The Alabama State University Hornet football team looks to improve on a promising season this year when they tee it up between the hedges next week against Miles College.
Last year, the Hornets surprised many in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) with their play.” Although they finished with a 3-3 record (3-2 SWAC), the Hornets had impressive wins over top-tier opponents. The only defeats were close losses that developed many key players.
Three returning players were added to the Black College Football Hall of Fame Player of the Year watch list. Ezra Gray, senior running back, Irshaad Davis, sophomore defensive back, and Christain Clark, junior defensive lineman. Of the three, Gray helped lead the charge on offense last year, stinging opponents in the running game. In five games, Gray rushed for 426 yards and three touchdowns, where he led the team and SWAC in total rushing yards while placing 15 overall nationally.
Gray will be looking to repeat the offensive success with the SWAC Freshman of the Year, Ryan Nettles, to his side and under center. Nettles, a redshirt sophomore, took the reins of the team last year, where he finished the year 85-for-144 for 917 yards and eight touchdowns while throwing five interceptions. He ran the ball 36 times for 110 yards, a touchdown, and recorded a career-high 305 yards on 20-of-34 passing against Mississippi Valley State. With all of this success, Nettles was named a finalist for the Jerry Rice Top Freshman of the Year Award and was SWAC Newcomer of the Week three times. With these accomplishments, Nettles took responsibility for steering and commanding this team, something many players have noticed during spring and summer camp stating, “Nettles took on the leadership role … once he gets confident, there are not a lot of throws he cannot make.”
However, Nettles will be without his partner in crime Michael Jefferson. Jefferson entered the transfer portal and found a new home in “The Boot,” being added to the UL-Lafayette receiving core. Jefferson proved to be a nightmare for opposing defenses and secondaries in his two seasons at Alabama State. Jefferson was the leading receiver last season with 73 catches and 1,001 yards; his 14 touchdowns put him atop as the single-season wide receiver touchdown record holder for Alabama State.
Defensively, Davis proved himself to be just as much of an importance. He led the team with 41 tackles, 31 being solo, which ranked him No. 4 in the SWAC and No. 19 nationally. Davis will be a part of a dominant defensive unit that was key to winning and keeping the team close in several games last season. Four Hornets were named to the All-SWAC defensive team, something defensive coordinator Travis Pearson is sure to hang his head on and use for the tough matchups in the early portion of the season.
The beginning of the season will prove to be challenging for the Hornets. “They sent us to the dogs out the gate,” Gray said.
This year, the Hornets have four away games against Auburn, Jackson State and FAMU in the first six weeks. Even with the “Beasts of the East” and Alcorn State realigning to the SWAC western division, the Hornets were still projected to finish fourth in the division this upcoming season.
However, the Hornets have shown they can block out outside opinions, as last season was a testament. They look to continue that same energy and improve on a season that was cut short. The Hornets will kick off the first game of the season against Miles College in the Labor Day Classic on Sept. 4 at 5 p.m.