Braves making serious progress under Hopson

Published 11:15 am Thursday, October 18, 2012

When coach Jay Hopson took over at the Reservation in May, he had his detailed plan for Alcorn State’s football program and little else.

He had no spring practice. No coaching staff. Expectations were minimal at best as Alcorn’s once-proud program slipped into the depths of mediocrity with a turnstile of coaches.

Fast forward a few months, and Hopson’s team is holding its own at third place in the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s East Division.

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Talk about laying a foundation for the future and exceeding expectations.

If the Braves (3-4, 3-2 SWAC) pick up wins in their last four games — Prairie View A&M, Mississippi Valley State, Texas Southern and Jackson State — and Alabama State and Alabama A&M slump down the stretch, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility for Alcorn to earn a berth in the SWAC championship game.

While the chance for a conference title game shot is mathematically possible and nothing more, Hopson isn’t thinking that far ahead.

There have been bumps in the road in a brutal early schedule. Alcorn has been its own worst enemy at times, especially in a blowout loss to Alabama State when turnovers and mistakes piled up in a grim harvest of errors. But when the Braves have faced adversity in tight games, they’ve made the plays necessary to win. Hopson is eager to brag on a team that looks nothing like last year’s that went 2-8.

“We’re definitely further along than I thought we’d be at this point,” Hopson said. “But it’s like halftime at a game, and we’re not going to stop and reflect right now. We can’t get too happy or satisfied. But I couldn’t be prouder of this team. They’re all competitors and they’re a team that fights when they’re up and fights when they’re down.”

One of the best parts of his first year as a head coach has been sharing the sidelines with his father, Dr. Briggs Hopson Jr.

Jay Hopson, who cited returning home to his family in the Vicksburg area as a big draw to the job, has enjoyed the experience immensely.

“It’s just very special,” he said. “I really cherish the moments with my dad, and it’s a great feeling to have him on the sideline.”

Hopson’s hiring has been, as the first white football coach in SWAC history, controversial in some quarters. But fans have voted with their feet and their pocketbooks. With the exception of the Alabama State homecoming game played in a rainstorm, home attendance is on the rise. The Reservation hosted 8,200 fans at the Arkansas-Pine Bluff game and a season-best 15,000 at the Southern game.

The best part is the football program’s best days are ahead of it. A historic hire is quickly proving to be a smart one as well.

Steve Wilson is sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. You can follow him on Twitter at vpsportseditor. He can be reached at 601-636-4545, ext. 142 or at