Dawson Odums is returning to the scene of his first game as Southern’s head football coach as the Jaguars visit Jackson State on Saturday night.

It was a little more than two years ago when Southern last went to Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium. The university had just reassigned head coach Stump Mitchell after an uninspired 6-0 home loss to Mississippi Valley State dropped the Jaguars to 0-2. Odums was promoted from defensive coordinator and things haven’t been the same since.

“It was my first game as the interim head coach and we took a football team up there and found a way to win,” Odums said. “It was a hostile environment and I think that jump-started our program to become the successful one that it is today.”

The Jaguars went 4-5 under Odums that first year, then went 9-4 and won their first Southwestern Athletic Conference championship in 10 years last season. They enter this game with a 4-3 overall record and a 3-1 mark that has them in the thick of the SWAC West Division race.

Though the Tigers are struggling at 1-3 after winning the East Division last year, records often times aren’t a good predictor of how teams will perform in rivalry games such as this one.

“I just think it’s two teams that really don’t like each other,” Odums said. “It’s one of those games where I think as a recruit that you want to play in. The atmosphere is going to be electric. It’s two teams that have a history of playing really good football against each other.”

The is the 60th meeting between the schools and a Tigers win would give them their 30th victory and even the all-time series.

“Our guys understand that both teams have a rich tradition and a lot of great players have come through our program and a lot of great players have come through their program,” Odums said. “But I think with this generation the biggest motivation is the fact that you have an opportunity to be considered one of those guys.

“You’re writing your story now. That’s what we talk about all the time — at the end of Saturday, what are people going to write about you — and you only have 60 minutes to have that story told.”

Harold Jackson will be participating in a Southern-JSU game for the first time as Tigers head coach, but he participated as a Tigers wide receiver in the late 1960s.

“Jackson State and Southern have always both had a great following wherever they have gone,” he said. “Travel is a little different now. When I played nobody could afford a mobile home, but now they travel in hotels on wheels and leave Wednesday or Thursday to go to the game. It’s still one of the biggest rivalry football games.”

Odums went a step further.

“I think as a coach this is an environment that you love to coach in,” Odums said. “There’s not going to be any other environment that’s like this. I think this is probably the biggest rivalry in the SWAC. I think when you look at these two teams playing against each other I think it’s what makes SWAC football SWAC football.”

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