The Jackson State-Southern rivalry has always been a contentious one between fans, athletes, and coaches in its storied history.
The 2021 edition of the matchup will not lack fire and passion on either side, particularly after Jackson State made a significant splash in the offseason by bringing Deion Sanders on board as head coach.
For what it’s worth, the hire immediately elevated the profile of Jackson State and historically Black college football programs nationally.
While the buzz around the Tigers is unmistakable and fervent because of Sanders, veteran Southern head coach Dawson Odums — at least during SWAC Media Days on Thursday — didn’t seem all that interested in acquiescing to that school north of Baton Rouge.
“We’re getting Southern University ready to play this year,” said Odums when asked about Sanders’ potential impact on the league and other Black institutions. “I think that’s what it’s supposed to be about. And when you look at it (Southern football) from top to bottom, I think we have some very good players.
“They’ve got to understand what we’re trying to do. They understand who we are. We can have some very good players on offense, defense, and (media) probably need to come and check us out. I think we’ve got a really good football team.”
The Jackson State questions, however, did not stop. During the end of the 20-minute question and answer session with local, national, and digital press, Odums was asked whether he took exception to prognosticators in some circles already declaring the Tigers the team to beat this spring due in large part to the impressive recruiting class Sanders assembled.
“I think those expectations are created,” he said. “I’m a humble guy. I believe what somebody else is doing in their program that’s solely on them. We don’t talk about other programs. We talk about Southern University. At Southern University, we understand what we need to do to be successful.”
In the midst of his lengthy response, Odums — in a not-so-subtle way — made reference to Sanders’ gregarious social media presence where he often boasts about himself, assistant coaches and everything else related to the football team.
“We feel like we have players, too,” said Odums, whose Jaguars were picked to win the SWAC West. “We just don’t broadcast our players so people don’t really know what we got. So that’s just me as a person. I don’t believe you should know everything that’s going on inside somebody’s house because the quickest way for your house to be divided is to let outsiders be a part of it.”
Jackson State hosts Southern on April 3 in Jackson.