Hopson brings defense to pass-happy SWAC

Published 11:21 am Thursday, May 31, 2012

When Vicksburg native Jay Hopson’s hire as Alcorn State head coach was announced Monday, he was a Southwestern Athletic Conference trailblazer as the conference’s first white coach.

But he might be a trailblazer in a different way.

For decades, the SWAC was known for offense. When the average person is asked to name a SWAC alum, Mississippi Valley State’s Jerry Rice, the late Walter Payton from Jackson State, the late Steve “Air” McNair and Donald Driver from Alcorn State come to mind.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

The shame of it is that some great defensive players have come from the SWAC, like NFL Hall of Famers Deacon Jones (Grambling), Lem Barney (Jackson State) and Ken Houston (Prairie View A&M).

In recent years, despite a growing number of defense-savvy coaches, like Hopson, Valley’s Karl Morgan and Jackson State’s Rick Comegy, the league is still dominated by offense. Eight of the 10 teams in the SWAC gave up 20 or more points per game last season. Ouch.

Graduated Jackson State quarterback Casey Therriault got big-time attention as he set record books aflame with his pinpoint passing. Just about every team in the conference runs a passing-based spread attack with some zone read (quarterback option with zone blocking where the quarterback reads the backside defensive end) mixed in for good measure. The idea of running 30 to 40 times per game is not one with roots in the SWAC.

But Hopson is going to change that. An experienced defensive coach and coordinator at the Division I level with experience at Southern Miss, Michigan and Memphis, Hopson isn’t going to be one to play score-for-score.

In the vein of his former boss, Jeff Bower, at Southern Miss, defense and field position are going to be staples for the Braves.

The Golden Eagles had the “Nasty Bunch,” a hard-hitting defense where the Biblical saying of “tooth for tooth, stripe for stripe” didn’t hold sway, since they were not into even exchanges of punishment. They wanted a mouthful of teeth in exchange for one. The “Nasty Bunch” was all about hard-hitting and forcing an offense out of its comfort zone.

On offense, the Golden Eagles were known for a potent running game and efficient passing game that moved the chains with a minimum of mistakes.

The Braves will develop this identity under Hopson. And with little remaining experienced offensive talent on the roster, the Braves will need to play that way.

The best thing about Hopson is that he knows the job ahead of him won’t be an easy one.

But quit isn’t in his vocabulary.

“We’re just going to have to build on each day,” Hopson said. “We want to build a mansion, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work and time. But we’re going to build on a foundation of character and knowledge.”

Every foundation needs to be laid, brick by brick. The good thing is that Alcorn has found just the patient, detail-oriented brick mason to get the job done.