BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Grambling was picked to finish last in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Western Division a year ago.
But at SWAC Media Day on Friday, the Tigers were picked first in the West.
The preseason predictions don’t mean a whole lot, but they are the latest example of how far Grambling’s football program has come in one year since coach Broderick Fobbs was hired in the wake of a disastrous 2013 season.
The Tigers went 1-11 that season while enduring two in-season coaching changes and a players boycott of one game. But last season, they and Southern both sported 7-1 conference records going into the Bayou Classic, where the Jaguars prevailed 52-45 to win the West.
The preseason vote Friday was about as close as last season’s regular-season finale. Grambling received 93 points and Southern 91.
“Preseason really doesn’t mean very much, just like it didn’t mean much last year,” Fobbs said. “You can start at the bottom and end up at the top, and you can start at the top and end up at the bottom.
“For us, it’s about continuing to do what we do. We don’t allow the weather to change the way we go about our business — so even though the weather looks good right now, for us, it’s not about the weather.”
Quarterback Johnathan Williams was asked if he would have thought it realistic if a year ago he had been told Grambling would be picked to win the West in 2015.
“I think it would have been realistic,” said Williams, who was stopped short of the goal line on a quarterback sneak from a half-yard away on the final play of the Bayou Classic. “We’re very optimistic at Grambling, knowing the type of athletes that we have and the type of coaching staff we have and how they prepare us.
“The key to (the turnaround) was believing in and trusting in one another.”
Fobbs said the Tigers’ attitude going into this season is no different than it was going into last season.
“I think the key to the turnaround is our mentality as a team,” he said. “It was about the expectations of being great. We didn’t lower those expectations and we don’t intend to do so. For us it’s about doing things one way — the right way — and as fast as we possibly can so that will continue.”
Fobbs said he had a handful of sleepless nights after the Bayou Classic before moving on.
“I finally got some sleep on Day 6,” Fobbs said. “In January we put that behind us, and right now it’s all about Cal Berkeley.”
Grambling opens the season at Cal on Sept. 5.
“2014 is behind us and we have the same mindset that we had last year,” Williams said. “Then 2013 was behind us and now 2014 is behind us. We’re just looking forward.”
Southern coach Dawson Odums said he knew the Tigers had more talent than their 2013 record suggested, just as the Jaguars had more talent than suggested by their 0-2 start in 2012 that caused the firing of Stump Mitchell and Odums being elevated to interim coach.
“I don’t think it’s ever talent,” Odums said. “Every team in this conference has talent. It’s about getting that talent to perform well together, and he’s done a tremendous job with that.”
Fobbs’ challenge now is to get his players to maintain the edge they had last season, when they had so much to prove.
“Now it’s about duplicating that success,” Odums said. “That’s what’s hard. Are guys going to work as hard now that they’ve made it and they’ve become winners? Are they going to hold each other more accountable?”
Williams said the Tigers are aware of the legacy that’s been entrusted to them.
“Our coaches tell us every day that we have to know the shoulders that we stand on such as coach Eddie Robinson, Doug Williams and Paul ‘Tank’ Younger — just knowing your history and where you come from,” Johnathan Williams said. “We’re happy that we’re bringing the program back to what it was known for.”