Brotherhood keeps FAMU football players grounded

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

Nickel back Terry Jefferson was answering the question posed about his best memory as a player at FAMU. He found himself trying to respond just minutes after he and the other seniors won their last game at Bragg Stadium by beating Howard 39-7.

What he came up with exemplified how a team that struggled mightily just two seasons ago is having success like the program hasn’t seen in at least 10 years.

FAMU improved to 9-1 overall and 7-0 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. FAMU finished The 2017 Season with a 3-8 record.

“To be able to flip that record is just fulfilling to know that we’ve come this far and we left this program better than we found it,” Jefferson said. “That’s what it’s really all about.”

Offensive lineman Tyrell Reed (No. 71) hoists receiver Azende Rey after he scored one of two touchdowns that he had in FAMU’s 39-7 victory last Saturday at Bragg Stadium.
Photo courtesy FAMU athletics

The bigger question is how they managed to stay grounded in the midst of success they hadn’t realized until Willie Simmons took over the program last season. Even more amazing is the fact that no one on the team has a visible superstar mentality that tends to come with the kind of success the Rattlers are having.

Consider that FAMU went into the game against the Bison ranked No. 12 in the FCS Top 25 poll and No. 14 in the FCS Coaches Poll, they’re also ranked first in the SBN Black College Football Poll and BOXTOROW Coaches Poll.

Add to that FAMU’s finished its home schedule without a loss in six games; a first since they were 4-0 in 2009. The nine straight wins that they have achieved also is a first since Joe Taylor took them to a 9-3 record 10 years ago.

Yet there isn’t s superstar on their roster. Not quarterback Ryan Stanley, who has rewritten at least four school records this season nor any of the top players on defense, including Jefferson and Elijah Richardson.

What they are achieving is the result of a humble brotherhood, said Simmons.

“That’s something we talk about,” said Simmons, who refer to his players as being warriors and gladiators. “Humility is something that we all want to have in this program. We are all very blessed to be where we are.

“Ryan is extremely blessed to be the all-conference passer. In his press conference the other day, he gave thanks to God. That’s something that we are not ashamed of. We are not ashamed to thank God for the success we have had through this game of football.”

Azende Rey scored FAMU first and last touchdowns against the Bison. His first score with the PAT by Yahia Aly to give FAMU a 10-0 lead, would have been enough for the Rattlers to win as it turned out.

Rey’s 2-yard run on a wildcat play was set up by a huge gain by Marcus Williams, who for that moment looked like a hero.

But his teammates don’t see it that way.

“We are humble and nobody wants to quit,” Rey said during the bye week leading up to the Howard game. “You check your ego at the door. In order for this thing to work, we have to work collectively. If somebody thinks they are better than the other, that’s when stuff starts to happen.”

Richardson was more succinct in his explanation why no player comes off as being bigger than the team.

“We just want to win and that’s it,” he said, adding that each man is held accountable for his performance. “Everybody holds his own weight. Everybody does their job and we’ll be good.”

In part, the players have forged a brotherhood that they say is seeded in the adversity that they’ve had to overcome to get to this point. They all might have reasons to be standoffish, but that won’t happen, Stanley said.

Especially in his case.

“I always have time for people if they want a picture or anything like that,” he said. “It’s just never really getting too big-headed like a superstar or anything. We are still people at the end of the day. We lace it up once a week, go out and make a few plays here and there.”
FAMU plays its biggest rivalry game Saturday to end the season against Bethune-Cookman in the Florida Classic. A win would be quite a statement, but Simmons figures it could be years before the greatness of this team is realized.

“Their impact on this program won’t be truly realized until they are no longer wearing the orange and green,” he said. “I’m proud to be their coach and I’m proud to be going to war one more time.”