JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It’s the first time two HBCUs are playing in Jacksonville in more than a decade. Bethune-Cookman University and Jackson State University battled it out Saturday afternoon at TIAA Bank Field.
The game being played at the Jacksonville Jaguars’ home stadium caused a bit of a stir a few months ago because it was originally scheduled to be played at Bethune-Cookman’s Daytona Beach stadium. However, the beginning of Biketoberfest forced the game to relocate.
Jackson State’s head coach Deion Sanders was not thrilled about the game being moved to Jacksonville and voiced concerns about potential fan turnout.
“There’s so much momentum in the HBCU. So much momentum in the SWAC. Not playing in a place that could look far and thin with fans. I like sellouts. I like packed houses. That’s what we’re used to,” Sanders commented at the Southwestern Athletic Conference Media Day back in July.
Contrary to Sanders’ comments, the turnout for this game was impressive as over 20,000 fans for both schools filled the stands.
Sanders, however, had a change of heart at the post-game press conference, calling fan turnout “phenomenal.”
“I’ve always been glad to come. I just like optics. When it comes to HBCUs, we got to give you the best optics we could possibly give you. So when they pan the audience on television, I like it packed; I don’t like emptiness.” Sanders said. “So, when you bring the HBCU team into a wonderful environment like this, the aesthetics are everything, but the fans’ support was phenomenal today. It was truly phenomenal, and I am pleased. I am happy.”
The fans that attended the game said the move to bring it to Jacksonville was a win, regardless of what happened on the field because this is the first time two HBCUs played against each other in the River City in 16 years.
“It brings a lot of attention to the city as well as it gives the players a little exposure to big city life football,” Darnell Deas, whose daughter attends Jackson State, told News4JAX at the game. “It opens up the atmosphere for the local area to see what HBCUs are all about and what they bring to their communities as well.”
“This is almost like a Jaguar game. We are having a good time. This is a great tailgate, good food, everybody is enjoying each other. There isn’t any arguing, fighting,” Illinois McCoy said.
Beyond just the game, a lot of fans were excited legendary NFL and MLB player turned Jackson State Coach Deion Sanders was in the city with his undefeated team.
“This is a Deion Sanders effect. We thank Deion for coming to the HBCU, for representing for us as a culture, and this is what we have. You have so many people out here,” Willie Henley, of Mississippi, said.
“It is exciting. It is more important that we were able to get here in Jacksonville. We are here to support the HBCUs,” George Thomas, whose daughter graduated from Bethune-Cookman, said.
Leaders of Operation Save Our Sons brought a group of 15 10 to 18-year-old boys to experience the game to not only show them that they have a possibility of playing football in a professional stadium but also to show that they can go to college too.
The organization was established in Jacksonville 10 years ago by Bishop John Guns, who aimed to guide young boys and teenagers into making better choices and to provide them with a positive outlet.
Alphonso McClendon, chairman of the organization, said the overall experience was key for these young guys and wanted their experience to be empowering, motivating and inspiring.
“Some of these kids don’t feel they can get out of high school. We are showing them today that not only can you get out of high school, but you can get into college as well,” McClendon said. “We want to give them experiences outside of what they see every day. Going to this game and seeing those young men running down the field, we want to let them know that we are supporting them. We are also encouraging them that this can be them one day. They don’t have to be a status quo.”
Vasco Carter joined the group a few weeks ago after recently moving from Baltimore.
“It was an opportunity to meet new people. It is new scenery, new things, new surroundings,” Carter said. “I just want to stay on the right track and keep motivating myself to do the right thing -- go to school, play football and keep myself motivated to work out. Consistency is key, and I am going to get where I need to be.”
Fans also expressed wanting this game to become an annual event in the River City.
The final score was 48-8 with Jackson State taking the win. Bethune Cookman’s football players and band members will finally return to Daytona Beach after an extended two-week road trip because of Hurricane Ian.