On Saturday, the Grambling State University Tigers will face the North Carolina Central Eagles in the Celebration Bowl, which pits the winner of the SWAC against the winner of the MEAC. Recently, I spoke with Grambling State head football coach Broderick Fobbs about the lessons his team learned this season, how he was able to bring winning back to GSU and what he would say to a young recruit who is deciding between attending an HBCU and a larger, well-funded football program.
"I think it has to do with there were a lot of good football players at Grambling prior to our arrival," said Fobbs, touching on his team's recent dominance. "The previous staff did an exceptional job of getting talent. We just had to organize that talent and teach and get them to understand how to play football. I think our staff did a really good job of that."
"We also had to raise their self esteem, increase their confidence, and give them the tools that they needed to compete. The first thing we had to do was get up off the ground, because we were knocked down. Second, we had to learn how to compete. Third, we had to learn how to win. Lastly, which we had to learn this season, is we had to learn how to forget about success. You have to forget about success just as much as you have to learn how to forget about failures in order to learn how to be successful."
Back in September, Fobbs' squad went to Arizona and almost defeated a Pac-12 team. Though they lost the game, the head coach told us it was a turning point in their season.
''We felt, in that particular ballgame and at that particular time, that if we did the necessary things and played the way we were capable of playing, that we had a chance to win that ballgame. It was a ripe opportunity for us. They were in a situation where their quarterback was injured, they were playing a young freshman, and they had some guys out. So, we felt that if we played the right way then we would have a chance because we're a very talented team as well."
"I thought in the first half we did compete, but we didn't handle success the right way coming into the third quarter. Also, our starting quarterback got injured as well, which led us into a situation where we just couldn't score the ball in the second half, and we turned the football over five times in one half. I don't care who you are, it's very difficult to turn the ball over that many times and win."
"They were able to score 30-something unanswered points and were able to beat us by ten. It was disappointing, but we owe where we are now to that particular ballgame. That taught us how to handle success, how to forget about success, and how to finish the game the right way for 60 minutes."
Recruiting and talent evaluation are the lifeblood of any college athletic program. Coach Fobbs told TSL that properly scouting local talent has been integral for success during his tenure.
"I believe you have to run the type of offense and the type of defense that fits your geographic location. In our area, there are a lot of guys that are very fast, very talented, and operate well in space. So, with that being said, it's easy to recruit that type of athlete in this region. We wanted to present a plan that allowed us to take advantage of the talent in the area where we're located. Of course, there's always room for guys that can run, guys that can catch, guys that can throw and guys that can tackle in space. What we do offensively and defensively pretty much fits that mode."
Quarterback DeVante Kincade has gotten much of the headlines for Grambling State football since his arrival, but their defense is nothing to sneeze at. They allow a mere 16.7 points per game, good for fifth in the country among FCS schools. Their swarming style is as befuddling to the opposition as Kincade is.
"We're an athletic bunch and we're a defense that has a lot of movement and we apply a lot of pressure. We put a strain on not only the offensive coordinator but the quarterback. You do know where we are but you don't know where we're going to end up. What happens a lot of times is it looks like chaos, but it's organized. Every one of our players knows where they're supposed to be, they know where the weaknesses are, and they attack the offense in a way that puts them on their heels which causes them to make mistakes. We have a lot of guys that can run and are physical, and do a great job creating havoc."
(Photo Credit: Grambling Athletics)
North Carolina Central is the MEAC Champion and Fobbs told me what he expects from coach Jerry Mack's team in the Celebration Bowl.
"They're going to have some wrinkles because they've had four weeks off. They're going to do some things a bit differently, but I don't think they're going to get away from who they are. They do a really good job running the quarterback, but also throwing the ball with the quarterback. He's a very athletic young man. He has playmakers on the outside and at tailback. He can make plays. So, we have to nullify him and make them a one dimensional team, which allows us to play effective defense. They're a very good program."
Today, the debate rages on about why young African American student-athletes should attend an HBCU rather than one of those NFL factories in the SEC or the Big Ten. I asked the coach what we he say to a recruit who is struggling with such a decision.
"I think the more important thing to understand is at the end of the day, you want to be successful in life. That's what your parents want. Your mother and father want to see you have a car, have a job, have a house and be able to take care of their own families. That's the ultimate goal for all of our parents. I think the thing that is not happening is, a lot of our student athletes are playing in these great venues and are playing at a higher level football wise, but the things that are important, the development of the young man is the area that is being neglected."
"So, what we do at Grambling State University is we don't focus on the facilities, which is the glitz and glamour. That's not something you can take with you. What we focus on are things that are internal. Those things you can take with you so that you can be successful. Whether it's playing in the NFL, whether it's working for IBM, or whomever. Those are the type of things we instill in the player. That's what you get when you come to an HBCU like Grambling State University. So often, you see guys go to these huge programs and they don't get the necessary foundation when they come out in society. You need to know how to handle $10 million. Just because you have $10 million doesn't mean that you're going to be successful."
"Oftentimes, you see guys on ESPN getting in so much trouble and it's because they don't have the organizational foundation that they need, which is what we give at Grambling State University. I'd like everyone to consider HBCUs, not only Grambling but other schools. At the end of the day, the thing that's amazing about our program is that we're a national brand."
Kick off for the Celebration Bowl on ABC is at noon Eastern and will be the first game of the bowl season.