Alcorn State clutch on third down — again — in SWAC title game _lowres

Associated Press photo by ERIC CHRISTIAN SMITH -- Alcorn State wide receiver Brandon Vessell runs down the sideline on a 51--yard touchdown catch as Southern defensive back De'Andre Woodland looks on in the fourth quarter Saturday in NRG Stadium in Houston.

The meeting had the same substance of the one Brandon Vessell had years before while at Glen Oaks High School playing for legendary basketball coach Harvey Adger.

“In football I started, but never in basketball,” Vessell said. “Coach Adger always had outstanding athletes. I knew I wouldn’t be a starter during my four years. I played the role he gave me.”

Fast forward to the spring of Vessell’s sophomore year at Alcorn State, where he signed as a quarterback and spent an unsatisfactory season on the sideline, helmet in hand and signaling in plays.

A combination of injuries, coaching and system changes resulted in Vessell’s plunge to the bottom of the Braves’ depth chart, necessitating a meeting with coach Jay Hopson about his future.

Defensive coaches were enamored with the possibility of getting the 6-foot-4, 195-pound Vessell at safety before a decision was made to move to wide receiver, where he’s remained ever since.

“Coach said he needed me to play receiver, where we were short,” Vessell said. “I dealt with it in a positive way. I took pride in my role because it helped the team and it was part of the (wins). That’s the main goal.”

Instead of a portfolio loaded with statistical accomplishments, Vessell returns to his hometown for the final time to play a college game, with rings for a Southwestern Athletic Conference championship and SBN Black College Championship along with a degree in Electric-Mechanic Engineering.

Alcorn State (4-2, 4-1) puts its Eastern Division-leading mark on the line against Southern (4-3, 4-1) at A.W. Mumford Stadium at 4 p.m. Saturday.

“I’ve had a headache this week with tickets,” said Vessell, who said he’s tried to fill between 30-40 requests. “It’s very exciting, but I know a lot’s riding on this game for both teams. We have to go in focused and come out with a (win).”

Alcorn has given every indication it intends to repeat its SWAC title, sending Vessell out in style.

The Braves had won their last four games until a 35-34 loss to Western Division-leading Grambling two weeks ago.

Alcorn’s perch atop the SWAC, which it won 38-24 over Southern last season, has not been lost on Vessell, who recalled the program’s struggles — a pair of losing seasons — his first two years.

“That all comes from us banding together and putting in the work, making sacrifices for years to get where we are,” Vessell said. “We know how it is to go through the struggles. That’s what brought us so tight together.”

Alcorn put together 9-3 and 10-3 seasons in 2013 and ’14, thanks in part to unselfish players such as Vessell playing their respective parts.

“That’s a credit to who he is, a credit to his parents and the type of person he is,” Hopson said of Vessell. “He’s a winner. He’s going to be successful in life because he’s a guy that goes to work every day and just does what he’s supposed to do. He’s a leader for us and a guy we lean on.”

Vessell’s in the midst of his best season, having enjoyed a career-best five catches for 42 yards against Grambling. He’s tied for fifth among the team’s top targets with nine catches for 77 yards, playing the inside and outside receiver position equally well, to go along with his blocking ability.

“I felt I could help the team at a different position, doing different things,” said Vessell, who is working on his master’s in electrical/electronic engineering technology. “I wanted to play receiver all of my life but ended up quarterback. I made the switch and the rest is history.”