Fort Valley’s Porter, Simmons share similar backgrounds
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
Soon after his arrival as FAMU’s new football coach seven months ago, Willie Simmons made a point of emphasizing that one of his priorities is to change the culture of the program.
Kelvin Porter, head coach at Fort Valley State University and FAMU’s opening day opponent, could relate. It was just two seasons ago that he was in a similar situation of having to turn around a losing program.
“I know that (Simmons) is approaching it the way that I approached it,” Porter said. “If I’m going to change the culture of the program, I’ve got to bring people who understand what the culture needs to be.”
Porter’s comments came when he was in Tallahassee as a recent guest of the 220 Quarterback Club.
Porter played high school football for Warner Robins High School not far from the campus where he is now coaching. Simmons played high school football at Shanks in East Gadsden.
Having ties close to where he is coaching brings added pressure, too, Porter said.
“It’s hard to come home and give people what they want,” said Porter, who took over a program that hadn’t won a championship in 17 years before his arrival. Changing that means recruiting the best available talent.
But not always players who come from far away. Having homegrown talent helps to develop a fan base, he said.
Another key element of changing a losing culture is to upgrade facilities like FAMU is doing by resurfacing its football field, Porter said. Changes like that is something that Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have to do to consistently get top-notched talent, he said.
He also recognized that most HBCUs have financial shortfalls that slows down upgrades to its athletic facilities.
“We would like to have a brand new locker room and be able to go out and get new uniforms and things like that,” Porter said. “But the resources that we have we have to be really good stewards of them and make sure we are building things that are going to continue to attract kids.
“We have to make sure that we continue to invest in ourselves and if we invest in ourselves, the kids will continue to come.”
Turning his attention to the upcoming game, Porter said the Wildcats will be competitive.
“We’ve got a good football team,” Porter said. “Our kids will come and they will play hard and it will be a good football game between two teams that go out and play very, very hard.”
The Wildcats, a Division II program, last had a victory over FAMU 16-13 in 1984, six years after FAMU moved to Division I-AA.
“We just want to go out and not worry about the things that we can’t control,” Porter said. “We just have to control the things we can control and go out and play hard.”