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HBCU Football

Jackson State at Grambling is a return to a familiar and heated rivalry

After 5 years, game is back at Grambling after ’12 boycott canceled JSU’s homecoming game

On Saturday, Grambling State University and Jackson State University will face off at Eddie Robinson Stadium in Grambling, Louisiana, for the first time in five years — or since GSU boycotted the Tigers’ 2012 homecoming game.

The boycott in 2013 generated national attention. The Grambling players refused to play at Jackson State’s homecoming game because of poor facilities at their own school in addition to tiresome and lengthy road trips before games. The Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) fined GSU and mandated that the school travel to Jackson State to play for the next three seasons.

Grambling head football coach Broderick Fobbs has yet to lose to Jackson State. Saturday’s game will be broadcast live on ESPN3 (tape-delayed on ESPNU) at 7 p.m. ET.

“It’s going to be bananas because there will be a ton of people here,” Grambling State coach Broderick Fobbs said. “It’ll be standing-room only in Robinson Stadium, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Saturday’s game is not a conference game. The SWAC has changed the number of conference games from nine to seven. Because of this new rule, Grambling and Jackson State were not regularly scheduled to play each other, but neither school wanted to miss out on the historic rivalry game. Another advantage to having this game is that Jackson State fans travel well. ESPN reported that 21,000 attended the JSU vs. GSU game in 2011. As of Friday morning, GSU had sold 6,200 tickets.

Legendary Grambling quarterback and former head coach Doug Williams thinks the Southern University Jaguars are the Tigers’ chief rival this season, followed by Jackson State and Alcorn State.

“From the time before I played in the SWAC at Grambling and even when I’m gone, Grambling and Jackson have always been a rivalry and will always be a rivalry because the way they play,” said Williams, who also happens to be an NFL Super Bowl-winning quarterback.

Grambling (1-1) defeated Northwestern State 23-10 last weekend after losing 43-14 to Tulane on Sept. 2. Jackson State is 0-2 after losing 17-15 to Tennessee State and getting blown out 63-0 by Texas Christian University. Last year, Grambling State beat Jackson State 35-14 in Jackson, Mississippi.

Grambling, winner of the 2016 Celebration Bowl, is trying to live up to its title of HBCU national champion. It ranks sixth in turnover margin and is first in the SWAC. Running back Martez Carter, SWAC Offensive Player of the Week last week, is sixth nationally in all-purpose yards and rushing touchdowns after his 206-total-yard performance against Northwestern State last week. Kicker Marc Orozco takes the No. 1 spot nationally and is first in the SWAC in field goal percentage and eighth nationally in field goals per game.

Grambling president Richard Gallot is hyped now that Jackson State is back on GSU soil with new stadium upgrades that cost more than $2 million. No significant upgrades had been made until these recent renovations, which were completed in August. This includes new turf for the field and a new digital scoreboard that will show live game action, key replays, in-game promotions and sponsorship spots. And there is a 4-foot-high brick retaining wall with padding to make the end zones safer for players.

But Gallot’s focus is to rebuild the relationship that the two schools once had.

“This is a rivalry that has been ongoing for many, many years, so this gives us the opportunity to really put all of that behind us, and this is a clear sign that we have moved beyond that period of time,” said Gallot.

High School Day is another event occurring Saturday that is expected to have more than 2,000 high school students, staff and parents in attendance for the Gramfam experience. The theme for the day is “Stomp the Yard.”

GSU student ambassador De’Jeauna Mullen says the day is significant not only because of the game but also for providing high school students a glimpse of the college experience.

“High School Day is important because it gives us an opportunity to reach numerous students in one setting by allowing us to speak to potential future students of Grambling State University, providing important aspects of college life and, most importantly, encouraging students to pursue higher education,” said Mullen. “In this atmosphere, we get to show them all the legendary tradition that is at our illustrious school and encourage them to attend.”

The day showcases more than 40 degree programs, tradition and history since 1901 and introduces the high school students to current college students and ambassadors. They also discuss scholarships, in-state tuition waivers and gap funding for students who cannot pay their tuition entirely.

Grambling is one of the few schools in the Louisiana university system that did not increase student fees this school year.

And those students will also get to see legendary bands perform at halftime and the 5th Quarter: the World Famed Tiger Marching Band, with GSU’s Orchesis dancers, and the Jackson State Sonic Boom of the South.

“Gramfam is not just a hashtag, it’s a lifestyle,” said DeVaria Hudson, GSU’s director of admissions.

Miniya Shabazz is a Rhoden Fellow and a junior mass communication major from Laurel, MD. She attends Grambling State University and is a staff writer for The Gramblinite.