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TSU’s Tigers ready to add a fresh win to their ‘Classic’ tradition

Terry Davis

Head coach Eddie George and the Tennessee State University football program will be on familiar ground when the annual Southern Heritage Classic game kickoffs off at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium.

The Southern Heritage Classic was first played in 1990 to enhance the rivalry between TSU and JSU, two HBCU regional powers.

There have been 31 games played all-time in the Classic, with 29 between TSU and Jackson State University, which backed out of the annual clash last year. Tennessee State is 17-14 all-time in the Classic.

George – a Heisman Trophy winner and a former NFL star running back, is in his third year as TSU’s head coach and still is looking for his first win in the Classic. He began the season with a sense of excitement.

“Our kids put in a lot of work in the off season,” said George. “They have committed to one another. They are owning the standard. I see a lot of growth there. We are excited about the recruiting class we have brought in.”

TSU’s Tigers are coming off of a 4-7 season and enter the Classic after a 56-3 thumping by the Top-Ten ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish last weekend. Jeremiah Josephs led the Tigers with 9 tackles against the Fighting Irish. It was the first time Notre Dame had played an HBCU (historically Black College and University) football program.

Tennessee State University’s football captains make their way onto the field at Notre Dame, as TSU became the first HBCU opponent for the Fighting Irish. (Courtesy photo)

At the onset of the season, George pinpointed the Tigers’ biggest challenge.

“Our consistency will be important,” said George. “We have a taste of what the standard can be. Defining the culture is a daily operation. You are always working on your craft. Through that you are going to obtain success on the football field.”

George said Memphis is a hot recruiting bed for TSU.

“It is important to us to have a presence there. It is great for the HBCU’s to have a game in Memphis. It brings a great deal of revenue, excitement, and energy.  It is something our fan base is excited for. I have it circled on my calendar.”

It will be a homecoming for several former Memphis high school players:

  • Jordan Helton, junior safety, Memphis University Schools;
  • Dorian George, junior defensive back, Germantown High School;
  • Craig Cunningham, freshman running back, Lausanne;
  • Ethan Jones, freshman defensive lineman, Lausanne;
  • Kennedy Wilbert, senior offensive lineman, Middle College High School.

Terence Carpenter II, a freshman defensive lineman, and cornerback Jashon Watkins played for the University of Memphis.

Draylen Ellis, the senior quarterback from Olive Branch, Miss., needs 271 passing yards to hit 6,000 in his career.  Ellis is currently ninth in FCS active passing leaders, with 5,729 passing yards. He tallied 1,811 yards in his first season as a Tiger and 3,894 in two seasons at Austin Peay.

Against Notre Dame, quarterback Deveon Bryant led all TSU rushers with 29 yards, picking up 4.8 yards per carry.

“We are going to continue to alternate quarterbacks,” George said. “Ellis did not have a spring to knock off the dust. He is improving and competing. When you can have two guys competing and raising the level of competition it is a good thing.”

The Golden Lions “play extremely hard,” said George, who added, This is an opportunity to go down to Memphis to win the Southern Heritage Classic. We haven’t won since I have been here. The incentive is there. The motivation is there. We just need to have a great week of practice….

“They have an active defensive front. They have aggressive linebackers. They play with their hair on fire, even when they were down. This team is hungry for success. We are going to have our hands full.”



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