Grambling is back.
The Tigers sent notice last season they were well on their way back to football prominence when they entered the Bayou Classic in position to reach the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game. They fell short in a last-second 52-45 loss to Southern, the defending SWAC champion that claimed its second straight division title.
But as Grambling gets ready to face the Jaguars in the 42nd Bayou Classic on Saturday afternoon in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, it does so as the newly crowned Western Division champion.
The Tigers will try to complete an undefeated SWAC regular season before moving on to the SWAC championship game against Alcorn State next Saturday in Houston. If they win that, they will move on to Atlanta on Dec. 19 to face Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion North Carolina A&T in the inaugural Celebration Bowl.
So, yes, Grambling football is back.
It was just two years ago the Tigers hit rock bottom during one of the most humbling seasons any football program and university could ever experience — let alone one with Grambling’s pedigree.
The 1-11 season (following a 1-10 mark in 2012) that included three head coaches and a player boycott that led to a forfeit attracted national headlines. It was especially shocking and humbling for a football program that had brought decades of positive publicity to its university.
When Broderick Fobbs was hired to straighten out that mess, Grambling was reaching back to the glory days under coach Eddie Robinson to grab one of Coach Rob’s former players and a rising young coach to restore it to glory.
Fobbs played running back for four seasons under Robinson and was an honor-roll student and two-year captain. He knew Grambling. He knew wins and losses, but he also knew academics and leadership.
“I’m not a pessimist. I’m an optimist,” Fobbs said. “So coming in and seeing the caliber of players that were already here and then the quality coaching staff that we were able to put together, I spent several nights focusing on comparing our program to some of the places I’ve been that were successful, and it was hard to find much of a difference.”
Fobbs had coached previously at Louisiana-Lafayette (graduate assistant), Northwestern State, McNeese State and Southern Miss.
“I never know how fast something will happen,” Fobbs said, “but I did think that we had the tools in order to have a chance and as a coach that’s all you can ask for is to have the tools to have a chance and then it’s just your job to put it together to try and get that thing going.”
Grambling’s turnaround on the football field has been remarkable, but when Fobbs spoke earlier this week about this season, before he spoke about his high-powered offense, the undefeated conference run or the trophies within grasp, he recounted “history lessons” his players experienced along the way.
“My focus,” Fobbs said, “is on what we have been able to accomplish off the field.”
As has been established tradition for the school, the Tigers walked the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, where civil rights activists marching to Montgomery were stopped by police officers in one of the seminal moments of the Civil Rights Movement.
They visited the home of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi, and the site of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. They visited the museum at Little Rock (Ark.) Central High, site of what is considered the most prominent example of the implementation of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling that determined state laws establishing public schools segregated by race were unconstitutional.
Fobbs has led quite a journey back to football prominence.
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.