Southern University football coach Stump Mitchell had a simple message for 20 Baton Rouge high school students who visited A.W. Mumford Stadium as his guests on Saturday.

He told the students, who packed into the Tony Clayton Team Meeting Room of the stadium, that he wanted them to visit Southern and “look at it for yourselves.

“You all are going to have an opportunity to be at a game that’s packed,” Mitchell said. “The thing about Southern is, the people care about you.”

Mitchell’s speech was part of special treatment for the students, all members of the Baton Rouge Big Buddy Program. Mitchell himself paid for their tickets.

The students were given a tour of the Jaguars’ home field, in addition to meeting and taking pictures with Mitchell, on the same day Southern faced Jackson State in Mumford Stadium for the first time since 2007.

Mitchell also shared his optimism about the future of the university, which is facing a financial crisis and has a football team that went 2-9 last year.

“Change is coming,” Mitchell told the students. “It has already come.”

Mitchell left after speaking to the students to attend to another important matter — the Jaguars’ contest against Jackson State.

“Enjoy the game,” Mitchell said before heading out. “We’re going to try to do our part.”

Mitchell said after he spoke to the students that he paid for the tickets as a way to give back to the community.

“Some of these young men and women probably have never attended a game here at Southern,” he said. “I think this is an exciting game for them to come see, and to see Southern as it used to be in the past in terms of spirit, and the way we want it to be in the future.”

After Mitchell departed, Southern counselors and administrators gave the high schoolers advice about applying to college, as well as obtaining scholarships and taking standardized tests such as the ACT.

“Do the best you can in high school,” Southern University spokesman Ed Pratt told them.

East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux also took time to speak to the students, telling them to “stay the course” in life.

“Make the right decisions,” Gautreaux said. “It’s not always going to be the easy thing to do.”

The students then left the meeting room to enter Mumford Stadium amid the hustle and bustle of game day tailgating.

They walked around the track to get a full view of the venue while the Jaguars were warming up on the field.

The students also were greeted by Southern cheerleaders, who performed briefly for them before the visitors headed to seats in Section 14.

“Are you ready for Southern U? ‘Cause we are ready for you,” the spirit squad chanted.

Lloyd Williams, an 18-year-old junior at Istrouma, was one of the members of the group.

Williams said he learned valuable information during Saturday’s session.

“I know what I have to do to succeed in college,” said Williams, who plans to attend Southern and study architecture.

The Baton Rouge Big Buddy Program serves as a tutoring and mentoring organization for youths, said LaToya Butler, the program’s Level Up Mentor coordinator.

Butler said the program brought the students to Southern to have them experience a college atmosphere.

She said coach Mitchell showed he cares for the community by paying for the students’ tickets.

“A lot of these students that we have here today with Big Buddy, they don’t have anybody to bring them to the games,” Butler said.

“By him doing that,” Butler said, “it lets me know that he’s a man of the community — not just football, but a man who loves to give back.”