Former Southern University players, faculty and students will travel to Baton Rouge to celebrate homecoming at A.W. Mumford Stadium on Saturday, along with a select group making the approximate 122 mile drive from Lorman, Miss.
Homecoming will belong to SU, but it’s also a homecoming of sorts for members of the Alcorn State coaching staff.
Seven of the team’s coaches were born in Louisiana and have spent time in the state either playing or coaching football.
First-year head coach Melvin Spears, who is from Clinton, was Grambling’s head coach from 2004-2007. During that span, Spears led the Tigers to a 20-14 record including an 11-1 season in 2005 that led to Spears being named the 2005 Southwestern Athletic Conference Coach of the Year.
Spears said his time at Grambling allowed him to create some outstanding coaching relationships.
One of the relationships Spears formed was with defensive coordinator Michael Roach. Roach, a Baton Rouge native, played at Southern in the mid-1980s and spent time coaching at Southern Lab.
“I wanted to have guys that understood the philosophy and were serious about the well-being and education process of young people,” Spears said. “These guys already understood the system and had a short learning curve.”
Roach was the first of the Louisiana chain to head to Alcorn, but Spears wasn’t even close to being finished.
He went on to hire five more Louisiana connected coaches, including former Grambling quarterback Bruce Eugene - whom both Spears and Roach coached - as Alcorn’s quarterback coach.
Eugene, who is from New Orleans, was one of the most prolific quarterbacks in Southwestern Athletic Conference history. He finished with 13,530 passing yards with 140 touchdowns and three SWAC championships with the Tigers.
Spears said part of his thought process in assembling this coaching staff was to leave a mark with recruiting in the Louisiana area.
“I needed a person who understands the dynamics of New Orleans,” Spears said. “Bruce knows everyone in New Orleans.”
Alcorn currently has 15 players from Louisiana on its roster, eight of which are from New Orleans, three from Clinton, two from Baton Rouge and one from both St. James and Jeanerette.
During the recruitment process Eugene said he can easily relate to what the athletes are going through, and he uses his own story as an example of what these kids can become.
“I can talk to their parents and I can guarantee the kids will get a top-notch education and be a great man in corporate America when he finishes,” Eugene said.
Along with Eugene and Roach, Spears also added: offensive line coach Marshall Hayes, who played under Pete Richardson at Southern; wide receivers coach Tramon Douglas, of Baton Rouge: defensive back coach Eugene Daniel, who played cornerback at LSU from 1981-1983; running backs coach Darius Matthews, of Clinton; and equipment manager Anderson Dye, who worked for equipment manager Derrick Price while at Southern.
There was to have been one more substantial tie in former Southern strength and conditioning coach Thomas “Zeus” Hall, but Hall died earlier this month after the vehicle he was driving collided with a train earlier this month on U.S. 61 just north of the Southern campus. Hall, in his first season at Alcorn after nearly two decades with SU, was also a former Southern and Capitol High football player.
Remembering Hall will unite both teams Saturday.
Spears, Roach and Eugene shared what they felt was special about Louisiana.
Both Spears and Roach pointed to the uncanny love of football that the state possesses. Eugene cited the food, Cajuns, voodoo and overall culture of New Orleans as to what makes Louisiana unique.
“Louisiana will always be my heart,” Eugene said.
Spears said he always uses the term “spice of life” to describe Louisiana because of the food and football. Football is a religion with LSU, Southern and Grambling all having their own nations, he said.
While Alcorn had its own homecoming last Saturday, a 58-16 victory over Concordia in front of 16,000 fans at Jack Spinks Stadium, the coaches are excited about their personal homecoming Saturday at A.W. Mumford Stadium.
“I’m going to enjoy myself,” Roach said. “It will be an exciting day for me. Southern provided me with a survival kit, and I will always love Southern. Coming back is going to be a real warm feeling.”
BRIDGE OFF TEAM: In Lorman, Miss, Spears announced Thursday that sophomore quarterback Brandon Bridge “is no longer a part of the Alcorn State football program.”
“We appreciate the services of Brandon Bridge,” Spears said in a statement. “It’s unfortunate that he wants to shop his talents elsewhere.”
Bridge, a sophomore from Toronto nicknamed “Air Canada” after his success last season, has played in five of six games this season and has passed for 632 yards with five touchdowns while rushing for 121 yards and two touchdowns.
Bridges had announced his departure Thursday on Twitter.
Darius Smith had emerged as the Braves’ top quarterback this season, starting the past two games.