By Donald Hunt
For The Birmingham Times
Four Historically Black Colleges and Universities from Alabama kick off the season today, Sept. 2. It should be exciting openers for Alabama Agriculture & Mechanical, Alabama State, Tuskegee University and Miles College.
A&M will face the University of Alabama at Birmingham as the Blazers return to the field after a two-year hiatus. The game at Legion Field will begin at 2:30 p.m.
A&M is looking to make an impact in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Eastern Division. The Bulldogs finished in the second place. This non-conference game against UAB should help them prepare for league competition.
A&M head coach James Spady should have a terrific ground attack with running back Jordan Bentley, who was the SWAC Rookie of the Year last season. Bentley, an All-SWAC first-team selection, had 851 yards and scored nine touchdowns. The 6-foot, 200-pounder, is one of the best running backs in the SWAC.
On defense, the Bulldogs have two great players with defensive tackle Kenneth Davis (98 tackles, two sacks) and defensive back Tere Calloway (two interceptions). Davis and Calloway received preseason first team all-conference honors.
Alabama State will host longtime rival Tuskegee University at ASU Stadium in Montgomery, Al. The kickoff will be at 7 p.m.
The Hornets lost several close games last season. ASU head coach Brian Jenkins will try to elevate his team’s play in the SWAC Eastern Division standings. Alabama State will miss running back Khalid Thomas, who rushed for 1,237 yards and scored nine TDs.
Junior running back Alex Anderson could step in and provide some production in the running game. Anderson had 34 carries for 148 yards and four TDs. He could have a big year running behind preseason All-SWAC first-team selection offensive lineman Sam Baptiste. Wide receiver Willis White should give the Hornets a playmaker in the passing attack. White had 36 receptions for 337 yards and two TDs.
Defensively, Alabama State should be able to rush the passer up front and stop the run and defend the pass in the secondary. The Hornets standouts are defensive lineman Andre Wilson (six sacks), linebacker Darron Johnson (67 tackles) and Ronnie Scott (three receptions).
Tuskegee appears to have another outstanding team coming out of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The Golden Tigers are the favorites to win the SWAC West Division. A year ago, they advanced to the NCAA Division II playoffs.
Tuskegee comes into this contest with a great defense. The Golden Tigers have two of the top defensive players in the SIAC with safety Jonah McCutheon and linebacker Osband Thompson. McCutheon received preseason first-team all-conference honors. He played a big role in Tuskegee’s second ranked defense in the NCAA Division II ranks.
Thompson is one of the best defensive players in Division II. He had 137 total and 67 solo tackles with 11.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks last season. He was named the SIAC Defensive Player of the Year.
Miles College will open its season away from home against Alcorn State from the SWAC in Lorman, Miss., in a 6 p.m. game. The Golden Bears were selected to finish second behind Tuskegee in the SIAC West Division.
Offensively, Miles College will rely on its running game led by junior running back Ger’Kerry Jackson, who earned first-team preseason all-conference recognition. Jackson picked up 306 rushing yards and scored two touchdowns last year. He should be able to run inside as well as outside behind offensive lineman Christopher Ruffin who was a preseason second-team all-conference pick.
On defense, the Golden Bears have a great playmaking linebacker with Anthony Hardy who is the team’s best tackler. A year ago, Hardy had 51 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and one interception. Defensive lineman Kaelon Bonds should be a force up front. Bonds had 27 tackles, 3.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries.