At the intersection of Swan Avenue and Scenic Highway, less than a mile from A.W. Mumford Stadium, a homemade sign hangs underneath the window of a sports apparel shop.
Painted in sloppy blue letters, the sign reads: “Just get it done.”
That was the slogan adopted by Stump Mitchell’s first football team at Southern University.
As fans and alumni painfully remember, there was only one problem: When it came to winning games, the Jaguars didn’t get it done.
After the final whistle at the Bayou Classic, players slowly walked off the field inside the Superdome and headed toward the tunnel, looking upward, toward thousands of empty seats.
The Jaguars had clinched a 2-9 record, the worst season in school history.
“I am the owner of that record. I’m not the proud owner, but I am the owner,” Mitchell said last week.
“One of the things I learned (from last year) was that I wasn’t going to worry about adversity. I went in with a plan, and I wasn’t going to change the plan. I wasn’t going to question myself, or our young men. I prayed about it. Once you get the answer, you’ve just got to go with it.”
This week, the Jaguars start to move forward, taking their first major steps toward becoming a better team with a better record.
Players report Wednesday for preseason camp. Practice begins Thursday.
Although reminders of the 2010 team are everywhere, so, too, are signs of change.
Of the 89 players on Southern’s preseason roster, only 26 are holdovers from the Pete Richardson era, which ended in December 2009.
But it’s more than that. The program has a decidedly different look, and it involves more than players and coaches.
For various reasons, some of SU’s other familiar faces have vanished:
- Longtime sports information director Kevin Manns is gone; he took another job at Winston-Salem State. Christopher Jones, an SU alumnus and former assistant SID, has replaced him.
- Longtime strength-and-conditioning coach Thomas “Zues” Hall is gone; he left during the spring semester and took a similar job at Alcorn State. SU replaced Hall this summer with Lavell Williams, whose career has included stops at Kansas, Texas Tech and Alcorn.
- Longtime assistant trainer John Ned died late last year at 53, having succumbed to cancer. Head trainer Carl “Doc” Williams retired this spring; he was replaced by Rick “Doc” Hayes, who spent the past 10 years at Tuskegee.
They will all assist the team in what looks like a massive rebuilding project ahead.
Or is it?
Though the Jaguars were blown out by the likes of Alabama A&M, Texas Southern and Grambling, they also came tantalizingly close to grabbing a few signature wins.
In three of last season’s losses, Southern was within one fourth-quarter play of winning or sending the game to overtime.
In a thriller of a game at Jackson State, the Jaguars took a four-point lead with 19 seconds left - then lost the lead when JSU scored a touchdown with 2 seconds left.
Later, at Alcorn State, Southern staged a hearty comeback effort and came within 2 yards of tying the Braves with less than a minute left - but fullback Lee Mitchell was stopped at the 2 on fourth-and-goal.
Then, in the home finale, the Jaguars scored a late touchdown and came within two points of Alabama State - but fullback Brian McCain punched an opponent, forcing SU to try its two-point conversion from the 18. It failed.
“The guys worked extremely hard. There is no coach in America who could ask more of his guys, to go out and play the way they played - especially with the results they were getting. I mean, they were practicing hard every day.”
Mitchell offered no excuses after those losses. But the near-misses could serve as evidence that perhaps Southern isn’t far away from being a contender again.
All it takes is a few improvements, albeit major ones.
“When you put so much work and effort into something, you don’t like losing close games,” left tackle Chris Browne said.
“We had a lot of close games last year, and everybody was harping on the negative. But there were a lot of positives that came out of the season. We might not have liked all the lessons we learned, but we learned them.”
This week, the Jaguars go to work with that in mind.
This year, they’ll try again to just get it done.