HERO Sports welcomes you to "Three-a-Days", where we will preview every single one of the 126 FCS programs, with three teams being released each day from June 17 to July 28. Then, we'll preview all 13 conferences from August 1-4. Today, we present … Jackson State.
We'll leave no stone left unturned when it comes to giving the FCS diehards all they could ask for this offseason. Learn about every program in the country, with HERO Sports.
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The SWAC (JSU was Tied 3rd in East in 2018)
COACH: John Hendrick – At School: 2nd year (2-1 record), Overall: 6th year (20-26 record)
LAST FCS POSTSEASON: 1997
2018 OFFENSE: 16.5 ppg. (115th in FCS)
2018 DEFENSE: 24.5 ppg. (36th in FCS)
KEY GAME: Nov. 23 – vs. Alcorn State – The Soul Bowl is always a big game for the Tigers and the Braves. While Alcorn State looks like the team to beat in the SWAC, rivalry games can be hard to predict. Could Jackson State throw a wrench in Alcorn's season?
SUM IT UP: Jackson State was an interesting study last fall. The early road win over Florida A&M was impressive considering the Rattlers were in the MEAC championship hunt until the final week of the season. The Prairie View A&M win was another stellar showing, and after the coaching change, the program won two of its last three games and was tied at halftime with SWAC champion Alcorn State in the finale before falling in the second half. This program showed some serious scrap.
The offense is looking for its leader coming into the fall, as the quarterback battle this spring was between returnees Derrick Ponder and Jack Strouse, and Western Michigan transfer Matt Little. Also, in late May after spring ball, Florida QB transfer Jalon Jones joined the program. Whoever comes out on top will have his two top rushers back and several starting linemen back. The wide receiver position should be interesting to watch, as talented candidates abound. This was one of the lowest scoring offenses in the FCS last year, but it seems to have the talent to improve.
Defense was Jackson State's strong point last year, and the top tackler is back in sophomore star LB Keonte Hampton. There is starting experience back at several positions. This unit was one of the toughest red-zone groups in FCS football, was stingy against the run and overall could clamp down as well as just about any defense in the HBCU ranks. Look for the defense to set the tone early in the season as the offense comes along with a new full-time quarterback.
OUR TAKE: There seems to be a buzz about new coach John Hendrick, who had his interim label removed in December. Everybody knows about Jackson State's storied history, its 16 SWAC championships, its three HBCU National Titles — and of course, Walter Payton. Enough said there. This is a proud program that can put 25,000+ in the stadium on any given Saturday. There are a bunch of questions about the offense, but if those questions are answered quickly? This could be a seven, maybe an eight-win team — and a SWAC contender going into the final weekend's game against Alcorn State. The worst-case scenario would be 6-6. This program should be among the best in the SWAC.
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COUNTDOWN: The Best Player in FCS Who Wears Each Number, 1-99
TOP RETURNEE: Soph./LB Keonte Hampton (HERO Sports Freshman All-American – 83 tackles led JSU last year, 10.5 TFLs)
THE FOUNDATION: Sr./RB Jordan Johnson (529 yards rushing, 3 TDs – leading rusher last year); Jr./RB Keyshawn Harper (339 yards rushing, 2 TDs); Sr./DL Charles Anderson (52 tackles, 4.5 TFLs); Sr./DL Khalil Johnson (40 tackles, 10 TFLs); Jr./QB Derrick Ponder (521 yards passing – started early in 2018); Sr./OL Charles Moffett (returning starter); Fr./RB Gregory Williams (Memphis transfer); Jr./DB C.J. Holmes (31 tackles, 9 PBUs); Soph./WR D.D. Bowie (Ole Miss transfer)
TOP NEWCOMER: Fr./WR Brandon Sanders (Top 100 FCS signee in HERO Sports 2019 rankings – 5 FBS offers, 15 total)
THE QUOTE: "I would like to thank President (William B.) Bynum and Mr. Robinson for trusting me to lead this legendary football program. Our goals will remain the same: graduate our student-athletes, compete for championships and continue to build this program into a force in the SWAC and the destination HBCU program in the country." — Head Coach John Hendrick said when hired
WERE WE RIGHT?: Last Year's Jackson State Preview
FCS 2020 NFL PROSPECTS: The List
BEST FCS TRADITIONS: The List
PREVIEWS: The Rest Of The SWAC
SUBSCRIBE: HERO Sports FCS Podcast