Southern’s first scrimmage almost didn’t happen.
After rain made the practice field next to A.W. Mumford Stadium unplayable, team officials were sent scrambling for a backup plan on Saturday morning, just hours before the Jaguars were scheduled to suit up.
Luckily, that backup plan came through, even if it did mean playing under the name of a rival.
SU reached out to former congressman Cleo Fields, founder of the Louisiana Leadership Institute, about the possibility of using LLI’s Leadership Field, which is a turf surface and wasn’t troubled by the weather.
The catch? Southern played in Doug Williams Stadium, named for archrival Grambling’s legendary player and coach.
But that wasn’t a sticking point for the Jaguars, who were just happy to land on a playable field.
“I have to give a shout-out to attorney Fields for allowing us to come here and use this field,” coach Stump Mitchell said. “There was no way we would have been able to practice. He has been so good as a Southern alum, it’s unbelievable. He gave us an opportunity to come out here and see what type of football team we’re going to have.”
Tennessee experienced a similar situation on Friday, when rain forced the Volunteers to abandon their fall camp facility and instead practice at Johnson City’s Science Hill High, where the turf field is named after former Florida and current South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier.
Kickers ‘getting better’
Much like the rest of Southern’s scrimmage, the team’s kickers were up and down.
Matthew Hill nailed two extra points and a 39-yard field goal, while freshman Gregory Pittman hit one from 42 yards but missed from 37.
“Getting better,” Mitchell said of the kickers. “I thought Matt was definitely better than he was last year. Greg missed a field goal that he should have made, and we have to get better there.”
Mitchell said the kickers’ workload under new special teams coach Marty Biagi — who punted at Marshall — has been more strenuous than what they’re used to, and he expects that to pay off.
The same goes for freshman punter Chase Tuten, who had punts of 26, 48, 23, 34, 24 and 32 yards for an average of just 31.2 yards. However, Tuten did flash his potential on the 48-yarder and had another one downed at the 5-yard line.
“He was up and down,” Mitchell said. “Again, Chase, he’s a guy that has not worked as much as he’s working now, and I think it’s a matter of having a fatigued leg, but we have to go through that in camp. He’ll have time once school starts to get a lot of rest, and he’ll be OK.”
Familiar faces on chain gang
A crew of referees worked the scrimmage, and a cast of familiar faces handled the first-down marker and yard sticks.
Held out because of injuries, receiver Michael Berry, defensive back D’Mekus Cook and running backs Sylvester Nzekwe and Jerry Joseph took charge of making sure the down and distance were kept properly.
They also offered coaching, encouragement and even a little trash talk to their teammates on the field, depending on which side of the ball they were on.
Crowd noise and marching band music was also piped over the stadium’s loudspeakers at various intervals to simulate a real game atmosphere.
Bus trip information
The Strong United Unification Organization released prices for its bus trips to Southern football games this fall, which include the bus ride, game ticket and post-game party for all seven road trips.
Packages for the Sept. 1 season opener at New Mexico are complete with a hotel room and start at $310.
For more information, call (225) 355-6886, (225) 357-3833 or (225) 774-7617.