No matter how the season plays out for Southern University each year, there’s always one game at the end of the slate that can essentially salvage the season.
A win against Grambling in the Bayou Classic can make the Jaguars’ 3-6 showing this year a whole lot more manageable heading into the offseason — a feeling no one currently on the team has felt before.
The Jaguars have dropped the past four meetings with the Tigers, making the 2012 edition even more intriguing. But aside from the standard hype the rivalry receives each year, Saturday’s skirmish has a bit of a special feel to it for Anthony Balancier.
The junior linebacker, a New Orleans native, has traveled back home for the past two seasons to play in the Bayou Classic but doesn’t have anything to show for it yet.
Southern lost 38-17 in Balancier’s first game against Grambling, when he chalked up five tackles — one for loss — as a true freshman. The Jaguars then dropped last year’s clash 36-12, and Balancier recorded just two tackles — his second-lowest output of 2011.
So while Southern prepares to snap its losing streak Saturday, Balancier is fighting for a formidable showing in front of his hometown crowd.
“The two previous years, I haven’t been doing good in the Bayou Classic game,” Balancier said. “This year, I’m just going to let it all out and show the world and show the fans that I can show up in these big games. I’ve been coming home, and they’ve been beating us. At least one time, I (want) to come home and beat Grambling in the Superdome.”
The significance of the Bayou Classic is nothing new to Balancier. The former McDonogh-35 standout grew up going to the game nearly every year with his mother, a Southern University alumna.
He followed in his mom’s footsteps, partially “to make her happy,” and has seen substantial action since his first year on campus.
Balancier ranked sixth on the team with 37 tackles in 10 games as a sophomore in 2011, adding two tackles for loss, an interception and a pass breakup. He’s nearly doubled that showing in 10 games his year, compiling 60 tackles — 9½ for loss — four sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles.
“He came a long way,” interim head coach Dawson Odums said. “He’s growing up, and he’s maturing. (The coaches) are just trying to teach him the right ways about life. In doing that, we’re starting to see a tremendous performance out of him on the field.”
Balancier credited Odums and linebacker coach Thaddeus Washington for his progress the past three seasons, and both parties agreed on the one thing that the 6-foot-2, 225-pounder has improved most through the years.
“Discipline,” Balancier said. “They got me more disciplined. At first I was just playing, but they told me if I do it this way and don’t just do it my own way, then I’ll be more successful. They never slack up on me. They’re always hard on me. They know the type of potential I have, and they’re a big part of my success.”
Balancier is hoping to put that potential on display Saturday afternoon when the Jaguars take the field under the national spotlight on NBC.
But even more than any personal gains Balancier may benefit from, he knows the importance the Bayou Classic holds for the future as Southern prepares for a to begin a new era under a new coach next season.
“It’s like the battle of Louisiana,” Balancier said. “Whoever wins this game gets the most recruits out of Louisiana, you get the bragging right for the whole year, so this game has a whole lot riding on it. It’ll be good for us to win it, for sure.”