With one week to go before college football’s grand opening, a small parade of RVs, trucks and smiling fans littered the parking lots around A.W. Mumford Stadium, anxious for a sneak peek at Stump Mitchell’s team.
They grilled. They ate. They laughed. They collected autographs from Mitchell and his players. And they watched Southern run through its final preseason scrimmage, hoping the Jaguars are prepared to turn a corner at last.
But of all the sights and sounds from Saturday’s affair, the most appealing moment may have came after the scrimmage ended.
That’s when four players — quarterback Dray Joseph, tackle Chris Browne, center Lee Almanza and receiver LaQuinton Evans — strolled out of the locker room like supersized models on a grassy catwalk, each of them dressed in Southern’s new Columbia blue uniforms. It is, of course, a return to the school’s original color scheme.
To the players, at least, they were a hit.
“I knew what the colors were going to be, but I didn’t know how they were going to look, as far as the shape and the cut,” Joseph said.
“Even the sleeves are cut to fit. We look like a Division I college is supposed to look.”
Added Browne: “We were really excited, because we were going back to our classic colors — the true Columbia blue. It’s pretty nice. I think I look good in them.”
The new uniforms arrived last week. In truth, they were a long time coming.
About five years ago, then-assistant sports information director Christopher Jones teamed with then-director of student media Derick Hackett. Together, they started to badger equipment manager Derek Price about putting the football team back in Columbia blue.
The Jaguars did, in fact, wear special Columbia blue jerseys for the 2008 Bayou Classic, and players got to keep them.
But a full-time move didn’t come until last year, when new coach Stump Mitchell signed off on putting the team in Columbia blue uniforms.
From there, Price recruited help from a number of folks, coaches, department employees and even players.
Jones, now the sports information director, used an unconventional way to help.
An avid video-game guy, Jones knew that EA Sports’ annual NCAA Football game features a “team builder” mode, in which players can create their own teams and uniforms.
Using the video game, Jones showed Price a prototype.
Price took it from there.
“We started to hear rumbling about it in the summer, and coach Price was telling me about it,” Browne said. “He was asking me about designs and things like that. ... I didn’t give him any input. But I was excited. I didn’t like our other uniforms, because they weren’t our true colors.”
Browne modeled the away jersey: white, with Columbia numerals and gold trim.
The Jaguars will wear those jerseys at 6 p.m. Saturday in Nashville, Tenn., when they open their season against Tennessee State.
And what about that opener?
Uniforms aside, how good do the Jaguars look?
Mitchell, for one, said he believes they’re much better, adding that they won’t repeat last season’s 2-9 disaster.
“No question about that in my mind,” he said.
Defensive coordinator O’Neill Gilbert said his players are more athletic, more attuned to his system.
Saturday’s scrimmage, however, was an up-and-down affair for both sides.
The first-team offense scored a touchdown on its first drive, but largely struggled after that. It didn’t score again until coaches placed the ball on the 20 and started to work on red-zone situations.
Unofficially, Joseph completed 7 of 13 passes, with three touchdowns and one interception; his main backup, freshman J.P. Douglas, completed 6 of 11 passes with one touchdown and one interception.
The defense mostly held firm, though it gave up a series of first downs to the first- and second-team offenses.
The special teams were more than a little suspect. SU kickers were 0-for-5 on field goals, and although one of Manuel Canto’s punts died inside the 10-yard line, he averaged only 37 yards on four attempts. Another punt was blocked.
What, then, to make of this final dress rehearsal?
“I think that today showed we’re just so tired of bashing against each other’s heads,” Joseph said.
“You think about it this way: We’ve been going at it for a month now. It comes to the point where the defense knows what the offense is doing, and it goes the other way, too. So it’s hard to tell. But I’ll say this: We’ll be ready for the first game.”
It’s six days away.