Jaguar tailgaters remain optimistic

Several months ago, Malachi Gee III caught more than 100 pounds of wild Mississippi River catfish, all of which would eventually be seasoned, fried and served to Southern football fans in the coming months.

On Friday evening, he stood next to the open tailgate of his pickup, breading and boiling the first batch of thawed whisker-fish in preparation for a 24-hour tailgating feast leading up to Southern’s football home-opener against Prairie View A&M on Saturday night.

“We’re not going to stop, it’s all night,” said Craig Cofer, Gee’s longtime friend and tailgating associate who plans to travel to every Southern football game this season, like he has for about two decades.

Gee and Cofer were two of many optimistic Jaguar fans who arrived on campus Friday evening to mark their tailgating territory.

While the duo cooked and listened to music playing from the speakers of Cofer’s brand new RV, hundreds of students flocked to the Student Union for a pep rally that featured booming brass tunes from the Southern marching band alongside dancing cheerleaders.

Many students danced, sang and whipped out their cellphones to capture the festive scene.

“I’m excited about the home opener tomorrow, and hopefully Southern winning,” said Cecil Poole, a graduate student who stood on the outskirts of the pep rally crowd, donning spirited Southern football apparel.

Nearer to the stadium, several Phi Beta Sigma fraternity brothers applied some last-minute touches to wooden cutouts of the fraternity’s Greek letters, which would serve as land markers for the fraternity’s game day tailgate for the rest of the season.

“We’re looking forward to (the game),” said John Michael White, the fraternity’s vice president. He added, with a big smile across his face: “Trying to get on the bandwagon of them rebuilding.”

Southern has suffered two blowout losses in its first two games this season, but White, like many fans Friday evening, expressed cautious optimism for Saturday’s contest.

“We always stay hopeful,” White said.

Even closer to A.W. Mumford Stadium, a group of men set up the only visible tent in a grassy patch of land between the gridiron and the F.G. Clark Activity Center — a tent that happened to reserve the location of East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden’s tailgate.

“We get here early,” said David Guillory, the city-parish’s director of Public Works, who was on hand to help reserve the prime tailgating location. Guillory said an uncle of Holden’s would likely cook Saturday, adding that some food is usually catered to the pre-game bashes.

As for the exact menu, Guillory said he doesn’t usually find out until the morning of the game.

Not too far away, Gee and Coffer prepared tailgating favorites such as ribs, sausage and pork chops, in addition to the catfish. And they expect a greater variety will arrive at their “ranch” tomorrow along with friends and family, they said.

“We don’t have to cook for everybody,” Coffer said, adding that guests bring delectables such as finger sandwiches, cakes and pies.

Gee, on the other hand, was in his element, picking freshly fried catfish filets out of the bubbling oil and sipping on a cold, frosty beer.

“It’s tailgating season now,” Gee said.