60-million deal. The previous sponsorship with Nokia brought in millions more.

Mathieu could revive corporate sponsorship deals that have been harder to come by since the departure of legendary coach Eddie Robinson — dollars that would permeate the entire university's budget. Mathieu has walked into multi-national business offices and emerged with checks that included seven zeroes at the end.

Yet there will be those who question whether he can run a college department, even though the DISD is comparable in staff and budget to athletic programs in the SWAC.

No easy choice, this.

Fuller, with perhaps the deepest administrative resume, is a groundbreaker in the mode of former AD Willie Jeffries. Carter, the most intimately familiar applicant, might make the easiest transition. Mathieu, the brilliant moneyman, might be the greatest risk — but with an even greater financial reward.

Checking the appropriate score, I'd give Grambling's difficulty level in making this decision a "1=OUTSTANDING."

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Grambling State AD search, yes, is still ongoing
May 15, 2006

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — A trio of finalists in Grambling State's ongoing search for an athletics director was announced three weeks ago.

Yet there's still no progress to report on filling the position, said interim Grambling AD Duer Sharp.

"It's in (GSU president) Dr. (Horace) Judson's hands," said Sharp. "He's the president. I move when he tells me to move."

Sharp could give no timeline for a decision, saying: "He'll make an offer, and then negotiations will begin."

Waiting since the April 23 announcement are Grambling product Patrick Carter, athletics director at Alabama State; Troy Mathieu, athletics director for the Dallas Independent School District; and Vivian Fuller, who has experience as an AD at three Division I programs.

Well, and some increasingly edgy supporters, too.

"I think it's quite ridiculous that it has taken the administration of GSU this length of time to locate a proper athletic director," said Grambling native Mark A. Hunter, a lobbyist who graduated in 1996 with a degree in political science. "So far, three names have surfaced, yet the GSU administration knew that the former director would not be at Grambling for more than a year."

Former AD Willie Jeffries signed a contract to run through January 2006, but resigned just 10 months later. The position has since been filled on an interim basis by Sharp, a loaned executive from GSU's home league, the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

Prior to that, Grambling had no athletics director in place from July 1, 2004, when Judson fired Al Dennis III in one of his first acts as new school president, until Jeffries took over. Some have suggested that the lack of institutional control led to an NCAA investigation of the school that opened in January.

"The administration was excited about the candidates early on, and I thought that the search would have been completed by now," said Grambling alum Autry "Lex" Alexis, CEO of a marketing firm. "I'm sure that the ongoing NCAA investigation and the threat of more budget cuts has had an impact on the process, as well as the candidates."

As the AD search has dragged on, talk turned to an alleged breakdown in negotiations for one or more of the finalists. Rumors, and at least one poll, began to circulate.

Fans at GramblingStateUniversity, as of Sunday, were solidly behind Carter — who garnered 87.5 percent of the vote in polling that began the day after GSU released the finalists' names.
Alexis has thrown his support behind Carter, as well.

"He would be my favorite because his strength is in compliance and that is a serious problem at GSU," Alexis said. "He also is an underrated fundraiser."

The prevailing theory from e-mails, message boards and street-committee gossip was that Mathieu had been offered the job, but that contract talks soured over money. There was even a rumor on campus that the search was on the verge of opening again.

Sharp denied that this week. Mathieu, in fact, said he had not spoken to anyone from Grambling in weeks. Carter and Fuller were unavailable for comment.

Supporters say the inexplicably long wait is fueling this widespread speculation.

"Grambling really needs to develop a faster method of locating qualified candidates and placing them in these positions," Hunter said, "so that the university can move forward to more pertinent issues at hand."

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Grambling job brings Mathieu home
May 24, 2006

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — For Troy Mathieu, the Grambling State athletics director job was a chance to get back home.

An Edgard native, Mathieu worked as an executive with the Sugar Bowl for a decade before taking over as AD at the Dallas Independent School District. He was chosen late Tuesday after a six-month search that produced a trio of finalists.

"It's a chance to continue doing what I like to do, working in the business of athletics," Mathieu told The News-Star on Tuesday afternoon. "I'll work to get all of the programs as competitive as we can possibly get them."

He will be recommended for the position by school president Horace Judson later this week at a meeting of the University of Louisiana System board, which oversees Grambling.

"I fully support Dr. Judson's recommendation," said 1990 GSU graduate Kenn Rashad, a Dallas resident familiar with his work in the local school district. "I think Mr. Mathieu is just the boost that the athletic program needs."

Grambling hasn't had an athletics director since October, when Willie Jeffries stepped down less than a year after taking over. Duer Sharp — an assistant commissioner in GSU's home league, the Southwestern Athletic Conference — has been serving as interim ever since.

The other finalists for the position were Grambling product Patrick Carter, athletics director at Alabama State; and Vivian Fuller, who has experience as an AD at three Division I programs.

"We were fortunate to have a pool of great applicants," Judson said in an evening news release.

Mathieu holds a 1987 master's degree from Western Illinois and a 1983 bachelor's — which he completed in just three years — from McNeese State.

Before accepting the position at DISD in 1997, Mathieu was best known for his work as executive director of the Sugar Bowl, one of the college football's most profitable postseason games.

During his tenure in the late 1990s, the event's budget ran to more than $18 million annually. The Sugar Bowl's television contract with ABC was a $60-million deal. A sponsorship deal that Mathieu spearheaded with Nokia brought in millions more.

"This is a great opportunity for Grambling State University," Judson said in the release. "This is the kind of organization, leadership and commitment we are looking for at the university."

The athletics director at Grambling would work oversee 18 intercollegiate sports on a total operating sports revenues of upwards of $5.5 million, according to GSU's 2004 budget, the most recent numbers available. Mathieu is expected to start in mid-June.

"I'm excited about it," Mathieu said. "It's a wonderful opportunity at this point in my professional career to take on a new challenge and come back to my home state of Louisiana."

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About time
May 23, 2006

Forgive Troy Mathieu if he sounds a bit relieved. When Mathieu - AD for the sprawling Dallas Independent School District - was selected Tuesday as GSU's new athletics director, pending review by the University of Louisiana System Board, it brought to a close a too-long sixth-month period at Grambling without a full-time AD.

Yes, Mathieu was named a finalist. But that was more than four weeks ago. The wait was, at times, unbearable.

Working as he does in the Dallas market, Mathieu was lashed relentlessly by a large contingency of local media - writers so aggressive that they were calling the DISD's personnel department trying to ferret out information on his possible departure.

When Mathieu was able to talk, finally, about the new job on Tuesday afternoon, it was like a weight had been lifted. He's a guy who's ready to get started.

And now, finally, he can.

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New GSU AD knows prosperity
In previous jobs, Mathieu bettered deals, facilities
May 25, 2006

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — Troy Mathieu said he leaves his post as athletics director for the Dallas Independent School District with no small measure of pride in helping coaches succeed — despite the obstacles.

"What I was probably most proud of was the way we were able to maintain our competitiveness and improve — even though we were at a disadvantage as an urban district," Mathieu said.

Mathieu, 42, will be recommended as Grambling State's new AD to the school's governing University of Louisiana System Board later this month.

He would replace Willie Jeffries, who resigned last October after less than a year on the job. Duer Sharp, an assistant Southwestern Athletic Conference commissioner, has been serving as interim athletics director ever since.

In many ways, Mathieu's experience in the 49-school inner-city DISD mirrors the financial struggles of the historically black GSU, as this tiny Division I-AA institution attempts to carve out its place among those both larger and richer.

Mathieu is perhaps best known as the architect of the Sugar Bowl's $30 million sponsorship deal with Nokia. He also helped negotiate a $60 million television contract with ABC.

But he later found remarkable success in the highly charged world of Dallas politics, implementing a series of sweeping improvements during a nine-year tenure. Over that time, member schools in the DISD won 11 state titles in team sports.

"We were also able to establish one of the finest urban districts in the country," Mathieu said. "In most metropolitan areas, many families are moving to the suburbs and pouring unlimited money into those newer districts — and in many cases the urban districts were left behind."

Mathieu, an impressive negotiator, would oversee the installation of new tracks across the district and each DISD football program received a $21,000 digital video system before the 2004 campaign. He secured sponsorships to fund $300,000 in new scoreboards for the DISD's main stadiums, as well.

"There was a lack of attention for those students who deserved the right to play at the highest level and in the finest facility," Mathieu said. "We could directly impact that in Dallas. We have rivaled some of the best in the nation, and been able to level the playing field facility-wise."

The Jesse Owens Memorial Athletic Complex, a $40 million facility, was the first multipurpose athletic complex built by the DISD in 40 years. Opened last fall, it includes both the 12,000-seat John Kincaide Stadium and a basketball arena that seats 7,500. A new $1.9 million softball facility opened in 2004.

He paid for it all by flooding the formerly threadbare district with corporate dollars, establishing sponsorship deals worth millions between the DISD and companies including Nike, Bally Total Fitness, Gatorade, Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper, Pepsi-Cola, Russell Athletic Corp. and HealthSouth.

"I am sure he will do well," said Grambling resident and fan Paul Taylor. "He's got a history of increasing business sponsorships, and seeking out corporate dollars. We need someone who will beat the pavement trying to get those dollars into such a historic institution like Grambling."

Mathieu also established a series of lucrative special events, with proceeds funneled back into the participating schools. That included the Dallas Morning News Basketball Classic, a prep basketball tripleheader that attracted 17,500 fans and generated more than $200,000 in revenue in its inaugural season.

"We got in the trenches, found out what the needs of the coaches were and administratively removed the obstacles so they could coach," Mathieu said. "Their kids then achieved at the highest level."

Mathieu's record of working closely with coaches has attracted praise from those who would report to him at Grambling.

"I'll meet him when everybody else does," said men's basketball coach Larry Wright. "But I've been impressed with everything I've heard so far about his career."

Mathieu, who also interviewed for the AD position with league foe Texas Southern in 2000, was originally hired away from the Sugar Bowl in November 1997. He briefly left in April 2000 to take over as president of the Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Sports Commission, but returned to the DISD three months later.

Prior to his time in Texas, Mathieu served as assistant executive director and then executive director of the Sugar Bowl, where he established a reputation for fund-raising and marketing. The bowl eventually had working business relationships, beyond the blockbuster naming and broadcast deals with Nokia and ABC, with Delta, Eastman Kodak, Gatorade, Oldsmobile and Wilson Sporting Goods.

Under Mathieu's watch, the Sugar Bowl increased payouts from $8 million to $15.65 million in his first three years. That led to recognition as the 23rd most influential person in college athletics by College Sports Magazine in June 1996.

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A Black and Gold bias?
May 24, 2006

As happy as some Grambling supporters are about Tuesday's naming of Troy Mathieu as athletics director, another faction remains frustrated.

There are those who think the GSU administration has a bias against GSU graduates - a situation, they say, that doomed the candidacy of fellow finalist Patrick Carter, now the athletics director at league foe Alabama State.

Carter, a Grambling native with two degrees from GSU, would have brought both familiarity with the intricacies of the SWAC and critical experience in compliance to a department under investigation by the NCAA for possible irregularities.

So, it's no surprise that the well-liked Carter drew widespread fan support, including an e-mail campaign to the president.

But, all along, it seemed the administration was of the mind that a rainmaker like Mathieu, who has overseen multi-million deals with the Dallas Independent School District and the Sugar Bowl, could buy as much compliance as needed.

Money solves that problem, and most any other.

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At the crossroads
There's plenty to accomplish for GSU's new athletics director
May 28, 2006

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — Troy Mathieu, perhaps understandably, is unwilling to say too much about what he hopes to do first as athletics director at Grambling State.

After all, where to start in a position that's been vacant for half of the two years since Horace Judson became president at GSU?

"I haven't had a chance to grasp and evaluate where everything is; I know there is a lot waiting on me," Mathieu said. "Maybe a week in, I will be able to digest where we are at."

Duer Sharp, an assistant commissioner with GSU's home conference, has served as interim athletics director since October.

Still, this has been a shockingly uncertain period for an athletics program that was once the model of consistency, having had just five ADs over its first 100 years.

Mathieu said he will take a measured approach.

"There will be assortment of items waiting on me that I will have to tackle," he said. "What you think might be your priority today may change to tomorrow. I want to get in and meet everybody, and then try to figure out the best plan to get us where we need to be."

The temptation, once Mathieu arrives in mid-June, is to encourage him to hit the road and drum up needed sponsorships.

After all, Mathieu's reputation both at the Dallas Independent School District — and, before that, at the Sugar Bowl — was built on landing the corporate whales.

More immediately pressing needs, however, are found closer to home.

GSU's new athletics director steps into a turbulent situation, where job openings have gone unfilled, and many projects are uncompleted.

It's tempting to awe over the shiny football trophies from last year, yet other programs are hovering near the bottom of the league.

Then, he faces an ongoing investigation by the NCAA. Many say a lack of institutional control drew the interest of college athletics' governing body.

"Our new AD should first look to shore-up our deficiencies in NCAA compliance and sports information," said Donavan Simmons, a 1997 Grambling graduate. "Filling all vacant head coaching positions is also a major priority."

Emerging from instability
There are other tangible results from this extended period of instability.

Just this week, Southern — Grambling's principal rival in the Southwestern Athletic Conference — earned its fifth consecutive Commissioner's Cup, recognition for overall excellence in sponsored sports.

Despite its dominance in football, where Grambling went undefeated in SWAC play on the way to the title, its only other championship for the just-ended academic year was in men's outdoor track.

That pushed GSU down to third overall in the Cup race, behind Jackson State.

Mathieu made it clear that he's intends to push for improvement across the athletic spectrum.

"None of this stuff is magic; it's getting people to understand what types of things they are going to be asked to do," he said. "We're going to let people do their jobs. That is, if they can do their jobs. If they can't, then we will go in another direction. It's about their enthusiasm for the task at hand."

Mathieu will also have to prioritize a laundry list of unfinished business within the department.

Several employees, including both men's and women's basketball coaches, worked last season without a contract. A new hoops arena is set to open, but much about that project remains unknown — from how it will be maintained to what it will be named.

Former athletics director Willie Jeffries, who stayed for less than 10 months, announced a scoreboard project last summer. Where that stands is uncertain.

Planning for next year, from promotions to the media guides, has yet to be started.

"Grambling's name is so strong that we need someone to just push that name out there to the consumer, whether it be season-ticket drives or game-day giveaways," said Grambling resident Paul Taylor, an avid supporter of GSU athletics. "He needs to come in and raise the corporate dollars, then raise this athletic program to higher heights."

Setting a mandate
With that much to do, Mathieu must get some help.

And lots of it.

"A successful athletics program, like any other business starts with qualified and competent leadership and staff," Simmons said. "It's been far too long since Grambling has had this."

Among the positions currently posted on the university Web site — many are months old — are compliance officer, sports information director, assistant SID, soccer coach and head trainer.

"I've followed Troy Mathieu's career, and he has done an outstanding job in the Dallas area in generating revenue, facility upgrades and just making certain that those guys are competing at a very high level," said GSU football coach Melvin Spears. "But he'll have come in and lead the effort to fill all these positions first. Many of those are pertinent to move our program forward. We have to have outstanding folks in those positions."

Finally, Mathieu will have to heal any rifts caused by his own selection.

He emerged from a trio of finalists that included a Grambling product, current Alabama State athletics director Patrick Carter.

Some in GSU's tight-knit alumni base tended to side with one of their own, and Mathieu will have sell himself to them as much as he sells Grambling to everybody else.

"I believe Dr. Judson's hire of Mr. Mathieu as AD is in the best interest of GSU," said D'Wayne Priestley, a vocal product from the Dallas area. "It would have been quite popular and endearing to many concerns to hire Mr. Carter; however, I believe Dr. Judson's action placed GSU's best interest first. Now, I hope that Mr. Mathieu can meet the high expectations of many GSU alums and friends, and complement Dr. Judson's vision, as GSU grows into the 21st century."

Mathieu spoke to that challenge this week, when he mentioned an early desire to "friend"-raise rather than fund-raise.

"It's a whole discovery process," Mathieu said. "It's not just running out asking people to give."

Fans like Simmons can't predict where Mathieu will begin his reconstruction project at Grambling. But Mathieu's high-energy style — and a resume filled dotted with initiatives that bolstered both facilities and the bottom line — has them energized.

"Judging by his credentials and experience running an enormous program like that of DISD, I have the utmost confidence that Mathieu will surround himself with the best people for the jobs," said Simmons. "Once this is done, he has shown through his involvement with the Sugar Bowl that the marketing aspect and corporate sponsorship that is so desperately needed will soon follow."

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Pack a lunch
June 04, 2006

Incoming Grambling athletics director Troy Mathieu is tying up loose ends at his old job, a similar position with the Dallas Independent School District.

Meanwhile, new ones are coming unraveled at GSU.

"I'm trying to transfer out properly," Mathieu said, "making sure they know where everything is. We are bringing closure to one school year, and setting up staff training for the following year. A lot of coaches have to get their training during the summer and we have to get it set up."

Mathieu was in Lincoln Parish looking for a new house late last week, even as his complex task at Grambling became somehow more, well, complex. GSU administrators declined to renew contracts for both the softball and the baseball coaches - adding to a long list of department vacancies.

Mathieu is scheduled to start at Grambling on June 19.

He had better pack a lunch. That looks to be a long workday.

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On the upbeat
June 20, 2006

They fired the baseball and softball coaches just days before he was brought in. Yet new Grambling athletics director Troy Mathieu, on his second day at work, is upbeat.

He just got finished filling a staggering eight openings for coaches last year as athletics director of the Dallas Independent School District, a department which suffers from frighteningly similar budget and competitive woes.

Far from overwhelmed, Mathieu is loose and confident.

Sure, he's navigating through a complicated first week of work at the school, which is under the cloud of an on-going NCAA investigation. Yet he's all smiles.

"I'm just getting a sense of the lay of the land," Mathieu said. "But I'm not afraid of a little work."

That attitude - aware, but can do - will bolster Mathieu as he sorts through the mess at Grambling, which has been without a full-time athletics director for about half of president Horace Judson's two-year tenure.

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Grambling AD not easing his way into new job
June 22, 2006

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — Troy Mathieu has a copy of the Grambling State athletics department budget, and it's dog eared already.

That reading happens at night, after hours.

Mathieu's days have been spent so far walking the campus, getting an up-close look at what he's got to work with as GSU's new athletics director.

He's also set up meetings with the staff, beginning with those who do the heavy lifting like the maintenance crew.

Talk about working from the ground up.

Mathieu wants buy in from those who currently work at GSU before he gets to work on hiring new ones.

"I know the focus is on getting staffed up," said Mathieu, who started his new position Monday. "But I've got to get a feel for things first."

Posted openings in Mathieu's department include senior women's administrator, sports information director, head soccer coach and assistant athletics director for the sports radio network. Contracts for both the baseball and softball coaches were also not renewed just prior to Mathieu's arrival.

Mathieu arrived with some experience at dealing with such things, having hired eight coaches last year as athletics director at the sprawling Dallas Independent School District.

"You move methodically," Mathieu said. "You just start hiring one at a time. I'd rather make a good hire, than a quick hire, though. I don't want to bring in someone that we regret on the back end."

Outgoing interim AD Duer Sharp, who has returned to his previous assignment in the Southwestern Athletic Conference office, left a dossier of applications - including, Mathieu said, several for baseball coach - and initiated the advertising process.

"I intend to make some calls, as well," Mathieu said.

But first, he'll have to learn all the names, figure out all the nuances of the campus and study hard.

Then, there's the NCAA.

An ongoing investigation into his department by college sports' governing body, launched in January, promises to be an absorbing side issue in this rebuilding effort.

Mathieu said he hasn't had time to review the probe, and didn't yet have a clear grasp of its parameters. But he promised to make that a priority, one that has been added to what seems like an ever-growing list.

Mathieu remains undaunted.

"We'll get in there and get to work," he said. "It might take some time, but we'll get there."

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Count down
July 04, 2006

The coaching searches at Grambling are getting the most attention, but there are stacks of responsibilities teetering all around Troy Mathieu.

For instance, just days into the new AD's tenure, he's had to dive into scheduling for 2007 and beyond. There are current employees without contracts. Work on the football media and recruiting guide hasn't begun.
"It's just punching through the details," said the always-sunny Mathieu. "I'm getting a quick read on the contracts, and getting started on the schedule. Everybody has been really positive. The welcome has been overwhelming. Everywhere I go, people just say: 'Time to get to work.'"


Sixty days. That's how long Grambling has until it's football season opener in Birmingham, Ala., against Hampton. That's to say nothing of the rest of the sports that follow.

Yet Mathieu continues to plow through, based on force of personality alone. He's a marvel to be around - never down and never slowing down, it seems.

Grambling has gotten itself a compliance officer, and a head trainer. Robinson Stadium hasn't looked this polished in July since I've been covering Grambling football. There's also talk of the pending hire of a sports information guy.

Yes, Mathieu just might get there.

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Grambling begins work on hiring coaches
New leaders needed for the university's baseball, soccer and softball programs
July 5, 2006

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — New Grambling State athletics director Troy Mathieu has settled in, but he's anything but settled.

Awards and framed momentos, including a certificate as a certified athletic administrator, are up behind his desk. Other tasks, like hiring three coaches, look to take a bit longer.

"We haven't set an itinerary (for the hirings)," Mathieu said. "I'm getting familiar with the candidates. There is some strong interest."

Mathieu said he expects to begin callbacks and then scheduling interviews after the holiday. He did not release any names.

Grambling State's openings include those vacated by baseball coach James "Sapp" Randall, softball coach Connie Garcee and first-year women's soccer coach Cesar Martinez.

Randall, an assistant to legendary former coach Wilbert Ellis for 13 seasons, could only manage a 29-80 mark after taking over in 2004. But he continued recruiting throughout what would be a last-place season in the Southwestern Athletic Conference's West division.

Signings included Fort Worth-Polytechnic High pitcher Mario Mendoza and two California prospects, outfielder Richard Amaro of Oxnard Community College and shortstop Brandon Young of Carpinteria High.

"The fear is from parents whose son signed to play here," Mathieu said. "What does this mean to him? I'm here to tell them that we will honor that commitment."

Garcee's team was 3-53 overall in 2005, and last in the West. GSU soccer slumped to 9-12 overall, with a 5-3 SWAC mark, just a year after winning the school's first-ever soccer title under departed coach Matthew Okoh.

"I just wish GSU put as much time and research into this as it does as when selecting a football coach," Grambling fan Paul Taylor said in a Fan Blog at on Tuesday. "Until they do, the Commissioner's Cup will continue to elude GSU."

Mathieu, who last month took over a program that hasn't won the all-sports league trophy in nine years, knows it's going to take more than bringing in new blood. He's gotten to work on the care and feeding of those already on staff, as well.

Mathieu began with an ambitious schedule of one-on-one meetings with coaches. He said those sessions have gone well.

"I want to let them understand where we're coming from, from the administrative standpoint," Mathieu said. "I'm here to help them accomplish their goals. That's what I am all about. So, I'm going through a process of finding out how we can help, how we can expanded our role and get them there."

Mathieu stresses that he isn't accomplishing anything alone.

"Everywhere here, things are upbeat, positive," Mathieu said. "Everyone wants to see us take it up a notch. The continuing theme has been: How can we help? I couldn't ask for more."

Friday, February 16, 2007

Bayou Classic 2006

Classic makes welcome return to New Orleans
In-state SWAC rivals played in Houston last year after Katrina
November 20, 2006
By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — A year away has taught Grambling State's football team just what it means to miss New Orleans.

The Bayou Classic returns to the Superdome this week after being moved to Houston's Reliant Stadium last season in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. That was the first time in 33 years that the event has been played outside of New Orleans.

"Just going back after what has happened, back to the place where the Bayou Classic started, that's big," said sophomore Monroe quarterback Brandon Landers, who is expected to share time with fellow sophomore Larry Kerlegan. "Houston was a great place to have the game, but New Orleans, it just has a special feel."

Kickoff for the Bayou Classic, which is nationally televised on NBC, is set for 1 p.m. Saturday.
The traditional job and college fair begins on Friday at the Marriott Hotel, 555 Canal St., in New Orleans. The Battle of the Bands and Greek Show also returns to the Superdome, with a start time of 7 p.m. Friday. The indoor fan festival that precedes kickoff is at 10 a.m. Saturday.

This flurry of tourism — an average of 200,000 fans have poured into New Orleans after Thanksgiving in years past — is another signpost in the recovery of a hurricane-besieged city.

Officials heralded the game's return in a news conference held late last month, belated recognition for an event that's had a sometimes-rocky relationship with the state.

Louisiana "cannot afford to let the game and its financial impact leave the state," Gov. Kathleen Blanco said, while announcing Classic's return. "In previous years, this event has pumped some $30 million into our economy, providing direct support into the New Orleans region. ... The storms were strong, but they can't stop us, and they can't stop the State Farm Bayou Classic."

More than 20 cities submitted bids in 2005 to play host the game, including Shreveport. But school officials settled on Houston, saying its facility was better suited in the event of inclement weather — prescient in that last year's game day dawned cold and rainy.

The city had also taken in thousands of evacuees, though that didn't translate in ticket sales.

Houston's game drew 53,214, second smallest ever behind only 1984. The Bayou Classic had averaged more than 70,000 in the previous five seasons at the Superdome.

Ironically, Houston was perhaps the most serious alternative site considered by school officials when the 10-year contract with New Orleans went through contentious renegotiation in 2002.
Ultimately, Grambling and Southern signed a new three-year deal that included some reduced fees and remained at the Superdome — at least until Katrina intervened. That contract was extended just last week for another season.

Neither team has had much to brag about so far this year, with Southern arriving at 4-6 on the year and Grambling at 3-6. That could be why both coaches have focused on the idea of homecoming as much as football in pre-game interviews so far.

"It's a chance to go back home, and that's so important," said GSU coach Melvin Spears, who has won the last two Classics. "We hope our fans have fun supporting the game, but also the reconstruction of New Orleans."

Pete Richardson, who had opened his career at Southern by stringing together eight consecutive Classic victories, said: "Going back to New Orleans has a different ambience for our game. Houston did an outstanding job, but people are excited about going back to New Orleans."

Still, winning this game brings its own bragging rights — and Grambling has won three out of the last five Bayou Classics, including the last two in a row.

More recent winning streaks aside, however, GSU holds just a one-game edge, 27-26, in this knotted-up rivalry, which actually dates back to 1933.

The two teams are tied at 16-16 since moving the event to a neutral site in New Orleans.

That's why emotions still percolate around this contest, no matter the teams' record.

"Being back in New Orleans," said senior Farmerville linebacker Dimitri Carr, "only adds to this game."

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GSU returns to prepare for Southern with new energy
November 15, 2006
By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — When Grambling's first practice in four days was over, coach Melvin Spears couldn't help himself.

"Good practice!" he said, as the team encircled him on Tuesday night.

Senior running back Ab Kuuan, still stoked from a goal-line play for a touchdown moments before, began hopping up and down.

"Great practice!" Kuuan corrected, in a good-natured way.

In the midst of an unprecedented 20-day layoff before the Southern game, GSU had sat idle since last week, and the time away seemed to energize the group — which was last seen during a flat homecoming performance where Alabama State scored 22 unanswered points to win.

"A couple of days off, it gave us time to clear our heads," said senior Farmerville linebacker Dimitri Carr. "It gives us a chance to focus on football now. I know it did for me."

Uptempo passing plays, many with the addition of senior punt returner Landry Carter in trips formation, were run by both Brandon Landers and Larry Kerlegan. Each looked sharp.

"We had a chance to get our minds straight, with the time off," Landers said.

Grambling began practice working on inside running plays, reminiscent of the bye week regimen before its emotional 2004 Bayou Classic win, with senior fullback Ruben Mayes blowing open holes for Kuuan.

Whoops and shouts of encouragement echoed around Robinson Stadium, where the team practiced, and it became contagious, said Landers, the SWAC's leading passer.

Spears seemed energized by their enthusiasm, and spoke from the heart afterward.

"Nobody can stop us when we put forth the effort," he said. "Encourage each other. You are all the other guy has got."

Senior receiver Henry Tolbert, apparently recovered from some lingering maladies, ran with the first team, though junior Tim Abney was still sidelined with an ankle problem. Spears said all the other regular starters would be ready to play on Nov. 25, when GSU plays its traditional Thanksgiving weekend matchup on national television.

Grambling stands at 3-6 on the year, and is on a two-game losing streak — both to teams with losing records. This will be the first time ever that both GSU and Southern will enter the Bayou Classic with losing records.

Still, Carr said Tuesday's practice gives him hope of continuing a streak over Southern than now stands at two games.

"I haven't had this much fun in a long time," said Carr, third on the team with 61 tackles. "That's what's been missing this year."

Classic will stay for another year
Grambling and Southern have extended a 2002 contract to play the Bayou Classic in New Orleans for another year.

Southern signed off on the extension on Friday, and Grambling's Bayou Classic committee followed on Tuesday, said member Douglas Porter.

The original agreement meant the Bayou Classic, held in New Orleans since 1974, would remain at the Superdome for three years, with an option for a fourth.

Last year's contest was temporarily moved to Houston, a city that made a formal bid for the game in 2002, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina but has subsequently returned to Louisiana. The 2006 Bayou Classic is set for 1 p.m. Nov. 25.

Herb Simmons, Grambling's Bayou Classic coordinator in '02, said then that a new rate to rent the Superdome was set at just under $50,000, compared to $300,000 for previous years.

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Quick slants: Grambling
November 7, 2006
By Nick Deriso
GSU vs. Southern, 1 p.m. Nov. 25, Bayou Classic in New Orleans.

Senior Grambling running back Ab Kuuan has had trouble moving the ball behind a remade offensive line that's never found its rhythm.

His numbers show just how much trouble: Through nine games, Kuuan has gained only 481 yards. At this point last year, he'd already run for 649 — despite missing two games with an ankle injury.

At his current rate, Kuuan will finish the season with 587 yards, a far cry from the 1,200-yard season members of the offense openly talked about during the preseason — and his worst total since 2003.

Kuuan had steadily increased his output since taking over as the starter that season, rushing for 423 yards in '03, then 637 in 2004 and finally 891 yards last season.

His best night so far has been a 113-yard night against Prairie View, but that has been Kuuan's only time past the century mark. Those numbers were bolstered by a 61-yard scoring run.

Grambling was shut out in the second half last week against Alabama State for just the second time in five seasons.

The Tigers had most recently failed to score any points in the final two periods in a 28-10 win against Texas Southern in 2004. GSU was also blanked against I-A San Jose State in 2003, losing 29-0.

Grambling only scored three points in the second half against Southern in the 2001 Bayou Classic, though it held on for a 30-20 win under former coach Doug Williams.

1: Grambling's rank in SWAC for scoring, passing and total offense
18,652: Average attendance at GSU's home games, No. 5 in I-AA
16: Passing TDs by Grambling's Brandon Landers, tops in the SWAC

With no games scheduled for three weeks, Grambling is settling in for a long winter's nap.

The Tigers' next game is actually not until Nov. 25, when they take on Southern at the Bayou Classic in New Orleans.

This scheduling hiccup, a result of moving games around to accommodate non-conference opponents, provides the team a chance to recuperate from some lingering injuries.

"We hope to use this time to get some guys back," Grambling coach Melvin Spears said. "The layoff will give them an opportunity to get their legs back under them."

It also provides the coaches a chance to consider next season. GSU will practice today through Thursday, then the staff will begin a recruiting run, Spears said.

Grambling must replace at least five returning senior starters on offense and four on defense. Oddly enough, many of those veteran players are the ones in need of time to heal up.

Utility lineman Jamar Dorsey went down last week with a sprain, missing the balance of an eventual rout by Alabama State. Cornerback Greg Fassitt was also in street clothes by the end of the game.

Receivers Henry Tolbert and Tim Abney have both tried to play in recent weeks, but been unable to go — the result of a non-football related problem and an ankle sprain, respectively.
Spears said he hopes to get all of them back over the 20-day layover between dates.

This week, sitting in front of the Bayou Classic bye, has been filled over the past five seasons with non-conference opponents like Morris Brown, Savannah State and Concordia. This year, Grambling played the University of Houston in Week 3.

After Southern, GSU finishes with a final Southwestern Athletic Conference game against Alcorn State at home. That contest was originally scheduled as the season opener, but was moved to the back of the schedule to accommodate a non-conference date in Birmingham, Ala., against MEAC champion Hampton.

"It's unusual with respect to Alcorn State, to play so late," Spears said. "Traditionally, there aren't any more games after the Bayou Classic."

Until last year, anyway. Alcorn moved its home game to the end of the year in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Moving the Alcorn contest to Dec. 2 means Grambling will be play a regular-season game two weeks after six of the league's 10 teams have already finished their schedule. Mississippi Valley will have been done for a month.

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Throw the records out for this Classic? Gladly
November 21, 2006
By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — This is a Bayou Classic, perhaps, that only a diehard fan would enjoy.

Grambling enters the contest with just three wins, having put together the first losing season since former coach Doug Williams' rebuilding project began in 1998.

Southern, which once boasted a run of 11 straight winning seasons under Pete Richardson, has managed only four wins in 2006 — and faces the prospect of a second consecutive losing campaign.

The response from GSU's players: So what?

There still burns inside of them that desire to beat Southern, as evidenced by up-tempo, emotional practices over the past two weeks.

"Throw the records out the door," said senior fullback Ruben Mayes, who made a game-changing touchdown reception in last year's 50-35 win over Southern. "Our guys are ready to play, no matter how the season has gone."

It's gone terribly.

Never before, in fact, have these two teams met in a Bayou Classic with both sporting losing records.

That makes Saturday something of a litmus test for a fan base used to having something to play for.

"You have fair-weather fans on both sides," GSU coach Melvin Spears admits, "but it's all about the true Jaguars and the true Tigers that are going to stand up and come down. We're going to have a great time."

Not to say there weren't times when one or the other struggled.

Southern was 5-6 in 2003, and needed a win over Grambling to finish 6-6 on the year. GSU, however, had already collected 10 victories. Both finished with losing campaigns in 1991, but Grambling actually entered the Classic at 5-5.

More often than not, however, one or the other of these programs was on a roll.

Between them, GSU and Southern have won eight of the last nine Southwestern Athletic Conference crowns — and 17 titles over the 32 previous times the Bayou Classic has been held.
Grambling slumped to consecutive losing records in 1995-98, but that was during a period of unprecedented dominance for its in-state rival, as Richardson won the SWAC in 1997-98. After beating Grambling in 2003, Southern went on to take the league title.

Not this year. For the first time since its 1999 inception, neither GSU nor Southern will represent the Western Division in the SWAC Championship Game.

"It's always a big challenge when you have an opportunity to play in the Bayou Classic, because it means so much to both institutions," said Southern coach Pete Richardson. "Both institutions are struggling, but I think our fans are excited about it — and our players understand that we want to finish up strong."

The best either team can hope for is a season-ending mark of 5-6. GSU has two more games, with a home contest against Alcorn still to come. This is Southern's final date in 2006.
Both programs will likely look back with more than a little sense of wonder about what went wrong.

Southern, picked in the league's preseason voting to win the Western Division, lost four games by a touchdown or less — including two in overtime. So did GSU, which hit a skid after winning the conference crown just a year ago.

"It's been a rough season," said junior Grambling receiver Clyde Edwards, who had a career day in this game last year — piling up 161 yards and three touchdowns. "The Bayou Classic is our last opportunity to get this bitter taste out of our mouths."

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Will GSU return to run in Classic?
2004 game in New Orleans deviated from usual high-scoring shootouts
November 22, 2006
By Nick Deriso
Forgive the poor soul who came in thinking the 2004 Bayou Classic was going to be a pass-happy scoring bonanza.

After all, that's nearly become the template for this game. Just a season before, Grambling and Southern had combined for a staggering 1,136 yards of total offense, with 961 of it coming in the air.

Not in 2004, the last time the Classic was played in New Orleans.

Grambling, with true freshman Brandon Landers subbing for the injured quarterback Bruce Eugene, instead unleashed a brutal ground attack — chewing up yards, the clock and, finally, Southern. GSU won 24-13, in one of the lowest scoring Classics ever.

How much that resembles this year's Bayou Classic, with Landers again under center and the game making a triumphal return to New Orleans, remains to be seen.

But it certainly worked last time.

Back in 2004, Landers only attempted 13 passes — with his longest, a 19-yarder, going to fellow freshman Clyde Edwards — but beamed with open-hearted joy while running back Ab Kuaan hoisted the MVP trophy.

"Getting a chance to go to the Dome in 2004 and play was a dream come true," Landers says these days. "That was the biggest game of my career."

Southern quarterback Thomas Ricks, chosen SWAC offensive player of the week five times that season, did his best to spark his team — passing for 176 yards and a touchdown and leading all Jaguar rushers with 93 yards.

But GSU held onto the ball for more than 36 minutes while four rushers combined for 292 yards.
Kuuan accounted for 126 of those yards on 18 carries. His three rushing touchdowns gave Kuaan back-to-back 10 touchdown seasons and tied his single-game best.

That, Southern coach Pete Richardson insists, was a long time ago.

Now 0-2 against Spears in the Classic, Richardson has no doubt noted Kuuan, who averaged more than 100 yards rushing for the final month of 2004, is gaining just 53 a night this season.

Grambling enters this year's game looking more like the 2005 edition, leading the conference in passing and scoring just as it did after Eugene returned with a medical redshirt.

"I'm concerned about Brandon Landers," Richardson insists. "They spread the ball around."

But sticking with the familiar downfield approach hasn't led to the same success without Eugene.

Last year, GSU went undefeated in league play, including a 50-35 win over Southern in Houston. Using a quarterbacking tandem of Landers and fellow redshirt sophomore Larry Kerlegan, Grambling has stumbled to 3-6 - with no hope even for a winning season.

That's got some fans hoping this homecoming to New Orleans will mean a return to a run-first look.

It worked, they remind, last time.

"This year, it will be more of a combination, a more balanced attack," Spears said. "Our offense is one that is based on what they give us. Certainly, we'd like to run the ball — but if they put nine men in the box, trying to stop Ab Kuuan, we will have recognize that formation and adjust."

As he did in 2004, Edwards remains Landers' favorite target. He leads Grambling in catches, yards and touchdowns.

"Brandon and I have worked well together from the beginning," Edwards said. "We certainly would like to continue doing that. The Bayou Classic is always a big game. Whether we pass it or run it, we just need the win."

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Southern stumbled after series of '06 mishaps
November 23, 2006
By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — Southern needed a week off, quite literally, to lick its wounds.

There's something that hurts worse than a second-ever losing record for the Jaguars under 13th-year coach Pete Richardson.

It's losing more than a dozen players to injury over the course of this year.

Two quarterbacks have fallen. And tacklers? By the bushel — including four before last week's dismal blowout to Arkansas-Pine Bluff alone. The Jags even had an offensive guard go down ... with a finger infection.


"It's been a funny year for us," Richardson said. "Every game, it seems like we lost somebody."

The result: Southern is 4-6, just the third time Richardson has entered the Bayou Classic with a losing record — and only the fourth for the Jaguars in 20 seasons.

They face a similarly struggling Grambling, with kickoff set for 1 p.m. Saturday at the Superdome in New Orleans.

"This is a rivalry, even if we are 3-6 and they are 4-6," said redshirt GSU sophomore Larry Kerlegan, who has been sharing time with quarterback Brandon Landers. "We both have something to prove."

For the Jaguars, it just might be whether they can get through it without running ruts in the Dome turf with a trainer's cart.

Quarterback J.C. Lewis, the Jaguars' starter as the season began, missed three contests and parts of two others with a concussion and then an injured throwing arm. His replacement, C.J. Byrd, also suffered an arm injury.

Offensive guard Tremaine Johnson had a bum ankle. Cornerback Michael Williams also had an ankle thing. For linebacker Johnathan Malveaux, it was a shoulder.

Linebacker Keidrick Bailey, a key element in Richardson's defensive scheme, was lost for nearly a month with an ankle problem, as well. Defensive end Lionel Howard? Ankle, too.

That dramatically changed the Jaguars' season. Luckily, a bye week proceeds their nationally televised in-state rivalry game against Grambling.

"Defensively, we have to get some people back, specifically on the outside," Richardson said. "The week of rest helped us out a great deal."

As Southern has been decimated by injury, the inexperienced replacements who followed have made a series of stunning errors — and often at moments when the game is on the line.

Southern had no turnovers through its first seven quarters, then bottomed out with 32 as injuries set in over the rest of the season. The Jaguars — who never gave the ball up against Bethune-Cookman and Alabama State — are now No. 8 in the 10-team league for turnover margin, at minus-7.

Still, Richardson has produced another squad that focuses on the little things: His is the SWAC's least penalized team, and it's terrific on special teams — leading the league in punting and field goal percentage.

For all of its uncertainty under center, Southern has contended for much of the season — losing five games by a touchdown or less, and two in overtime.

No. 3 quarterback Bryant Lee, though prone to turnovers as a redshirt freshman, is a shifty threat on the ground. Talented Southern receiver Gerard Landry is catching what this trio is throwing, sitting at No. 2 in the SWAC.

"They've changed a lot, because of personnel reasons," GSU coach Melvin Spears said. "They are not are wide open as usual. They have changed a whole lot. Now, you can look for the quarterback to run on a number of different occasions. We've just got to come in and take what they give us."

Grambling's No. 1 pass offense will tangle with the league's No. 1 pass defense. Southern has allowed just 136 yards per game so far this season — compared with Grambling's 164, which ranks No. 5 in the SWAC.

Neither team has had much success running the ball, with Southern just one spot above Grambling at No. 8 in the SWAC with 109 yards on the ground per night.

Southern is just as bad against the run, as well. The Jags have given up 166 yards a number to rank one spot above Grambling, as well.

Richardson, for his part, understands what's at stake with this game. He signed a new contract just before the 2004 season, and has heard increasing rumblings amongst Southern supporters after losing the next two Classics in a row.

"We are inconsistent at the present time, and part of it's because of injuries. We just have to get ready and finish up strong," Richardson said. "It's been a very disappointing season for both teams, but we are excited about this game. It means more for some people than winning the championship."

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For Bayou Classic fans, no place like home
November 25, 2006
By Nick Deriso
NEW ORLEANS — Bayou Classic fans said a homecoming for their game confirms the budding recovery of storm-ravaged New Orleans.

"It's more than just the return of a football game — it's a revival, a rebirth of sorts," said Grambling fan Donovan Simmons of Lafayette. "Hurricane Katrina did not kill our Crescent City. It was a serious setback, but the return of the classic signals the major comeback for Louisiana's crown jewel."

Kickoff for the Bayou Classic is at 1 p.m. today at the Louisiana Superdome. The game will be broadcast live nationally on NBC.

Supporters of both Grambling and Southern could be found milling about the refurbished Superdome on this cool Friday night, as diehards began lining up for the Battle of the Bands.

"I don't care if we lose!" said Grambling fan Sherry Williams of Houston, point-
ing to her Tigers T-shirt. "I'll be right back down here tomorrow night just like this!"

Others haggled, recalling old times, at kiosk after kiosk along Poydras in front of the Dome. There were dozens more touring the historic streets of the French Quarter, which went largely untouched by Hurricane Katrina.

The same couldn't be said for the Superdome, which had to undergo extensive renovation after being used as a shelter for storm evacuees. The Bayou Classic, after being held 31 consecutive times in New Orleans, was played at Houston's Reliant Stadium in 2005 while the work continued.

"Last year, I went to Houston, and it wasn't the same," said Louis Wright of Grambling. "Here, you walk around. There, you're in traffic. There's nothing like the Crescent City."

Even something so routine as the pre-game walk-through at the stadium turned into an emotional experience.

"I walked into that Dome and I just had chill bumps all over," said GSU coach Melvin Spears. "They have done an outstanding job of putting it back together. Every time I go to New Orleans I get the same feeling. I roll in and all of a sudden the Superdome pops up out of the middle of the city, it's just one of those things. The dome is like no other place, and we play all over the world. It has this aura, like being at home."

A group congregated at the team hotel Friday at the annual Legends' Affair, where former Grambling receiver Trumaine Johnson was among those honored.

While fans thanked Houston for its hospitality last season, many said there is simply no place like home.

"The tradition, passion and pageantry of this spectacular weekend is unparalleled — and as we experienced in Houston last year, it cannot be duplicated," Simmons said. "The Bayou Classic belongs in New Orleans."

Official museum kickoff
The official kickoff announcement of a national fundraising campaign for the Eddie G. Robinson Museum will be held at 10 a.m. today at New Orleans' Astor Crowne Plaza in conjunction with the Bayou Classic's Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus jazz brunch event.

"The only reason we get the opportunity to be featured in a game like this is because of people like Eddie Rob, who did it better than anybody else," said GSU coach Melvin Spears.

Scheduled speakers include Gov. Kathleen Blanco, Secretary of State Jay Dardenne, state Rep. Rick Gallot, members of the Robinson family, Grambling State University officials and New Orleans native and original Saturday Night Live cast member Garrett Morris.

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Grambling still looking to replace former leaders
November 24, 2006
By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — Grambling only lost a handful of starters in the off-season, but that was enough to shake up its delicate formula for winning.

Grambling coach Melvin Spears admitted as much when — while talking recently about departed players like quarterback Bruce Eugene, defensive end Jason Hatcher and safety Jermaine Mills — he referred to them as the "heart and soul" of his team.

Their graduation left Grambling with plenty of remarkable athletes, but without an emotional center. That in turn played a decisive role in GSU's disappointing 3-6 mark coming into Saturday's Bayou Classic.

Kickoff against Southern is set for 1 p.m. The game will be broadcast nationally on NBC.
As much as Spears' pre-season optimism about a return to the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game seemed justified when GSU flashed bursts of athletic brilliance in 2006, they too often were followed by game-turning mental errors.

Four of those six losses were by five points or less.

One game was lost on a special teams mishap, another on an over-aggressive play call. One game ended on a badly thrown incompletion, another on a fumble.

"It's been a combination of things," said junior receiver Clyde Edwards, a terrific, though quiet, performer. "We've just made some big mistakes at key moments."

Add to that a questionable coaching decision to stay with a vertical offensive scheme, despite the switch under center, and the die was cast for this season of disappointment in Grambling.

A team last seen at the Bayou Classic in the midst of an 11-1 coronation as the conference champion is now assured a losing season — no matter what happens in its remaining two contests.

"I think our team has progressed," Spears said. "But anytime you uproot the chemistry of the football team, it takes a little time to gel. We are looking forward to coming down (to New Orleans) and leaving it all on the field."

That would be in stark contrast to its most recent second half of football, when Grambling disappeared late in its own homecoming game against Alabama State — falling 35-16 after giving up 22 unanswered points over the third and fourth quarters.

"It's my senior year, so I don't want to go out like that," said Farmerville linebacker Dimitri Carr. "Besides, this is my last Bayou Classic. You can't lose that one."

Spears calls the ASU collapse an aberration, noting that Grambling's four other Division I-AA losses came by a total of two touchdowns. That includes margins of one to Hampton, three to Alabama A&M and five to both UAPB and Texas Southern.

He promised a revitalized effort against Southern, and that has certainly characterized the practice sessions leading up to the eve of Grambling's biggest rivalry game.

The reason: For all the jaw-dropping turns the games themselves often take, no SWAC opponent has been a steadier opponent than Southern.

The overall Bayou Classic series record is 16-16. No other league foe has a non-losing record against Grambling.

That the event returns to New Orleans, after a year spent at Houston in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, only adds to the pitched emotions.

"You are on the big stage, the only show in town," Spears said. "With NBC, millions of folks have an opportunity to watch as you showcase your brand of football in front of the world. We live for it every single year, because we love the pageantry and all the things that go with it."

Even if there is a tinge of regret attached to this one, which pits two losing teams for the first time ever.

The players say, despite Grambling's record, there is still much to play for: Pride of ownership and, just maybe, an opportunity to turn things around next season.

"This game determines how the off-season goes," said redshirt sophomore Larry Kerlegan, who has shared time at quarterback all year with Brandon Landers. "I want to win these two, then come back and win the starter's job in the spring."

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November 25, 2006

Southern and Grambling, since the Bayou Classic's first playing in 1974, have combined for 19 Southwestern Athletic Conference titles and 14 black college national titles. One or the other has appeared in each of the previous seven SWAC championship games.

Yet they arrive for the first time in Classic history with a pair of losing records — and no chance to represent the Western Division.

Grambling has won the last two Bayou Classics in a row, and three of the last five, to send the once-invincible Pete Richardson into a tailspin at Southern.

Since Melvin Spears took over at GSU, the Jaguars have been beaten by a combined 74-48. Southern lost to Grambling in 2004 (the same season Richardson signed the richest coaching contract in the league) and has proceeded to compile a record of just 8-12.

• TV: KTVE-10 (NBC)
• Radio: KNBB-99.3 FM
• Web:
• Series: Tied 16-16
• Last year: GSU won 50-35
• Coaches: GSU, Melvin Spears (third year, 20-12); Southern, Pete Richardson (13th year, 113-49)
• Line: None
• Last week: Both teams were off

Try for a rerun — literally — of 2004.

Back then, GSU quarterback Brandon Landers only attempted 13 passes while four rushers combined for 292 yards. It was a low-scoring affair, with Grambling on top 24-13, but the point total didn't fully illustrate how thoroughly Southern had been beaten.

GSU held onto the ball for more than 36 minutes, with most of the damage being done by current senior running back Ab Kuuan — who collected 126 of those yards on 18 carries.
So far, Southern has been just as bad against the run as Grambling, giving up 166 yards a number to rank one spot above the cellar-dwelling Tigers.

The problem: Grambling, even without record-smashing quarterback Bruce Eugene, has stuck to its pass-first ways. Meaning Kuuan has gained only 481 yards.

At this point last year, he'd already run for 649 — despite missing two games with an ankle injury. Kuuan's best outing so far, and only time with more than 100 yards, was a 113-yard night against cellar-dwelling Prairie View.

In all, Kuuan has run for 275 career yards and four scores on 43 carries in the Bayou Classic.

If this turns into a ground-oriented game, Grambling's SWAC-worst run defenders look to have their hands full. Southern has been talking about starting the athletic freshman quarterback Bryant Lee, and has seen Kendall Addison run for an average of 103 yards over the past five games.

Meanwhile, GSU has given up more than 200 yards on the ground four times this season. Only one opponent has been held to less than 100 yards rushing all year.

Senior receiver Henry Tolbert ran with the first team during most of Grambling's 20-day wait for this game, apparently fully recovered from non-football related maladies that kept him out of most of two previous games.

That's good news for the GSU offense. Tolbert has 11 career catches for 220 yards and two touchdowns in the Bayou Classic.

Despite being slowed by injury, Tolbert only needs to average 103 yards, two touchdowns and eight catches over Grambling's final two games this season to break that trio of career school records.

Grambling, at 3-6 so far, hasn't lost more than six games in a single season since former coach Eddie Robinson posted 3-8 marks in his final two campaigns at GSU in 1996-97. It hasn't lost six since going 5-6 in 1999, the first year of successor Doug Williams' rebuilding project.

Really, though, a Grambling coach can almost afford to go 1-10, if this is his lone win. As Williams quickly learned, for GSU fans — and, truthfully, the administration, too — the Bayou Classic counts more than any old championship.

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Measure of a team
Another close game turns into another close loss for Grambling
November 26, 2006
By Nick Deriso
NEW ORLEANS — Of course.

Of course, Grambling State jumped out to the lead, then gave it away. Of course, they played sloppy, even ugly, then charged back to the arm-waving precipice of a stirring win — only to fall just short.

Of course.

After all, the Tigers lost their first game this season by one point. And their second game by three. And three more now by 5 points each.

This Grambling squad is the embodiment of a football cliché. Theirs is a life of inches.
They've existed in space between here and . . .


So, of course, they lose 21-17 to Southern in the Bayou Classic, but only after failing to gain a first down on fourth-and-one from the SU 2 in the game's waning minutes.

There were 19 points, all of them an inch away, between this underachieving GSU team and an 8-2 record. Between them and a return trip to the SWAC Championship Game.

"We had our opportunities," said Henry Tolbert, who led all Grambling receivers with 67 yards on four catches. "We just didn't capitalize."

There has been, from the beginning of 2006, an inch or two separating this team from what it would like to be, from what perhaps it should be.

Still, there was nothing to suggest the disquieting prospect of this game's nearly unwatchable first half.

We saw two deposed SWAC powers underscoring why they had but six wins between them, after each has averaged eight a season over the last 10.

Unlike so many recent Bayou Classics, these 1,000-yard passing nights that seem so very far away now, this contest didn't look to be one where the team that scored last would win.
It would be the team that scored at all.

Grambling and Southern split their first-quarter time of possession almost exactly in half, with similar results: Tigers 0, Jaguars 0.

Grambling finally found the end zone in the second period, followed by a chorus of touchdowns from both teams late in the game, but even then there was little music to this game's backbeat of mistakes on both sides — from questionable coaching to untimely penalties and messy execution.

Southern had a tremendous 25-yard third-quarter touchdown by Bryant Lee on a designed quarterback run called back on a holding penalty. Jaguars kicker Breck Ackley, who'd only whiffed three times all year, had a 26-yarder blocked and then missed from 41 yards out.
The deciding points from Southern followed a badly mishandled punt return by Landry Carter that gave the Jaguars the ball inside GSU's red zone.

That score, a 2-yard outside run by running back Kendall Addison, was actually keyed by a fumble from Southern quarterback C.J. Byrd — who briefly replaced an injured Lee. The fumble rolled forward, however, and Byrd recovered for a first and goal.

It was that kind of afternoon.

I don't even want to think about Grambling punting on third down. Or Southern taking three points off the board in a failed attempt to score a touchdown after a GSU penalty.
Somebody had to win. They just had to.

Ultimately, it became clear that it would be Southern, which eventually began getting out of Lee what GSU had hoped to get out of starting the athletic Larry Kerlegan — tough-to-figure scrambles mixed in with a timely pass.

But Kerlegan had been ineffective in the early going, so he was replaced by fellow redshirt sophomore Brandon Landers.

He then joined in what has become a familiar refrain: Southern tied it, then went ahead, then Grambling answered back, then the Jaguars scored again, leaving GSU in the same position it occupied so many other times all year.

That is, with time short — and a very long field.

Landers methodically moved Grambling along, even as the fourth quarter drained away, handing off to senior running back Ab Kuuan at the Southern 25, the 11, the 4, then the 2.
That's where it stood, with less than three minutes remaining. GSU was left with a fourth down, and the Bayou Classic to go.

Get a yard, and there are four more downs to negotiate the remaining yard. Get two yards, and Grambling is ahead by two. Follow that with the extra point, and Southern must score a touchdown to win.

Instead, GSU lost two yards.

GSU coach Melvin Spears called "Power I, Right, 43 Lead," with Kuuan — the MVP of this game in 2004, the last time it was played at the Superdome — going over tackle.

When the senior reached the hole, it had collapsed. Just that quickly, two Southern defenders were on top of him.

Kuuan tried to bounce outside in an effort to free himself, but that's where he met Southern defensive back Jarmaul George.

A senior who, because of injury and ineligibility, had never played in a Bayou Classic before.
Of course.

"You don't know how much that hurts," said senior Grambling offensive lineman Jamar Dorsey. "To come up a yard short?"

He paused, then said: "It hurts."

The resulting tackle, which pushed Kuuan back to the SU 4, sent Southern fans into a frenzy.
See, they'd lost two Bayou Classics in a row, but these Jaguars have a knack for winning the close ones. Going back 15 years, Grambling has fallen to Southern by 3 points in 2003, by 4 in 2000, by 5 in 1996 and by 1 point in 1991.

Of course, they would win another nail-biter.

"You've got to finish that run," said Spears, shaking his head. "You've got to finish it. As a result, we lost."

He knows the words by heart, like a song that once played in heavy rotation.

There have been other details, but the results? They lost.

"It's the story," senior Henry Tolbert repeated, "of our season."

We should have known it would come down to something so mundane as an inch for the 2006 edition of the Grambling State Tigers. To something as obvious as a play here, or a player there.

Of course. It has all year.

NICK DERISO is sports editor at The News-Star, 411 N. Fourth St., Monroe, La., 71201. His weblog is at Contact him at 318-362-0234 or at

g g g
It's not curtains yet for GSU's year
Alcorn St. looms in season finale
November 27, 2006
By Nick Deriso
NEW ORLEANS — Even as they try to adjust to losing the Bayou Classic for the first time since 2003, Grambling State's players must now do the almost unthinkable: Prepare for another league foe.

GSU, which fell 21-17 against Southern in a nationally televised in-state rivalry game, plays Alcorn State this week at Robinson Stadium. It's the only Southwestern Athletic Conference game slated.

"As football players, we have to get ready to play," said senior GSU cornerback Greg Fassitt. "This is what we have to do. We have to get ready and close out at home."

The Alcorn contest was moved to the end of the schedule to accommodate a television date against Hampton in the MEAC-SWAC Challenge to open the season.

The switch meant Grambling didn't play at Robinson Stadium until Oct. 21, against Jackson State. That 36-7 victory has been followed by three consecutive losses, at Texas Southern, back home against Alabama State and then last week at the Bayou Classic.

Grambling (3-7, 3-5) had entered that stretch a half-game back of Western Division-leading Arkansas-Pine Bluff, but has now fallen all the way back to third place. UAPB will represent the division in the SWAC Championship Game on Dec. 19.

"This game teaches you how to be a man," said senior GSU offensive lineman Jamar Dorsey. "You can be at the top one minute, and then sometimes find yourself right back at the bottom. You've got to learn to live with both."

While Grambling slumped, Alcorn (5-5, 4-4) arrives having beaten its own in-state rivalry, Jackson State, in the Capital City Classic on Nov. 18. The Braves were off last week.
"This too shall pass," said GSU coach Melvin Spears. "The bottom line is, the sun will come up tomorrow. We've got to get ready for Alcorn this week. We'll try to keep it close and hope this time we come out on top."

Their GSU legacy: Grambling seniors finished their careers on a down note, but still participated in two victories over archrival Southern.

GSU had taken just one Bayou Classic since 1993 when this group, then mostly sophomores, won 24-13 in the Superdome back in 2004. A season later, as juniors, they helped Grambling to a 50-35 win after the game was moved to Houston in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

"We played good in all of them," said senior linebacker Dimitri Carr, third on the team with nine tackles last Saturday. "I guess I went out 50/50. I'm 2-2."

Grambling has won three of the last six Bayou Classics, but falling to Southern this season pushed the Jaguars to a 17-16 all-time series lead.

"It's my last one," said dejected senior running back Ab Kuuan, who came up a yard short Saturday on a fourth-down attempt in the final period that would have put Grambling in a position to win. "We're 2-2, but I still have a sour taste in my mouth."

The five-point margin of victory was the narrowest since Southern won by three in 2003, the first year many of these seniors saw playing time. Southern has won the last five Bayou Classic decided by five points or less.

"It's just that much tougher because of everything I went through to get here," said Dorsey, who suffered a knee injury that he'd just begun playing on again. "I worked so hard to get back. But the decision to come to Grambling was the best one I ever made. I feel certain that these Tigers are in good hands."

Southern's streaks: Jaguars coach Pete Richardson is now 12-4 in the Louisiana Superdome. He is 12-2 all-time against Grambling in games played there, having dropped last season's Bayou Classic at Houston's Reliant Stadium.

His kicker, Breck Ackley, finished his collegiate eligibility having scored in 42 consecutive games —- every game he played in for Richardson.

He had three points on Saturday, kicking extra points after two touchdowns in the third and then a fourth-quarter score that provided the difference in the Classic.

Ackley scored a personal-best 11 points twice over that span, and became the school's all-time leading scorer in last year's loss to Grambling.

Southern leads the overall series against GSU, which dates back to 1933, by a margin of 28-26. The rivalry was moved to New Orleans in 1974, and was first played in the Dome a season later.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The time that Grambling played Concordia

Grambling fills date with Concordia College
March 2, 2005

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - The smallest school on a 2005 home schedule that includes Pac-10 power Washington State has created some of the biggest questions for Grambling State fans.

GSU will announce a slate that includes a November non-conference game against tiny Concordia College, a Selma, Ala., program that will field its first football team next year.

"They moved some dates around, because they wanted to come up here," said GSU athletics director Willie Jeffries. "They were one of the only teams that we could find who would come in on that date - and one who would sign a one-time guarantee where we do not have to return a game."

But who are these guys?

Concordia, one of 10 institutions in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod university system, is the only historical black Lutheran college in the nation. President Julius Jenkins - who holds a masters from GSU's fellow conference member Alabama State - led the school from junior-college status to four-year accreditation in 1994.

The Grambling game is part of an effort to position Concordia for membership in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics' Division III. Concordia's 2005 schedule also includes Webber International University, an NAIA team that finished last season with a 5-5 record.
New head coach Tim Perry, who briefly played collegiate football at Alabama A&M, was hired last June.

He was previously defensive line coach at Phillips-Carver High School in Birmingham from 1999-2002, then took over as head football coach in 2003. He led a team that had finished 1-9 in 2002 to a 6-4 mark - garnering City of Birmingham High School Coach of the Year honors - before being hired away to Concordia.

Perry came in confident, telling The Selma Times-Journal: "A 10-0 record would be acceptable our first year. I don't have a mediocre God. Why should I have a mediocre football team?"
Jeffries added that while many may not have heard of Perry's Hornets, the agreement ensures that GSU will have a fourth home game.

That resonates with fans like Paul Taylor of Grambling, who said he attends every contest at Robinson Stadium - regardless of the opponent.

"I don't have a problem with Concordia at all," said Taylor, a fixture in his Paul "Tank" Younger jersey. "I would tell fans just to come to the game and have a good time. I don't care if we are playing Timbuktu College at home. I am still at the game early for pregame. We as fans, and especially season ticketholders, need to be at every home game."

Perry's roster is still taking shape, but he hopes to build a winning tradition by aggressively recruiting outside of Selma. In fact, of the 30 athletes inked by Concordia on National Signing Day last month, 20 were from the Atlanta area.

Perry also recruited in Birmingham, focusing on Ensley High, his alma mater. Concordia got commitments from strong safety James Bester, offensive lineman Martarius Terry, defensive back Jaurice Smith (the top scorer on the school's basketball team) and running back Desmond Barnes.

They will help fill a spot that's historically been difficult for GSU to schedule, since it falls so late in the season.

"We did not want Coach (Melvin) Spears and our football team to have a two-week layoff before the Bayou Classic," Jeffries said. "Both teams, Southern and Grambling, prefer a one-week period to lick your wounds - but two is too long."

Jeffries said he has not begun negotiations for this date in 2006 and beyond.
Concordia's top signees

A look at some of Concordia College's top signees in its first season of football:

DE/WR Braylin Banks (6-3, 175) Towers (Decatur, GA) HS: A Top 20 DeKalb Country receiver. Finished seventh in last year's Georgia boys 5-3A triple jump and 10th in 300-meter hurdles.
DL Aubrey Boone (5-11, 240), Stephenson (Stone Mountain, GA) HS: 25 tackles and a sack in 2004. Team advanced to the second round of 5A playoffs.
LB Brandon Brewer, Cedar Grove (Ellenwood, GA) HS: 32 total tackles, tied for a team-best four sacks, as Cedar Grove went 5-5.
DB/KR Alviticus Bryant (5-9, 160), Stephenson (Stone Mountain, GA) HS: Had two eye-popping 92-yard kickoff returns. Also finished tied for seventh in the high jump at the 2004 Georgia Boys State Meet.
OL/DL Keenan Cody (6-6, 294), Towers (Decatur, GA) HS: Had 16 tackles in 11 games as a senior. Team advanced to the first round of the playoffs.
OL/DL Demonte Flemister (6-1, 235), Towers (Decatur, GA) HS: All-county second-team selection by the DeKalb Touchdown Club.
DB Cornelius Hall, Cedar Grove (Ellenwood, GA) HS: 72 tackles, fourth-best on the team, and an interception as a senior.
RB Shaun Jordan (5-8), Towers (Decatur, GA) HS: 506 yards as a junior; then 904 last season. All-county honorable mention. Finished fifth in 5-3A boys long jump.

g g g
This was more than just huge mismatch
GSU 82, Concordia 7
November 13, 2005

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Grambling State dismantled Concordia College of Selma, Ala., 82-7 in the most lopsided win by the Tigers since 1959.

GSU (8-1) has now won seven straight games. Former coach Eddie Robinson's 93-0 victory over Mississippi Valley State remains the school record.

Concordia, a first-year NAIA provisional program, falls to 6-4.

GSU now has a bye week before traveling to Houston for the Bayou Classic against Southern.

"The main thing for us was to come out and have a good day and avoid getting anybody hurt," said GSU coach Melvin Spears. "Now we've got to get ready for the Jaguars."

Senior quarterback Bruce Eugene passed Alcorn State product Steve McNair at No. 2 for career SWAC touchdowns with his first scoring strike, a 47-yard pass to Clyde Edwards late in the first quarter.

He would throw four more touchdowns, completing 21-of-33 attempts against an overmatched non-conference opponent. Both Henry Tolbert and Moses Harris had more than 100 yards receiving for Grambling, two of nine different GSU players to catch a pass.

Concordia managed just 177 total offensive yards, averaging three yards per play. In the first quarter, the Hornets ran 20 plays for just 23 total yards.

When the score reached 82-7, officials then let the game clock run.

"This showed my guys where we've got to get to," said Concordia coach Shepherd Skanes. "Grambling has a world-class program, so it's a teaching tool for me. We're just getting started."

Ab Kuuan's 88 rushing yards paced Grambling. Eugene also ran for a score before freshman Larry Kerlegan took over under center midway through the third period. Kerlegan then added another touchdown pass.

GSU even had its first special-teams score of the year when Landry Carter returned a punt for 63 yards early in the fourth quarter.

Grambling's defense forced one fumble, which was returned for a touchdown by Marquis Binns, and two interceptions - including a final one by Antonio Rainey as the game ended.

Concordia's lone score came in the first half, when quarterback Ken Johnson threaded a 66-yard scoring pass to Jamaal Stokes over the head of GSU cornerback Zaire Wilborn as the second quarter began.

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Time passes slowly in a blowout game
November 13, 2005

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - This final Grambling State home game of the 2005 season began quietly, and not just because only 5,085 fans showed.

With in-state rival Southern and the conference championship game still ahead, not to mention an outmatched non-conference squad scheduled for Saturday, GSU's players looked bored and restless all week.

It was a theme that ran through all of game day. Forgive me if, during a merciless blowout, I was keeping an eye on my watch, too:

12:01 p.m.: Perhaps owing to unfamiliarity with this first-year program, the Grambling scoreboard has the opponent listed as "Concodia."

12:07 p.m.: As GSU goes through its pre-game paces, the scoreboard is fixed.

12:09 p.m.: Graduate assistant coach Marcus Yanez, a former GSU linebacker, talks with that unit about letdowns. "I don't want to give you a history lesson on these so-called sorry teams," he says. "Langston, in 2002? We barely got out of there."

12:15 p.m.: Concordia's linemen haven't yet taken the field for Concordia's pre-game routine, but one can be seen peeking out from a still-to-be unveiled display honoring Paul "Tank" Younger atop the hill by the stadium support facility.

12:27 p.m.: The first echoes of the Tiger Marching Band can be heard as the "Chocolate Boom" moves across campus.

12:31 p.m.: The team encircles GSU coach Melvin Spears in the south end zone just as the band makes its dramatic entrance into Robinson Stadium. Spears, who has been watching the team's warmups, is agitated.

"It's all right to be loose," he says. "It's all right to be confident. But don't get lackadaisical. Don't disrespect this game!"

His voice rises above the bright blasts of trumpet and trombone.

"You're the champions! You better act like it! You better come to work!"

12:43 p.m.: Quarterback Bruce "The Big Easy" Eugene, leading a group of seniors to the field for pre-game recognition, is the first to touch the black-and-gold tape spelling "WIN" inside the locker room door on his way out - a team tradition. Spears is in his office, changing into the black suit that's become his sideline trademark this season.

12:50 p.m.: Senior offensive lineman Tommy Dural, waiting for his name to be called in the Senior Day ceremony, reminisces with defensive lineman Jason Hatcher. "This is my last time down here. All those games we've played, and this is the last one."

The display honoring Younger is unveiled.

12:55 p.m.: Spears, speaking to the remaining team members in the locker room, again reminds them to maintain focus on the task at hand.

"This game that you love is about preparation," he says. "You can't ever take anybody for granted. This is these seniors' last hurrah. Let's make it count."

1:05 p.m.: Concordia begins the game on offense.

1:09 p.m.: Concordia punts.

1:12 p.m.: Grambling scores on a 5-yard run by Eugene, who would pass for 417 yards and five touchdowns before sitting down with 24 minutes left in the game. The ROTC guys in the north end zone do seven push ups, to match the score.

1:22 p.m.: After GSU cornerback Marques Binn recovers a fumble and returns it for a touchdown, the next Concordia possession leads to another easy score the other way. Keantwon Gray blocks a punt, giving Grambling a first-and-goal on the CC 3-yard line. The Hornets have run eight plays for minus-32 yards.

1:27 p.m.: Concordia finally gets its initial first down of the day midway through the first quarter. GSU scores two more times - including Eugene's first touchdown pass of the day - before the Hornets get another first down. Concordia has run 14 plays for a total of 6 yards.

2:01 p.m.: Facing a fourth down with 10 minutes left in the half, GSU's Ab Kuuan runs for a 19-yard touchdown. With Concordia receiver Jamaal Stokes' lone touchdown reception, the score is now 33-7. That's 40 pushups for the ROTC guys.

2:18 p.m.: With this 44-yard touchdown run after the catch by Tim Abney, Eugene has already passed for 257 yards and three scores.

GSU is up by 40 points - and there is five minutes left in the first half.

3:04 p.m.: Eugene, after being honored at halftime, starts the second period in the shotgun. Six plays and 63 yards later, he hits Reginald Jackson for a zig-zagging 12-yard touchdown. GSU is up 62-7.

The ROTC guys tell a news photographer that they have decided to simply do 20 pushups after every score from now on.

3:20 p.m.: Eugene takes his pads off after completing his 124th career touchdown pass, a 27-yard strike to Clyde Edwards that gives GSU a staggering 68-7 lead.

3:36 p.m.: It ain't over. Backup Larry Kerlegan - who had thrown just three times before Saturday - leads his first scoring drive for GSU, finishing with a 3-yard pass to fellow backup Brandon Logan.

3:43 p.m.: Scorekeepers let the score clock run after Landry Carter runs a Concordia punt back 63 yards for a touchdown to give Grambling a 75-point lead.

The ROTC guys should be put up for Purple Hearts.

3:54 p.m.: A wave of showers rolls over Robinson Stadium, sending the sparse crowd dashing for the exits.

4:04 p.m.: Antonio Rainey's interception of Concordia quarterback Roderick Robinson's pass puts an end to things.

4:17 p.m.: Spears gathers the team in the locker room, garnering early cheers when he tells the players that Jermaine Mills' folks are providing dinner tonight.

"You did a decent job of not playing down to the competition," Spears says, then turns his attention to the approaching bye week and the Bayou Classic to follow.

"Now, we've got to have two concentrated weeks before Southern," Spears says. "It's been 365 days. That's the one we want."

NICK DERISO is sports editor at The News-Star, 411 N. Fourth St., Monroe, La., 71201. Contact him at (318) 362-0234 or at

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Opponents no longer lick their lips over trips to GSU
November 14, 2005

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - A year after going winless at home, Grambling State has finished a spotless 2005.

GSU coach Melvin Spears' squad swept its four opponents at Robinson Stadium this season by a combined score of 221-50.

"When teams come here, they've got to know that they are going to get our best effort," said Spears. "What a difference a year makes. We've got some guys who are a little more seasoned, and our quarterback returned."

Last year, with Bruce Eugene sidelined, GSU would lose to Alcorn State, Jackson State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Alabama State - scoring just 23 points per game to their collective 34.

By contrast, Grambling averaged 55 points per game at home this year, beating Alabama A&M, Mississippi Valley State, Texas Southern and Concordia College.

"It's the most outstanding feeling I have ever had, after losing all of our home games last year," said running back Ab Kuuan. "That made us want to work hard to win every game this year. It really means a lot to me that the hard work paid off."

Righting past wrongs: History against non-conference teams tells us that Saturday's GSU contest against Concordia might have been closer.

Think Langston in 2002, when GSU won by just a touchdown. And the early part of the Morris Brown game the same season.

Think about both of the Savannah State games in 2003-04, in particular last year when it took a last-second touchdown pass from Brandon Landers to Henry Tolbert for a win.

"I get nervous playing teams like this one, because you really don't know much about them," admitted Eugene. "Teams of this caliber tend to come in and play their best games against us."
Not this time.

The 82-7 domination of Concordia fell in line with the way GSU used to finish off lesser opponents under former coach Eddie Robinson. Fans recall 77-7 and 68-0 wins over Prairie View in 1991 and 1980, respectively; the 74-14 victory over Mississippi Valley State in 1989; and a 72-14 win over Wiley in 1965.

Grambling hadn't scored more than 80 points since 1994, when Robinson's team beat Morgan State 87-12 on the way to being named conference co-champion with a 9-3 record.

GSU has only put up more points two other times since 1950, including an 85-0 whipping of Bishop by the undefeated 1955 squad that was honored this season at homecoming. Robinson's 93-point win over Valley in 1959 is still the school record.

Only a number: Then at 7-1, Grambling finally moved into both the USA Today and The Sports Network's Top 20 lists for Division I-AA teams, finishing at No. 16 last week.

It's unclear if a win over an NAIA-provisional program like Concordia will help or hurt that momentum. The players, however, were pleased with the belated recognition.

"We always felt like we were a pretty good team," said Kuuan. "Bruce Eugene was coming back, and we knew the running game was here so we had that one-two punch. We've just had to come out every Saturday and prove that we should be up in the rankings."

GSU moved up three spots to No. 22 in the I-AA Poll. Grambling was No. 2 in the Sheridan Broadcasting Network list, which focuses on historically black colleges.

One more for the road: Eugene now turns his attentions to Southern, the only SWAC team that he doesn't have a winning record against as a starter.

Grambling won the Bayou Classic under former coach Doug Williams in 2001, but with current Baltimore Ravens receiver Randy Hymes at quarterback. Eugene then fell in 2002-03 contests against Southern - the only conference games GSU lost during those seasons - before missing last season's triumphal win with a knee injury.

Not that it's on his mind.

"When the opportunity arises I will take care of them," said Eugene. "We intend to go undefeated in the conference. That's something that hasn't been done around here in a long time. If we win the rest of our games - not just me, but the rest of my teammates - all of our names will go in the record books."