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Miles, projected to have big year, gets tested right away in Labor Day Classic  

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The Golden Bears’ leading rusher Donte Edwards can get to the outside with his quickness. (Miles College)

By Donald Hunt

For The Birmingham Times

This should be a big year for the Miles College football team. The Golden Bears are picked to win the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) Western Division as voted on by the head coaches and sports information directors.

In 2019, Miles College won its second consecutive SIAC championship while landing a spot in the NCAA Division II playoffs. The Golden Bears finished with a 9-2 overall record. They didn’t compete in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic as the conference suspended all sports for the fall.

However, it looks like Miles College is ready to hit the gridiron. It will be tested right away against FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) opponent Alabama State University from the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) in the Labor Day Classic on Saturday, Sept. 4 at 5 p.m. This matchup of these two Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) will take place at ASU Stadium in Montgomery.

This contest has a number of great players on both sides of the football. Offensively, Miles College and Alabama State should be able to move the ball on the ground. Both teams have good running backs.

The Golden Bears’ leading rusher Donte Edwards can get to the outside with his quickness. Edwards picked up 758 yards and led the conference in touchdowns with 11 all on the ground and scoring with 66 points. In addition, he had three games where he topped the 100-yard mark.

The Hornets have a terrific runner with Ezra Gray who was a preseason first-team all-conference selection. Gray gained 436 yards on 84 carries in five games this spring. He led the SWAC in rushing and burst for a career-high 195 yards against Jackson State and a 100-yard rushing performance against rival Alabama A&M.

On defense, Miles College is led by linebacker Mitchell Smiley, the preseason selection for the SIAC Defensive Player of the Year. Smiley has been a handful for most teams with his ability to tackle and rush the passer. He had 83 total and 46 solo tackles and five sacks. Smiley posted 10 solo tackles against Lenoir-Rhyne in the NCAA Division II playoff game.

Alabama State has two outstanding players up front with Christian Clark and Andrew Ogletree. Clark had 13 total and nine solo tackles last spring. He also had 2.5 tackles for loss and one pass breakup and one forced fumble.

Ogletree notched 15 total and nine solo tackles with 2. 5 sacks and five quarterback hurries. Clark and Ogletree earned preseason all-conference honors.

In other HBCU action this weekend, Tuskegee University will face Fort Valley State in the inaugural Boeing Red Tails Classic on Sunday, Sept. 5 at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery.  The kickoff is set for 7 p.m. on ESPNU.

Tuskegee finished 2019 with a 5-5 overall record and a 4-2 mark in the SIAC. The Golden Tigers are predicted to finish second in the Western Division.

Tuskegee University head coach Willie Slater will depend on running back Taurean Taylor and wide receiver Steve Hodges to get the offense in high gear. Taylor rushed for 597 yards on 99 attempts and scored six touchdowns. Hodges had 31 receptions for 535 yards and one TD. He also averaged 17.26 yards a catch.

Fort Valley State completed the 2019 season with a 6-4 overall record and a 4-2 slate in the conference. FVS was picked to finish third in the Eastern Division.

This game will put the SIAC on the national stage. It will also highlight the accomplishments of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen.

Alabama A&M is coming off a great season last spring. The Bulldogs were named the Spring 2021 HBCU national champion as Boxtorow had Alabama A&M as the No. 1 team in both the final media and coaches’ poll.

Alabama A&M had an impressive 5-0 overall and 3-0 record in the SWAC. It defeated Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 40-33, to win the SWAC title.

Alabama A&M will face a tough non-conference matchup in its season opener against South Carolina State from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) on Saturday, Sept. 4 at Lewis Crews Stadium in Huntsville. The kickoff is set for 6 p.m. The Bulldogs are predicted to repeat as East Division champions in the SWAC.

The team is led by graduate quarterback Aqeel Glass who completed 91-of-158 passes for 1,355 yards with 16 TDs and four interceptions. Glass has been named to the Walter Payton Award Watch List. This award goes to the top offensive player in the country at the FCS level.

His key receiver is Abdul-Fatai Ibrahim who had 24 catches for 338 yards and three TDs. He averaged 14.08 yards a catch.

This should be one of the best HBCU games of the week. South Carolina State is the preseason pick to win the MEAC.