ESPN Events had a chance to speak with former Alabama State quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, now a backup with the Seattle Seahawks, about playing in the inaugural MEAC/SWAC Challenge game against South Carolina State in 2005. Jackson threw for 255 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in the Hornets’ 27-14 loss to the Bulldogs.
South Carolina State University will face the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the 11th annual MEAC/SWAC Challenge presented by Disney, which kicks off at 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Sept. 6, at the Orlando Citrus Bowl and will be televised live on ESPN.
Jackson was the first big star to play in the black college classic. The 10-year NFL veteran who played in the last two Super Bowls had a solid college career with the Hornets - passing for 7,849 yards, 67 touchdowns and rushing for 983 yards and 11 TDs in four years. He led Alabama State to two Southwestern Athletic Conference championship games, guiding them to the title in 2004. He feels the MEAC/SWAC Challenge is a great promoter of the two HBCU conferences, an opportunity to offer bragging rights while also showcasing rarely seen talent on a national stage.
“It was a nice experience,” Jackson said of the inaugural game in 2005. “It was the first year. We had a chance to see the best coming out of each conference. It was good to start the year playing one of the best teams in their conference. We felt like we were one of the best teams in our conference.”
Jackson is somewhat of a veteran of games that celebrate HBCUs, including the the Magic City Classic. “People come out and tailgate. It’s a celebration that lasts pretty much all week. You know it’s going to be packed. We have different celebrities to come out after each game. We have a great rivalry with Alabama A&M. Anytime we play them it’s a big game.”
On playing football on Saturday afternoons in the SWAC: “Everybody is right there. You’ve got the fans and the bands playing a big part of it. The young people really enjoy the bands. That’s one of the big things about HBCU football. I had a lot of fun playing the game.”
Jackson played against some big-name SWAC players, some of whom are now the NFL. “[Washington Redskins DE] Jason Hatcher is the first one that came to my head. Jason played for Grambling. He was a great player. He could really play the game.”
Now a seasoned veteran, Jackson recalls being taken in the second round of the 2006 NFL draft by the Minnesota Vikings:
“It was exciting. You know, first thing, they thought I was a free-agent guy. Then, I was supposed to go in the seventh round. After that, they thought I was going in the fifth, fourth or third round. Actually, I thought I was going in the second round. I was the last player picked in the second round. It was a lot of fun for me. It was great watching it with my family. I had some of my teammates over. It was an experience I’ll never forget.”