Know your foe: Alabama State Hornets
Alabama State University, like Howard University, is a historically black university founded shortly after the Civil War. According to stories, a crippled Union soldier stayed in Marion, Alabama, after the end of the war, and began to teach newly-freed African Americans. In 1867 nine former slaves raised $500 to purchase land, and “The Lincoln School of Marion” was incorporated. The original petition for incorporation made it clear that the institution was to be
functionally a public school:
The true intent and meaning of this declaration being, that although we, for purposes of convenience, associate ourselves into a corporation…every colored man and child in Marion is equally interested in the objects of our association…and we expect to obtain the property which we shall acquire from them principally, and for their benefit.
Although the school initially was for children, in 1870 a teacher training program was added, called “Lincoln Normal University for Teachers”, and in 1874 it became the nation’s first state-sponsored college for African Americans. In 1887, a fire destroyed the Normal School buildings, and while the Lincoln School remained in Marion, the Normal School was relocated to the state capitol, Montgomery, and a state supreme court ruling forced a name change to the “Normal School for Colored Students”. The school went through several subsequent name changes, becoming first “State Teachers’ College” (1929), “Alabama State College for Negroes” (1948), “Alabama State College” (1954), and finally “Alabama State University” (1969).
Today, Alabama State has 5,600 students, about 1/4 of EMU’s enrollment, and the campus comprises 172 acres, about 1/5 the size of EMU. On the heart of the campus sits a 26-acre historic district, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The 18 buildings in the district were mostly built between 1916 and 1945, and are in the colonial revival style. As you might guess of an HBCU in Montgomery, the school’s alumni include many notable civil rights leaders, among them Fred Shuttlesworth and Ralph Abernathy.
Head coach Reggie Barlow was a 1996 Alabama State graduate who went on to an 8-year NFL career as a wide receiver and punt returner. In 1997 he was the league’s leading punt returner by total yards (555 yards), and played for the Super Bowl-champion 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This will be Barlow’s fifth season as a head coach.
Alabama State has fielded a football team since 1901, and they’ve had infrequent success, with their only conference championships coming in 1935, 1991, and 2004. The 1935 team went 9-1-1 with six shutout wins, while in 1991 they posted an 11-0-1 record, winning six consecutive games by 28 points or more. Last year the Hornets went 7-5 (6-3 in the SWAC), earning their first winning season since 2005 (when Tarvaris Jackson graduated) and their winningest since 2004, and winning the Southwest Athletic Conference Eastern Division. They boasted one of the best pass defenses in FCS, and also had strong kickoff and punt return units — no surprise given the coach’s background! Alabama State returns 60 letterwinners and 19 starters from that team, so they’ll be dangerous this fall.
Not only has EMU never played Alabama State, the Eagles have never played any Southwest Athletic Conference football team.
EMU’s game plan is likely to look a lot like it did against Army last year; the Eagles will run, run, run the ball against the Hornets, and then run it some more. The Hornets return nine defensive starters from last year’s team that was so good against the pass, so EMU will want to play away from Alabama State’s strength. Also, keeping the ball on the ground and grinding it out allows EMU to take advantage of greater depth (due to more scholarships) while minimizing what the Hornets’ skill players — potentially the great equalizer — can do. Jeff Sagarin’s rankings currently suggest a 16-point EMU win, though I think he may be under-ranking the Hornets given their performance last year and the number of returnees. If the Eagles aren’t ready, Alabama State could manage to leave Ypsilanti with a win.