Southern linebacker Franchot West was thrilled to make his first start last weekend, albeit in a crushing 28-24 home loss against Jackson State.
This week, he’s even more excited. He’s going home.
See, he grew up in Stone Mountain, Ga. It’s not a stone’s throw from Atlanta, but it’s not much farther.
West pulled for Michael Vick, Keith Brooking and the hometown Falcons. He’s even played football a few times in the Georgia Dome.
“Park ball. I played down there on the field a couple of times with my park-ball team,” West said.
“You know how they do the halftimes at the NFL games, where they bring the little teams on the field to play? We were the show. Unfortunately, I couldn’t play in the dome when I was in high school, for a state championship.”
At 2:30 p.m. Saturday, in the same building where West once dreamed of playing, Southern (1-2) and Florida A&M (1-2) will renew one of the longest and hottest rivalries in black college football. To the fan bases, it’s a little more important than a high school game, let alone park ball.
West said he can guarantee this much: He doesn’t want to lose. West said that if going home to Georgia meant losing to Florida A&M, he’d rather not go at all.
“I want to go over there and win,” he said. “We’ve got to have a win.”
So much is at stake for both teams Saturday.
They both need a win to get back on solid footing. They both have large clusters of alumni in Atlanta, and in 1995, Southern and FAMU played there twice - first in a regular-season game, then later in the Heritage Bowl (SU won both times).
But it’s more than all that.
Atlanta is also a fertile recruiting ground, and the type of place where the Jaguars would like to grow deeper roots.
“There’s some great football in Atlanta, and the thing we tend to need are big linemen,” Mitchell said. “I think all the skill guys we want, I feel we can get them from the state of Louisiana. But there’s just not enough big linemen to go around. So we’re looking to those guys from any and every state.”
These days, Southern has to be more selective with its recruits, signing only players who will qualify academically and stay on campus.
But the Jaguars also have newfound ties to Atlanta.
Southern has nine players from Georgia, including West, tackle Clinton Boyd and backup quarterback J.P. Douglas.
Mitchell himself is from Kingsland, Ga., a small coastal town just north of Jacksonville, Fla.
It’s a similar story for Florida A&M, which likes to cherry-pick players in Atlanta on occasion. Starting center Shelley Anthony and backup quarterback Tyler Bray are both from Georgia.
“Outside of Florida, Georgia is our biggest recruiting area. There’s great football there,” fourth-year FAMU coach Joe Taylor said. “Over the years, we’ve always recruited there. ... Right now, we’ve got about eight guys, and our starting center, Anthony Shelley, is from Atlanta. So yes, we do look at this (as a recruiting tool). In fact, we’ll be scouting local high schools there on Friday evening.”
Hawkins likely out
Junior receiver Charles Hawkins, who suffered a mild concussion during the Jaguars’ loss to Jackson State last week, has been cleared to play this week against Florida A&M - but Mitchell said he’ll probably keep Hawkins on the sideline.
Mitchell said it’s a way to save the 5-foot-10 receiver - who also absorbed two crushing blows in the season-opening loss at Tennessee State - for Southwestern Athletic Conference play, which resumes next week with a game at Mississippi Valley State.
Hawkins has nine catches for 187 yards and a touchdown.
“The only thing that makes it easy for me not to play Hawkins is because I love him,” Mitchell said. “He’s a guy that plays extremely hard. He’s a guy that has taken a beating these first three ballgames.”
Mitchell said Hawkins will be replaced by freshman Jordan Bilbo and sophomore Lee Doss.
Nzekwe likely in
Mitchell said junior tailback Sylvester Nzekwe will probably play more this week, given his solid effort off the bench in last week’s loss.
Though Nzekwe had only two carries for 5 yards last week, he caught four passes 71 yards against Jackson State - easily a career high for the junior from Seattle (Nzekwe had 68 receiving yards all last season).
“When they took our throws away from our primary receiver, (quarterback) Dray Joseph did a great job dropping it down to Nzekwe, and he made some plays,” Mitchell said. “Nzekwe is the type of guy, if given the opportunity, he’s one of those guys that could make a guy miss, more so than the other backs that we have.”
Nzekwe ran for 248 yards and five touchdowns on 66 attempts last season.
This year, he has four carries in three games.