Monday, October 06, 2008

Remembering: Grambling's Brandon Landers

Carroll's Landers picks Grambling
· Playing for Super Bowl quarterback Doug Williams played an important part in the decision. December 11, 2003

By Nick Deriso
Carroll High quarterback Brandon Landers, the area's top local offensive recruit, confirms that he has verbally committed to play for Doug Williams at Grambling State.

"To be coached by the first black quarterback to win the Super Bowl had something to do with it," Landers said. "He knows the game. I'd like to follow in his footsteps and do some of the things he's done at Grambling State University."

Williams has said that any prep signings this off-season would redshirt in 2004 behind senior Bruce Eugene, the top quarterback in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Coach Jesse Smith has installed a similar spread offense at Carroll High.

"Whatever move he made, I'd support," Smith said of Landers' commitment. "But we do a lot of the same things that Grambling does. He will be in a system where he will throw the football. I believe, with the experience that he has gotten over the years, that this is as fine a program as he could be going to."

Landers also recognized the opportunity to quickly integrate into the SWAC's best passing offense the past two seasons.

"I feel like Grambling would treat me better," Landers said. "The offense they run is basically the same offense that we run."

Landers, who led Carroll to a second straight District 2-3A crown this season, finished his prep career with 2,302 yards on 140-for-245 passes, along with 16 TD passes and five interceptions. He was The News-Star/Glenwood SportsCare player of the week for Week 5 this season - after passing for 300 yards and a score against Ferriday, while also returning an interception for a touchdown.

"In my opinion, he had an outstanding year," said Smith. "He pretty much led the team. He was able to run the football and pass it too. He did everything we expected."

In his last high school game, the multi-talented Landers passed for 204 yards and ran for a score in a third-round playoff loss.. He also had 48 career tackles and three interceptions for Carroll.

Landers says he was recruited by McNeese State, Northwestern State, Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana Tech. Others like Texas A&M were reportedly interested as well.

"But I never really considered anywhere else," Landers said. "I felt like Grambling fit me."

Landers follows in the footsteps of Grambling State legend James "Shack" Harris, who is also a Carroll High alum. Harris was the first black quarterback to be drafted into the NFL, playing for Buffalo, Los Angeles and San Diego.

Cooper's departure could shift QB status

Carroll High quarterback Brandon Landers could immediately move into the No. 2 slot at Grambling State. Coach Doug Williams granted two-year backup quarterback Gary Cooper a release on Monday.

"I'm not a guy who believes in a two-quarterback system," Williams said. "Somebody has to take the bull by the horns. It's unfortunate for Cooper, because he wants to play. But as long as Bruce is healthy, he's our starter."

Cooper had career numbers of 14-for-36 at GSU, with three interceptions and two scores.

Further back in the quarterback rotation are Texas freshmen Brandon Logan from San Antonio and Arnel Rolfe of Dallas. Neither has taken a game-day snap.

"They've got to step it up in the spring," Williams said.

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Landers learns another lesson the hard way
September 12, 2004

By Nick Deriso
NORMAL Ala. - The grounds crew at Louis Crews Stadium can thank Grambling State quarterback Brandon Landers for all the work facing them this morning.

I expect there are several freshman-shaped holes out there today.

Perhaps that was expected for Landers, who got his first collegiate start a year early when senior All-American Bruce Eugene was injured last week.

Still, the timing couldn't have been worse, as GSU arrived in Alabama to face one of the Southwestern Athletic Conference's most inventive and aggressive defenses.

Alabama A&M relentlessly harassed Landers. It threw everything at him - linebackers, safeties, the kitchen sink, other appliances. That ensured Landers wouldn't win the game, yet his fiery determination would again win over the coaches.

"We have believed that Brandon Landers could handle the things we do," said interim GSU coach Melvin Spears, who fell to 0-2 with the loss to Alabama A&M. "Brandon and Bruce worked closely together all summer. He has grasped the information at a very fast pace."

There were moments of shimmering promise, followed by thudding despair.

That's a freshman quarterback for you.

For instance, Landers took advantage of a blocked punt by Winnfield junior Donald Alexander on A&M's first possession of the third quarter, firing a brilliant pass to Mangham senior Chad White over the middle for a critical completion at midfield.

But the inevitable sack ended that drive. Landers ran right into the rush on that play, a rookie error.

He kept his head up.

"My athleticism will always help me," Landers said. "As I get more familiar with the offensive scheme, I will only get better."

As soon as Landers got going on Saturday, he would get leveled.

A sack - no surprise, that - by A&M's Cedric Harris killed the first promising drive of Landers' night in Alabama. After starting 0-of-4, Landers had finally completed an underneath pass to junior Henry Tolbert that turned into a 15-yard gain.

GSU didn't score, but Landers kept going. He kept getting hit, but he kept going.

With 6:03 left in the game, Grambling State had used all of its timeouts. This was how this tough night would end, in real time - a slow wait.

Somebody forgot to tell Landers.

With 54 seconds left, he was still flinging it. GSU's first 0-2 start since 1996 - when former coach Eddie Robinson lost his initial three contests on the way to a 3-8 record - would have to wait. Landers hit Tolbert for a 25-yard touchdown pass to bring the score to 21-9.

But, too often, even when Landers could get a throw off, a very young receiving group again dropped it. GSU was also without its top target from last year's A&M game, as Moses Harris joined Eugene with a season-ending injury during Week 1.

"It hasn't been roses for them. They've faced some challenges," said third-year Alabama A&M coach Anthony Jones, who had never before won against GSU - a streak that included the 2002 SWAC title game. "Grambling has enough guys on that team that are used to winning. One thing I know about winning, once you get that taste in your mouth, you don't roll over for anybody."

So A&M kept coming.

Sacks count against a team's rushing yardage on the official stat sheet, so it's no surprise that the Tigers ended up with a staggering minus-two yards in the first half. Junior Ab Kuaan's first-down yardage was leaking out with each defensive play on his quarterback.

Yet, Landers was always out there under center when the whistle blew, lined up again and ready to go. He prides himself on that.

"I lead by action," said Landers, The News-Star/Glenwood SportsCare Offensive Player of the Year as a senior at Carroll. "I've never been a very vocal person. So, I lead by what I do."

A big, tough unit, GSU's offensive line was simply outnumbered by A&M's zone-blitz scheme. It often had seven hats on eight defenders.

That's why Landers could have been confined to bed rest by a doctor and not spent as much time on his back. Adding insult to injury, Grambling State wore white - meaning those grass stains may never come out.

But Spears takes solace in that flickering passion from his first-year signal-caller. You won't find many players still gunning for the end zone with under a minute left in an already-decided game.

"He's very athletic, very versatile, with an outstanding arm," enthused the ever-upbeat Spears. "When the lights come on, he's a different kind of player. He has a flair as a leader. I think we are in good hands."

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

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

Now, they're carrying the team.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Born in the second Reagan administration.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Landers' stellar freshman season may not yield sophomore one
December 14, 2004

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Another week brings another freshman of the year honor for Carroll High product Brandon Landers. Yet, he still doesn't know whether he will get to start again next season at Grambling State.

Landers, who was honored Saturday night by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association, took over when senior GSU quarterback Bruce Eugene went down in the third quarter of the 2004 season opener. Landers was also named freshman of the year by the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

"It never ran across my mind to win both awards," said Landers, who broke the school's single-season passing yards record for a freshman - set by Doug Williams in 1974. "You always set goals for a season - you know, once I got the starting job, I decided I wanted to win. But awards like this are a great feeling. I didn't even think I was going to play."

GSU defender Kenneth Pettway and place-kicker Brian Morgan, both seniors, also received first-team All-Louisiana honors from the LSWA, while sophomore offensive tackle Andre' Bennett was given an honorable mention.

The awards come as GSU awaits word on a medical exemption for Eugene. If the NCAA grants Eugene an extra year of eligibility, coaches have said Landers would be redshirted.

"We talked with the NCAA, and it's still under review," said interim GSU coach Melvin Spears. "If Bruce comes back, Landers will redshirt. He will get an opportunity to watch more, and to learn. But if Bruce doesn't come back, then Landers will be the incumbent in camp."

GSU signed LaMarque High product Larry Kerlegan out of Houston last season - who was ranked No. 11 nationally among dual-threat quarterbacks by - but grades kept him off the roster. Kerlegan is expected to be in camp this spring.

"I talked to Bruce the other day, and he still doesn't know whether he will be back or not. We'll wait and see," said Landers, who posted a 6-4 mark as a starter while completing 132-of-316 passes for 2,283 yards, along with 18 touchdowns against 15 interceptions. "In the meantime, I know we're going to start back up in January. I am going to work on getting stronger, on my technique. Redshirting, if that happens, could make me better - just sitting back and watching and learning. I could get more of the experience I need."

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GSU's quarterbacks battle as friends
Camp competition at Grambling is far from combative
August 17, 2005

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - There's a sure sign that Bruce Eugene is feeling it again.

Grambling State's former All American quarterback is trash talking once more during the team's stretching exercises before practice.

"This offense," Eugene was saying the other day, "has speed for sale."

GSU coach Melvin Spears has consistently hedged on how that return impacts his depth chart. After all, Brandon Landers rocketed to conference freshman of the year honors once Eugene lost his senior season to a knee injury in the 2004.

"Brandon did a wonderful job for us last year down the stretch," Spears said. "But when you talk about experience, Bruce Eugene knows the system. We will let the best guy play."

Landers has a different answer.

"I know what the situation is," he said. "Bruce is getting his old position back."

Even so, the expected creative tension hasn't followed.

In fact, these two remain friends. As they enter the practice field, one will say to the other: "Be perfect today."

"That way," Landers said, "we know we are pushing each other to do better. At the same time, I am trying to learn from him."

Eugene also says that competition hasn't gotten in the way of their relationship: "The whole thing of `let's be perfect' is that we are trying to make each other better. We get along just fine."

Eugene still wears a knee brace - though Spears says that's simply as a precaution.

"He's the only guy I've ever seen go through an ACL injury and not lose any flexibility," said Spears. "Bruce is better than he was before. First off, his rehab was extensive, but also he's a fast healer."

Questions about the knee haven't trumped Eugene's past performances, which likely pushed Grambling to the top of the Southwestern Athletic Conference's Western division in more than one preseason poll so far.

Grambling's career total offense leader with 10,172 yards, he was last seen as a junior in 2003 passing for 3,805 yards and 34 touchdowns. Eugene also ran for 412 yards - second most on the team - and another six touchdowns on the ground.

That makes Eugene, despite the fact that he spent the last season earning his degree, the most productive returning quarterback in Division I-AA.

Yet Landers never stopped working, even as a move to the No. 2 spot became clear.

The Carroll product paid particular attention to his upper-body strength this offseason, focusing on bench pressing on an incline and lifting by shoulder shrug. The result has been a sharper release, and better ball speed.

Spears, wary after an injury-marred 2004, said he won't consider redshirting Landers.

"The nature of the beast is that you never know how the game goes, and how it may fall," said Spears, who lost Eugene in the third quarter of the season opener last year.

Landers isn't interested either.

"A quarterback who redshirted might relax," said Landers, who threw for almost 2,300 yards as a freshman. "It's a mind thing. I'm not thinking about next year. I'm thinking about right now. That will help me stay ready, as always."

The No. 3 quarterback is a celebrated prep prospect, Larry Kerlegan of Houston's LaMarque High.

"You always have to think in terms of two or three years down the road," said Spears. "You've got to be prepared. Bruce Eugene won't be back - one way or another. Those other guys have to be ready to play."

Still, as even Landers admits, it's clear the team belongs to the likeable Eugene right now.

Eugene has always been gregarious, knowledgeable and well regarded, even if he is only just now completely inhabiting the leadership role.

"The kids really rally around Bruce," said GSU offensive line coach Carl Roberts. "He not only knows his own assignment, but also the linemen's assignment. He has that leadership quality."

Eugene earned a lot of credibility when he led Grambling to the 2002 championship, after a season behind Randy Hymes - quarterback on those 2000-01 title teams.

But Eugene gained real authority as a team captain when he wrestled down a more common nemesis: His weight.

"I know within the circle of this team, they believe in me," Eugene said. "That's what I go on."

Spears sent Eugene to the Duke University diet and fitness center over the summer, where he lost 25 pounds in just four weeks on a diet of 1,800 calories a day.

Eugene was just getting started. He's now dropped more than 40 pounds.

"In rehab, and while I'm lifting weights or walking, every time I get ready to eat something I shouldn't be eating, I think about the naysayers," said Eugene, who at one point ballooned up to a startling 308 pounds. "Everybody said I couldn't lose weight. Let them talk. I know in the end I will be standing on top."

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For Grambling State quarterback Brandon Landers ...
Waiting was the hardest part
March 15, 2006

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Brandon Landers was brought in to be the Next Big Thing at Grambling State.

The Carroll High product expected to apprentice during the 2004 season behind record-smashing quarterback Bruce Eugene, then assume the spotlight.

Something happened on the way to his debut.

Eugene went down with a knee injury, and suddenly Landers - just months after playing Class 4A ball in high school - was under center.

It took time and adjustment for both Landers and the staff, but he eventually claimed conference freshman of the year honors after leading a newly run-oriented GSU to a winning season.

"My freshman year, they wanted give the ball to the veteran backs," Landers said. "Having guys like that, it took some pressure off of me."

Landers then got his belated redshirt, gaining more valuable experience, when Eugene was given a medical exemption before the 2005 campaign.

So, there's little drama in this: Landers is penciled in at starter as GSU's spring sessions get underway today.

The plot thickens, however, when examining how Landers' return could affect the playbook.

"We might put in a few wrinkles here or there to play up to Brandon's strengths," GSU coach Melvin Spears said. "But a year behind Bruce has given Brandon a much better grasp of the offense, both in terms of being able to make all the different adjustments and running the team more efficiently."

Landers, always gritty and confidant, says the days of running the ball to mask immaturity are over. He's ready to fit into a passing system that has established itself as the Southwestern Athletic Conference's most dangerous and entertaining.

"I don't know about any changes (to the scheme); I hope they keep it the same so we can keep rolling," Landers said.

Then, after some thought, he adds: "Playing behind a guy like Bruce, everyone will be expecting a whole lot of things. I'm just going to go out and play the game that I know how to play."

Questions about the offensive focus can be forgiven, even by some of the players, after the way Landers' presence in 2004 so radically altered Grambling's look.

His freshman campaign ended with redemptive win over Southern, but Landers had just 13 passing attempts on the day. (To put that into perspective, Eugene had as many tries by the first GSU possession of the second quarter in the 2005 Bayou Classic.)

Ab "Killer" Kuuan was the tip of the sword in this reworked ground attack, averaging 131 rushing yards a game over the final month of the season. The last time he and Landers shared the field, Kuuan was receiving his Bayou Classic MVP trophy after running for 126 punishing yards against Southern.

"That was my first question: Are we still going to have the same offense? Or are we going to run it?" said senior Henry Tolbert, who just set a new school record for receiving touchdowns in a season.

"The coaches feel like it's on him," Tolbert said. "If Brandon can show this spring that he can run the offense the way Bruce did, everything will be the same."

Spears said he has always known that Landers was physically gifted. He just felt Landers needed more time to adjust to the speed of decision-making in the college game.

He got that chance when Eugene returned for a rare sixth season of eligibility - though the bench wasn't always a comfy spot for a competitor like Landers.

"It was tough; that was my first time ever sitting out an entire season, but I learned a whole lot," said Landers, who earned offensive player of the year honors from The News-Star and Glenwood SportsCare in 2003.

"I paid attention to the game, learning about what was called on the field," he said. "I knew my role. I did what was asked."

In the end, Landers had a front-row seat as Eugene marched through the record books. A capstone came when Eugene smashed a 20-year-old Division I-AA mark for touchdown passes in a season during the SWAC championship win last December.

Landers found that, in the end, he had made a friend.

"We bonded together; we developed a really good friendship," Landers said. "I hope to be a leader and do the same things Bruce did. It was honor playing behind him."

Landers also grew closer to Tolbert, sure to be one of his primary targets in `06, over the past two seasons. That chemistry translates off the field too, where the two are roommates.

"I feel really good about Brandon taking over," Tolbert said. "I don't think I could feel any better about anybody. I was here when he first got here, so I've seen a lot of progress. Sitting behind Bruce was great for him. My expectations are really high coming in."

Look for a strong push for starting time from second-year passer Larry Kerlegan, a celebrated former Texas recruit. Grambling was also still in the market for another quarterback signee as late as last weekend.

But in the end, the stage is set. It's Landers' job to lose.

"Brandon Landers showed a lot of maturity last year in the way he handled things," Spears said. "It allowed him to learn a lot from Bruce Eugene. What we will do this spring is polish that. We're eager to see what he learned from the whole process."

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Landers lays down the law
Grambling QB interned as local marshal this summer
August 7, 2006

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — When Grambling State holds its first fall practice this afternoon, quarterback Brandon Landers will be the new sheriff in town.

Well, marshal, actually.

The Carroll product, a criminal justice major, spent the summer interning with Ouachita Parish marshal Wince Highshaw Jr. — a stint that included serving warrants and working court security.

Landers said that real-world experience uniquely prepared him to take over a leadership role as GSU quarterback.

And to continue in that role in his impoverished neighborhood when football is over.

"I'm the first person in my family to go to college," Landers said. "Doing something like this, going to school and working hard, it's a way to show younger people that success is not about drugs. I want to be a role model in the neighborhood."

Landers — friends have already taken to calling him "Officer Landers" — is by far the most experienced returning quarterback at Grambling.

Pushed into duty after an injury to the now-departed Bruce Eugene, a two-time Walter Payton Award finalist, Landers would eventually earn conference freshman of the year honors.

He struggled with the assignment early on, but showed flashes of the talent that only months before helped lead Carroll to a second straight District 2-3A crown.

Landers now stands 309 attempts, 131 completions and 17 touchdowns further along than sophomore Larry Kerlegan, GSU's backup when Eugene returned and Landers redshirted a year later.

In fact, Kerlegan has just one college completion on seven attempts — a touchdown pass late in that blowout win over Concordia, an over-matched NAIA team. Presumptive No. 3 Desmond Brentley is a true freshman out of Pittsburgh's Perry High.

Still, GSU coach Melvin Spears has stressed that this will be a competitive camp for Landers, with Kerlegan and Brentley getting their share of reps.

"Our goal was to bring in enough competition so that we could make certain that Brandon doesn't get complacent," Spears said. "We've got a couple of guys who can do that. We want to be competitive everywhere, at every position."

Later, Spears reiterates one of this off-season's early mantras: "Leadership has no seniority."

A visibly more mature Landers welcomes the challenge.

Time spent in local courtrooms, where he's gotten an up-close examination of how life can turn on a bad decision, along with a year behind Eugene helped reshape this flinty former high school star. Landers is focused, energetic, and a bit humbled.

"Some people from my neighborhood have asked me, how can you be a police officer with where you come from?" Landers said. "I want to show them you can make it out. You don't have to do illegal things to get there."

Landers was already something of a neighborhood hero, finishing his prep career with 2,302 yards and 16 touchdown passes to go with 48 career tackles and three interceptions as a defensive back for Carroll.

His senior season in 2003 included a 300-yard, one-touchdown passing day against Ferriday. He also returned an interception for a touchdown that night, on the way to <I>News-Star</I>/Glenwood SportsCare player of the week honors. Landers' final prep game was a third-round playoff loss, but he passed for 204 yards and ran for a score.

"He was able to run the football and pass it too," said Carroll coach Jesse Smith when Landers committed to Grambling. "He did everything we expected."

That led to offensive player of the year recognition at the All-Northeast banquet — though Landers couldn't attend because he was also a crucial contributor on the Bulldogs' basketball team, which was playing that night.

Recruiters, Landers said, came calling from ULM, Louisiana Tech, McNeese State, Northwestern State and Texas A&M. But he chose to stay close to home, hoping to play one day for former Grambling coach Doug Williams.

Landers figured to have some time to gather himself, since he arrived as Eugene entered what promised to be a heralded senior season. But in short order, Williams left for an executive job in the NFL — turning the reins over to Spears, his former offensive coordinator — and then Eugene blew out his knee in the season opener.

"Brandon did an outstanding job in 2004 when Bruce went down," Spears said. "He has a great feel for the game when the lights come on."

Still, the life lesson was clear: Be prepared.

Landers started contemplating on a longer timeline.

"You gotta think about life after football," he said. "The air might go out of the ball one day."

Landers said Highshaw, a family friend, helped him get the internship — and it's been something that helped Landers frame everything that's important right now, not just football.

"When I got into criminal justice, and found out the type of things that they do, I got really interested," Landers said. "Marshal Highshaw gave me the opportunity to get some hands-on training, and I've learned so much that will help me."

Landers took the summer to get in shape, and not just physically. That's something that will bolster a maturation process his coach thinks is critical for Grambling's success on the field this year.

"He's learned the system; he has the tangibles," Spears said of Landers. "It's just going to be a matter of how quickly he can show that on the field."

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Landers handled it all on and off the field
September 4, 2006

By Nick Deriso
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The context surrounding Grambling State quarterback Brandon Landers' numbers on Saturday makes them all the more impressive.

While attempting to mediate an argument, Landers saw his brother murdered and his cousin critically wounded in his hometown of Monroe just two Fridays ago. Yet, he still threw for 273 yards and four touchdowns against Hampton at legendary Legion Field.

"I tried to go on with my everyday life," said Landers, a former Carroll High standout. "I tried to stay close to my team and my coaches, really just to take my mind off of things. Coach kept telling me that everything happens for a reason. I just looked at is as motivation."

Perhaps accordingly, Landers had his struggles, from a one-pass possession stopped on an interception to several attempts that badly overshot receivers.

But in the end, he was efficient enough to put the team in position to win — even if it didn't work out that way — and he did a good job of distributing the ball, hitting four different receivers for touchdown passes.

"He's had some ups and downs the week, certainly," GSU coach Melvin Spears said. "But he worked hard, and he executed for the most part. It's a whole lot for a young man to have on his shoulders. I'm ready proud of him."

The funeral for Frank Landers, 18, of Monroe, is set for Tuesday, Brandon Landers said.

Tallying it up: Hampton got big numbers courtesy of its big stars against Grambling, from NFL prospect Justin Durant — who led the team with eight tackles and 2½ for a loss — to running back Alonzo Coleman.

Coleman, the MEAC's preseason offensive player of the year, amassed 78 yards on 12 carries, despite missing the latter part of the game to injury. Van Morgan took over and added another 83 yards on 14 carries.

Princeton Shepherd left the game as well, but still passed for a team-best 120 yards, along with a touchdown. T.J. Mitchell spelled Shepherd and connected on 6-for-16 attempts for 89 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

Marquay McDaniels was stellar, with 113 yards and a score at wideout, 48 yards on punt returns, and 8 yards rushing on three tries.

Shepherd (passing), Coleman (rushing), McDaniels (receiving) and Durant (tackles and sacks) were the team leaders last year, as well.

Sweet home, Alabama: Six Grambling teammates played for linebackers coach Andre Robinson during a previous tenure at Birmingham's Parker High School.

They include: linebackers Brandon Arnold and Josh Bester; center Tavarus Cockrell; wide receivers Reginald Jackson; Xavier Jackson and Henry Tolbert; and defensive lineman Donald Williams.

Senior running back Ab Kuuan is also from nearby Sylacauga, Ala.

They'll be headed right back this week, as Grambling returns for a rematch of last December's SWAC Championship Game against Alabama A&M.

"We've got to come out and take care of A&M," said safety Bryan Langford. "We've got to be ready, even if it goes to overtime, to go the distance."

Tolbert had four catches for 78 yards and a touchdown at Legion Field. Kuuan had 37 yards on 17 carries and a special-teams tackle.

Bester had six tackles, including an assist for a loss; Williams had four, with one for a loss.

Kuuan and Tolbert were pregame team captains, as well.

Gave them five: Hampton and Grambling shared the Sheridan Broadcasting Network's black college national title in 2005. But the Pirates have owned Grambling as of late.

GSU actually has a 57-25 overall record against Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, but it has fallen to 2-6 all time against Hampton — including five losses in a row.

But GSU didn't go easy, fighting until the last play of the game as it went to overtime.

"It's what you expected," Landers said. "It was a hard-fought battle to the end. Hopefully, we gave the people what they came out to see, two great teams trying to be victorious."

You have to go all the way back to former GSU coach Eddie Robinson's 1994 team to find a win — and it was a squeaker, too: Grambling won 32-29.

Spears has lost to HU three times, twice as a offensive coordinator in 1998-99 and then this year as head coach. GSU, under Doug Williams, lost by scores of 28-15 and 27-7.

Grambling is now 2-2 on ESPN affiliates since 2003, beating Alabama State and Alabama A&M last year and falling to San Jose State in '03 and Hampton over the weekend.

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Landers back as GSU's starting QB
October 11, 2006

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — Three games into Grambling State's two-quarterback experiment, the race is a dead heat.

Larry Kerlegan and Brandon Landers, both redshirt sophomores, have each shown the ability to take charge — and to take a leave of absence.

Kerlegan was the dynamo at Houston, winning a weekly Southwestern Athletic Conference award while Landers posted negligible stats. The roles were reversed at Mississippi Valley State, where the opposing coaches clearly schemed to stop Kerlegan and Kerlegan alone.

The two passers also shared duties, though they had more similar success, in a rout against Prairie View in between.

"I think they are getting there," GSU coach Melvin Spears said. "We're still looking for a little more continuity."

Landers will get the start this week against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, as first reported at www. on Tuesday morning. But Spears said that Kerlegan will again spell him at quarterback.

Situations, Spears said, will dictate who plays and when.

"It's a studying process," he said, "and I think Brandon is a little further along. That's why he's getting a few more reps."

Landers, who won SWAC freshman of the year honors while subbing for the injured Bruce Eugene at Grambling in 2004, has played with renewed vigor since Kerlegan hit the field. The competition seems to have emboldened both to work harder.

Still, add in the bye week, and it's been a month since these two began splitting duties and the numbers still don't provide an easy answer as to who should start.

The efficiency ratings are lopsided in Kerlegan's direction, with a 68 percent completion rate compared with 53 percent. But Landers has piled up nearly twice as much passing production. Through this week, he has 882 yards and nine passing touchdowns while Kerlegan has 418 yards and 4 scores.

That means they'll continue to share time, Spears said.

"We're not asking them to win the game, just to manage it and get the ball to our receivers and running backs," Spears said.

Kerlegan got 285 of those passing yards against Houston, while Landers went 0-for-3. Landers then had 213 yards in the air last week at Valley, while Kerlegan had minus-2.

In Dallas against Prairie View, they almost perfectly split 297 total passing yards, as Kerlegan sparked the offense with 172 yards.

Again, no clear frontrunner.

Kerlegan is the team's second-leading rusher with 180 yards, but Landers is the only one of the two with a score on the ground.

And so it goes.

"Larry Kerlegan throws the ball just as well," Spears said, "He just needs to continue to learn the system. Brandon can run too, though he's not as a fast as Kerlegan. They both have things we like. That's why we'll continue to use both."

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AGENT OF CHANGE: Monroe's Landers settles in with new Grambling staff, playbook
August 5, 2007

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — Brandon Landers, now a redshirt junior, has seen it all during his time at Grambling State.

He's been the green freshman, unexpectedly inserted in 2004 when GSU's record-smashing passer Bruce Eugene blew out a knee.

He's been the camp underdog, fighting to get that same job back, when Eugene returned.

Once relied upon, in 2005 Landers was eventually redshirted.

He's been the presumptive No. 1 himself, struggling in 2006 to fight off a flinty backup.

Today, the Monroe native is, simply, the starter.

"I always live by the idea of being ready for anything," said Landers, a criminal justice major and volunteer with the Marshal's Office. "Things will come at you. I am making the necessary adjustments, but I don't think of it as a difficult thing. Football is football."

Landers' career has been the definition of things coming right at you. He is, in fact, the first quarterback to start consecutive seasons at Grambling since '04.

Then coming off All-Northeast offensive player of the year honors at Carroll, Landers was recruited in 2003 by Doug Williams, played in 2004 and '06 under Melvin Spears and will finish his career under new Grambling coach Rod Broadway.

"Brandon has something about him that you can't help but like," Broadway said. "He has shown some leadership skills. The guys have taken to him, and he's a nice guy to be around."

The first transition was largely seamless, since Spears had run Williams' offensive for six seasons before succeeding him as head coach.

Broadway, however, is installing a completely new look — one that will test both Landers' decision making and his ability to manage the playcalling in a variety of offensive situations.

Landers, bolstered by the new coaches' confidence in him, remains steadfastly optimistic as he faces perhaps his most rigorous challenge yet.

"We're excited about being back at it," Landers said. "We're bonding as a team, trying to get better. You can sense the change, and the excitement about the coaching staff. I feel a difference already in the team."

Landers was productive last season, averaging 194.4 yards per game. A highpoint was his 350-yard passing performance at home against Jackson State, which earned Landers Southwestern Athletic Conference player of the week honors. He also passed for 17 scores, which ranked second in the league.

The offense's troubles at closing out games contributed to Grambling's disastrous 3-8 record, but it still would finish with a SWAC-best average of 348.3 yards per game.

New offensive coordinator James Spady loses six starters from that group, but can find some solace in the return of Landers and senior receiver Clyde Edwards, his favorite target.

Both have been meeting three to four times a day, Landers said, as a new playbook has been installed. Gone is the flashy go-for-broke style associated with Spears' tenure.

This offense will certainly take its shots, but it's more in keeping with the pro-style offense that Williams always favored.

"It's different from last year, when we were wide open," Landers said. "This is more of a set-up type offense. We won't be stuck on the approach of just getting the big play."

That puts Landers in a place he's never been, having been asked to pass upwards of 50 times in games against Alabama A&M (his first start) and Jackson State in 2004. Landers never stopped competing, and eventually rose to Southwestern Athletic Conference and Louisiana Sports Writers Association freshman of the year honors.

He finished with a school-record 2,283 passing yards, besting a freshman mark that had stood since Williams's debut in 1974 under Eddie Robinson.

A highlight of that initial campaign came during the season-ending Bayou Classic when, in a style that could become familiar under Broadway, Landers attempted fewer than 20 passes as GSU slowly suffocated Southern.

"We're not asking him to win the game for us," Broadway said. "We want him to learn how to manage a game. Once he understands that, along with his continued growth as a player, he should be in pretty good shape — because if you have a triggerman, on all levels of football, then you have a chance to compete."

Landers, matured in a crucible of change, is taking it all in stride.

"I like the new look," Landers said, though he bristles at any suggestion that this offense might lack the implicit danger of GSU's old attack. "If you sleep on us, we'll hit you big."

Senior Larry Kerlegan, an athlete of uncommon playmaking ability, is listed as the backup on Grambling State's fall depth chart.

Over seven games last season, Kerlegan passed for 633 yards and seven scores, while running for another 215 yards to rank second on the team in rushing. That led to a move by the staff to work Kerlegan into the wideout rotation.

"He plays the way you want kids to play, and that's fast," first-year Grambling coach Rod Broadway said. "We're going to use him in a variety of offensive situations."

Sophomore Al Hawkins, the former minor-league baseball player, is the only other quarterback on the roster. He didn't attempt a pass in the Black and Gold game.

"The guys who were backups in the spring will have to step up in the fall and get better," Broadway said. "They'll have to perform well or get out of the way for some of the freshmen we're going to give a chance to play."

Grambling's remaining quarterbacks from the 2006 roster included Desmond Brentley, who has apparently transferred; and Zak Latif, who's now listed at tight end. --Nick Deriso,

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Academics could sideline Grambling's senior quarterback
July 26, 2008

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — Monroe product Brandon Landers, a three-year letterman at Grambling State, will likely miss next season over an academic issue.

"I'm trying to see what I can do," the quarterback said. "I didn't get the grade I needed (in a history class), so it's up in the air right now if I will even play."

Landers, a fifth-year senior after redshirting in 2005 at Grambling, most recently posted career highs for completions, yards and touchdowns in the inaugural season under GSU coach Rod Broadway. That helped the Tigers advance to their fifth Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game since 2000, before falling to Jackson State last December.

Landers' absence opens the door to a spirited competition at the position just weeks before the year's much-anticipated opening kick. Grambling was again picked to win the SWAC's Western crown in preseason polling at the league's media day.

Greg Dillon, a 6-0, 200-pound sophomore, is listed as Landers' backup in the 2008 season prospectus. The academic status of Larry Kerlegan, the No. 2 Grambling passer in 2005-07, is also unclear.

GSU signed three prep athletes with quarterbacking experience, including Rayville product Justin Higgins. The 6-2, 185-pounder passed for more than 6,000 yards, rushed for nearly 2,000 yards and scored 60 touchdowns in high school.

El Paso, Texas, product Brendon Crawford (2,207 passing yards and 20 scores as a senior) and South Boston, Va., product Rodale Pippen (who split time at wideout, recording nearly 5,000 yards of total offense last year) were announced in GSU's most recent signing day.

The most intriguing option might be J.P. Tillman, a redshirt freshman transfer from the University of Missouri who has been participating during informal summer 7-on-7 drills at Grambling. The 6-3, 250-pound prospect was a three-sport high school athlete, and ranked No. 22 in the nation among dual-threat quarterbacks by as a senior.

Landers said it was unclear if an appeal could be made on his behalf. He is pursuing a degree in criminal justice.

"They are trying to do all they can do," Landers said. "I hope to know more by Tuesday (when Grambling football players report for fall practice sessions)."

Grambling coaches were unavailable for comment on Friday afternoon. The team opens this season Aug. 30 in Reno at the University of Nevada.

Landers, who was named prep offensive player of the year by The News-Star after his senior season at Carroll High in 2003, ranks third all-time among Grambling passers with 7,024. He needs 1,388 to pass Doug Williams for second place.

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Final narrative for Grambling's Landers hasn't been written
August 1, 2008

By Nick Deriso
Brandon Landers' time at Grambling, as impressive as it is statistically, will always be one of lost promise. But his narrative is far from finished.

Landers initially signed as a prep quarterback with Doug Williams, only to see his would-be mentor leave for an NFL job. Then he was pushed too early, and with too little instruction, into the starting position as a true freshman in 2004 when Bruce Eugene went down. Then pushed back into a redshirt, and largely ignored, a season later when Eugene returned. Then pushed around as a redshirt sophomore in 2006, having belatedly retaken the starting position without ever having been properly prepared for it.

He remained erratic, able to gut out terrific wins (Bethune-Cookman in Cincinnati, Bayou Classic XXXI) on the one-hand but still subject to deflating breakdowns (memorable OT losses to Alabama A&M and Hampton, last year's Southwestern Athletic Conference title match).

Landers finally caught a decent break with the hiring of yet another new staff before his junior season. He was on his third head coach, but seemed to finally connect.

That's when the interior of his line fell apart. Landers withstood the kind of blows that would bring down buildings, and occasionally fell into old habits.

Grambling ended up one win shy of a championship. But Landers had become a vastly improved passer, a stronger locker room presence and, most importantly, an emerging leader off the field: He planned a successful offseason mentoring camp, volunteered as a marshal at the courthouse.

"He wants to become an inspiration for kids in this area by becoming a mentor," said Esther Gallow, who has done so much important outreach work in the economically depressed Booker T. community that Landers was raised in. "He's saying, even if I don't go pro, I still want to show young people that they can get out of the neighborhood, get a college education and do something great with their lives."

Sports fans don't like to hear it, but that's the important stuff.

Just like that, though, and just 1,400 yards shy of Doug Williams' No. 2 all-time passing marks at Grambling, Landers came up short on a summer course — and a football career that never reached its full potential is apparently over.

Yet what Landers accomplished, despite so much adversity (both the crushing poverty of his childhood environment and then at GSU), shouldn't be defined in total by the number of Bayou Classics or SWAC titles won or lost.

Landers is one credit away from doing something more notable than winning that last game on the gridiron. He has dreams of becoming a law enforcement officer, and then a community leader of enduring substance — and that's more urgently needed than another shiny item for the program's trophy case.

When he does all of that, and I think he will, football will perhaps finally be put in perspective as just one part of Brandon Landers' still-evolving story.

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