Just four years ago, the school that had produced Steve McNair and Donald Driver was in last place in the SWAC East.
Alcorn State was once just as bad as Mississippi Valley State.
There were a revolving door of coaching changes. A promising Canadian-born quarterback named Brandon Bridge dubbed “Air Canada” because of his exciting style of play had left the school.
The Alcorn State University Alumni Foundation coordinated efforts to have then head coach Melvin Spears removed citing “low team morale, frayed relationships between the coaching staff and parents of student-athletes, and poor on-field performance.”
Spears, who had won a league championship at Grambling State, had been fired.
Alcorn State had hit rock bottom.
Without a coach for most of the 2012 offseason, the school named Jay Hopson its head coach. He was an unknown in HBCU football circles, although he had been an assistant at the FBS level for a number of years.
He also is white.
Not only is Hopson white, but he is the first white head coach in the history of the storied conference.
The thought of Hopson roaming the sidelines at an historically black school rubbed a lot of traditionalists the wrong way, believing that there had to be a black coach just as qualified.
Alcorn State had unexpectedly become at the center of discussions about race. Never mind that Hopson significantly downplayed its possible impact on the football team.
Alcorn State was bad that first season, though.
They got better in Hopson’s second season when he actually had time to recruit like every other coach in America. Then last season happened.
Alcorn State went 9-3 in 2013, including beating Jackson State and Southern, schools that would eventually play in the SWAC championship game.
The football program was relevant again. Alcorn State was good again. It was not crazy to expect them to actually win their first out-right conference title since the mid-90s.
The team, led by Hopson’s commitment to the plan, reeled off another 9-win season. They were dominate and dazzling at times. At one point during the regular season, Alcorn State was averaging well over 50 points per game and allowing just leftovers.
Alcorn State convincingly won the SWAC East. Come Saturday, they play for the conference championship.
A championship that would mean so much for the tiny town of Lorman, Miss., whose claim to fame is fried chicken served up at The Old Country Store Restaurant a few miles blocks from campus.
The Braves had for so long been in the shadows of Jackson State, Grambling and defending champion Southern. That is changing. They’re forging a new identity.
A win for Alcorn State would not only be a win for everything clad in purple, but for a school that decided to take a cultural risk by hiring Hopson.
It would signal that schools should not proceed with caution when deciding to position their football programs closer to championships regardless of obstacles such as race, location or subpar football histories.
Alcorn State is four quarters away from validating that.