By T. SCOTT BOATRIGHT, Lincoln Parish Journal
GRAMBLING — They’ve been close. But after five straight losses — the last two being nailbiters — Grambling State University’s first-year football coach, Hue Jackson, believes true freshman quarterback Julian Calvez can direct his Tigers to a Southwestern Athletic Conference win today.
GSU (1-6 overall, 0-4 SWAC) will be looking for its first SWAC victory after falling just short on Oct. 15 to Florida A&M.
Coming off an open date, the Tigers play host to the Braves starting at 2 p.m. today at Eddie G. Robinson Memorial Stadium.
Alcorn State (3-4, 2-2) enters the game after a 34-27 homecoming loss to Texas Southern.
Jackson said the Tigers are rested after a much-needed bye week following seven straight weeks, six of those on the road.
“I thought we got a lot of good work done during the open week,” Jackson said. “We had some things we needed to clean up and our players and coaches had some time to really focus on that and try to get better as we gear up for this final stretch.”
Calvez has started the last two games for the Tigers — a 37-31 overtime loss at Alabama A&M on Oct. 8 and a 20-16 home loss to Florida A&M on Oct. 15.
He’s connected on 29-of-81 passes for 308 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions while adding 142 yards and another score on the ground.
Jackson said Calvez has made significant progress toward helping the Tigers turn things around and is ready to see it continue.
“He’s immersed himself in this offense,” Jackson said. “He came in here wanting to play. You hate to play a freshman before he’s ready, but he’s just every week gotten better and better, and so we made a decision to put him out there.
“I think he’s going to lead this team to a lot of victories. But he’s a very young player who’s learning to play football at this level — at a high level. You can see him growing week in and week out and hopefully he’ll continue to do so.”
Calvez took some hard hits in his last game against the Rattlers. Jackson said that the Orlando, Florida, product is ready to go against Alcorn State.
“He’s got those young legs and that young mind, thank God, because he was hit a few times,” Jackson said. “We’ve got to make sure we limit his exposure that way. But at the same time, there are times he’s got to protect himself, too, and he knows that.”
Jackson said it’s Calvez’ attitude as much as his abilities that has convinced his head coach to put him in the focal spot as a true freshman.
“I just know what we’re getting with this young man,” Jackson said. “Because when you get a chance to recruit a young guy over a period of time, you kind of get to know him pretty well. He’s about his teammates and has been about that since Day 1.
“But at the same time, he’ll be the first to tell you that he wants to lead this team to victory. And that’s what he is chasing more than anything. This young man works extremely hard. Football is important to him. His teammates are important to him. And getting this program back to winning is important to him.”
Jackson isn’t worried about Alcorn’s defensive strengths and weaknesses and whether to attack the Braves on the ground or through the air. He’s worried about points.
“We just have to go play our football,” Jackson said. “Finally play as well as we can. Alcorn’s had some plays made on them via the pass, they’ve had some plays made on them with the run.
“I think you want to make sure that you’re doing everything you can to score the ball. And that’s what we need to do better. We need to put the ball in the end zone more to give us the chance to win the game, and that’s what I think we’re looking forward to.”
Jackson said his team is on that brink of picking up a win and ending the season in strong fashion.
“We’ve been in an overtime game,” Jackson said. “We had the ball in our possession at the end of our last game with a chance to win on the final play. That’s about as close as you can get without winning the game.
“So now we need to break through and actually win the game. I think that’s the next step for us. But we’ve got to do it. You can talk about it all you want, but until you do it, it doesn’t matter.”
Today’s game will be streamed live on ESPN+ with Butch Alsandor and Jorge Vargas making the call and will also air and be streamed on the Grambling State Sports Radio Network with Ossie Clark and Chyelle Flowers calling the action.
Contact Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org