In the year since Eddie George shockingly took over at Tennessee State, the football program has attempted to reinvent itself — making it a more desirable commodity locally and nationally.
The athletic department — under the leadership of athletic director Mikki Allen — has engaged in a rebranding effort to “provide updates on a brand rich in history and tradition.” For football, in particular, there is a new training facility customized to the needs of the modern college athlete.
George himself has made waves on the recruiting trail by landing former four-star receiver Jeremiah Holloman. The school has hosted and drawn interest from several other highly-touted recruits in recent months.
To cap it all off, Tennessee State signed an agreement to play Notre Dame — one of the sport’s most iconic brands — in 2023, the first such matchup for an HBCU or FCS school.
All that optimism — about what has been accomplished and what’s to come — culminated with the team’s first spring game under the second-year head coach.
The final score was not indicative of how the day went, although credit to the defense who defeated its offensive brethren, 34-12 in the Blue and White Game.
“I’m thrilled to see the fans out here. If this is what “The Hole” is like on a Saturday, I’m all in,” said George.
The game also presented the opportunity to showcase how the offense will operate under new coordinator Theron Aych and his no-huddle attack.
Running back Micheal Mitchell was the standout on the offensive side of the ball, as he broke through numerous tackles and nearly found the end-zone on a 60-yard rush. Mitchell, a Temple transfer, ran for 124 yards on 10 carries.
“We’re starting to see his explosiveness. We’re starting to see that speed in the open field. You give him a seam and he can go,” said George. “He lowered his head and got some physical yards in there.”
Five quarterbacks played in the game. Chayil Garnett started and completed 3 of 6 passes for 27 yards, Edwin Rhodes III completed 5 of 12 for 31 yards with one interception, Tucker Pope was 2-of-7 for 16 yards and one interception, Heath Williams Jr. was 3-of-10 for 41 yards and Deveon Bryant was 2-of-7 for 10 yards.
They all will battle for a starting job left behind with the departure of former Grambling quarterback Geremy Hickbottom.
The group struggled against the defense at points, including an early pick-six from transfer Dewain Trotter, an interception from James Reese IV and big stops from defensive lineman Tadarrius Patterson. The unit also gave up six sacks on the day.
“In this situation you almost always expect the defense to be ahead of the offense, so I am not discouraged at all by some of the struggles the offense had,” George said.
Despite the inconsistent performance of the offense, George is hopeful about the future of the program.
“I love these boys, I love this university,” said George. “It’s a lot of work to do, of course, but I think all boats are steering in the right direction and I’m really excited about it.”