Who Wants it? The Smoke? That’s what Alcorn State has asked opponents for the last six seasons in the SWAC.
But What is this ‘Smoke?’
Some would say it’s the 45-14 record versus SWAC opponents since 2013. Others would state the 42 different players, 68 total All-SWAC selections topped with four SWAC Players of the Year that encompasses its makeup.
From my perspective, it’s a tad bit more intricate. One example of it came upon a steely-eyed Southern University quarterback that graced the playing field of Spinks-Casem Stadium last fall.
It was first and 10 with 1 minute, 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Down 32-24, a drive against Alcorn State resulting in a touchdown was a must. He was calm, despite his disadvantage. His team was firmly trusting in him and his arm as he looked over the defense and called the signals. The ball is snapped, and he took his drop. Suddenly, a blinding smog covered his vision like a veil.
At last! On the right, a light blue jersied fellow was seen in his periphery. The Braves defensive linemen were primed to engulf him. The QB’s eyes widen; off his back foot and with all his might, he heaved up his last hope. An audible gasp of silence befell the stadium as the ball hung in the air, and then ‘The Smoke’ envelops the ball, the light blue jersied fellow, and the steely-eyed SU QB in one fell swoop.
After the haze subsides, the scoreboard now reads 39-24 Alcorn. Pick six! Touchdown Braves! The Alcorn State crowd is in a complete frenzy, and the steely-eyed SU quarterback can only imagine what could have been. The Alcorn State Braves had just won their fourth SWAC Championship out of their record sixth consecutive appearance.
Peering over the mirrored lakes and the lush greens that set the backdrop of Alcorn State’s spring practice field, you’d find it hard to believe that a cloud of billowing smoke is crafted there. So visually thick, one would surmise that only fire and brimstone itself could be the components to such a cloud. Just as smoke is as thin as the air, it’s difficult for an outsider to grasp the implications and effects ‘The Smoke’ has had on the SWAC conference. The Brave faithful knew much had been accomplished, but did we realize a paradigm shift of this magnitude was on the horizon?
From henceforth, the SWAC seems like it will never be the same. Florida A&M, Bethune-Cookman and even Hall of Famer Deion Sanders have all gazed at the SWAC through the lens of Alcorn State’s reign and are ready to whet their appetite for a piece of the pie. Currently, top-rated recruits are poised even to follow Deion’s suit.
Plays like the aforementioned are what sell the SWAC. They also bring a big smile upon the face of conference commissioner Dr. Charles McClelland. He understands the attractiveness the SWAC now holds and has taken those plays and that atmosphere to spur a potential growth the SWAC hasn’t seen since yesteryear. “Well, it feels like I’ve hit the lottery as the commissioner of the Southwest Athletic Conference, right?” McClelland told WAPT back in June.
I’d say the use of the word lottery was aptly put. McClelland dreams of big matchups with stalwarts Southern, Alcorn, Grambling and Jackson State, bouncing off of greenhorns Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman. No doubt, Dr. McClellan wants to increase the media accessibility and sponsorship dollars, then use those funds in what he calls a ‘cyclical process’ involving the sharing of revenue among its member institutions.
Barring further intrusion of COVID-19, I don’t see how any of this could not be a boon for the SWAC. Eyes everywhere are open, and ears are glued to the street for any slice of news regarding how the modern SWAC landscape will shape up next.
It is clear ‘The Smoke’ has drawn the interest of previously unknown SWAC enthusiasts. I’d say it’s like the aroma of sweet honey barbeque floating through the air of Spinks/Casem Stadium to would-be tailgaters. Alcorn’s success, combined with McClelland’s vision, has set the modern SWAC up for ‘Prime Time’ viewing.
Newcomers to the SWAC are ready to feast at the trough, which makes one beg the question; how does the golden helmet of Alcorn State maintain its clutch on the reigns of this conference?
Can Fred McNair and his Braves traverse the rigorous plains of the SWAC’s West Division involving Grambling, Southern and Prairie View now that the games count more in divisional play? Will the Braves be able to handle the glitz and glam that comes with the presence of ‘Coach Prime’ at Jackson State, its in-state nemesis? How will FAMU and BCU reshape the East Division for a potential pairing with Alcorn in the SWAC Championship? These are the questions that dance around the fans’ minds of the defending champs and appear like dollar signs to the commissioner.
It all sounds like a dizzying array of obstacles for any HBCU to mount, let alone a quaint boxy one like Alcorn State. But if you take the time and pour over the literature of Alcorn State University, this nation’s first public land grant institution for Black Americans, you’d know it will remain steadfast in its resolve. In fact, “Succeeding Against Great Odds,” a book written by Josephine McCann Posey, explains the institution’s birthright.
In essence, Alcorn has been gifted with an opportunity to carve out its legend even more against an enlarged canvas of media interest and imposing foes. This is what we love. It’s what makes us Alcorn, and it’s why we’re called the Braves.
This spring, the Braves has all the fixings with the return of senior quarterback Felix Harper, Vanderbilt transfer Chris Bolar, mixed in with seasoned vets LeCharles Pringle, speedster Juan Anthony, and sophomore tailback Niko Duffey to defend their crown.
The defense will be anchored by a talented FCS interception leading secondary (21 in total). Leading the Braves defensive backfield are cornerback Taurence Wilson and interception leader Qwynnterrio Cole (a two-time HBCU All-American, East-West Shrine game selectee, and SWAC All-Conference First-Team honoree in 2019).
The Linebackers have depth and leadership, with cerebral Mikail Webb as the signal-caller. The defensive line is where the Braves must grow up quickly, but young talent is littered throughout the ranks in the trenches.
Given what I know of the Braves, I’d bet as we speak, somewhere tucked away in the meek, quiet corners of Southwest Mississippi, Coach McNair and his championship staff are stewing, brewing, and stirring the ingredients slowly formalizing ‘The Smoke.’
Van Chestang is an Alcorn State University alumnus.