Jay Hopson is the leader of a Top 20 FCS team and arguably the best HBCU outfit in the country.
Nine-win seasons. A SWAC Eastern Division title. A conference championship. Black College National Champions.
Alcorn State heads into the 2015 season favorites to do it all again.
But if you ask Hopson, this wasn’t supposed to happen. Alcorn State wasn’t expected to be in the shoes of Juggernaut so soon.
Not when Hopson was hired four years ago when the program was in the midst of turmoil.
And not when the football program itself was struggling to even piece together the bare necessities to run a functioning team.
“I don’t know if you remember my first year at Alcorn, we were a really bad football team. Ain’t no way to put it,” Hopson told the Vicksburg Post. “I know my dad came to practice and he left after 30 minutes. He said ‘God bless you son, it’s going to be a long haul.’”
According to Hopson, the program only had a meager $3,900 budget. He needed about another $200,000 for video equipment, coaches’ headphones and uniforms.
Some of the money was gathered via donations.
Hopson didn’t have a complete set of uniforms for his players and remembers being told they might not be ready for the 2012 season opener against Grambling.
The Braves got their jerseys the day before the game, only after fighting through inclement weather and tipping a FedEx delivery person $500 to drive through hurricane conditions.
Alcorn defeated Grambling, the defending SWAC champions, 22-21 with only three weeks of practice.
Hopson had a negative budget in the second season and the team needed new shoulder pads. Braves alumni came into the dressing rooms to look at conditions and said something needs to be done.
“We raised about $25 to $30,000 for shoulder pads. Then we raised another $15 to $20,000 in brand new helmets just to get the guys to a decent point in order to compete at this level,” Hopson said.
Hopson and Co. survived that first season. The Braves got better each season and eventually won an improbable championship that hadn’t been thought of since the early 90s.
“It’s a ‘we’ journey not a ‘me’ journey. There’s no way physically possible that Jay Hopson can come down here and win a lot of games without a ‘we’ concept,” Hopson said. “I can’t tell you how much the guys in this community have meant to our program.”