When Southern University hosts Mississippi Valley State on Saturday at A.W. Mumford Stadium in Baton Rouge, La., the fans will be treated to two quarterbacks who can put the ball in the air.
J.C. Lewis, the Jaguars' junior quarterback, is one of the most improved signal callers in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. A year ago, he had 15 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions. He also completed a league-best 63.5 percent of his passes for 2,496 yards.
Lewis put on quite a show in Southern's 30-29 come-from-behind win over Bethune-Cookman Saturday. The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder completed 63 percent of his passes, going 24 of 38 for 271 yards and four TDs and no interceptions. His exploits earned him SWAC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
"He had an outstanding game," Southern head coach Pete Richardson said. "It was a good comeback win for us. J.C. has really developed at quarterback. He had a good spring. He worked hard this summer. He's done a good job with the offense."
On the other side of the ledger, Mississippi Valley QB Aries Nelson is a preseason SWAC Player of the Year candidate. Last year, he threw for 2,942 yards and 17 TDs.
Nelson and linebacker Tyler Knight (13 tackles and one interception) received MVP honors while leading the Delta Devils to a 10-0 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the Chicago Football Classic. Although Nelson didn't have one of his better games, connecting on just 10 of 29 passes for 185 yards and one TD, Richardson is well aware of his talents.
"Aries Nelson is an outstanding quarterback," Richardson said. "He understands the system. He came back and beat us last year [31-28]. He has some fine receivers and we expect him to throw the ball."
Delta Devils head coach Willie Totten didn't feel the passing was very smooth against the Golden Lions.
"Our timing was off," Totten said. "We had a lot of misreads with our quarterback and receivers. Nelson did an outstanding job of running the football [seven carries, 41 yards]. He stepped up and ran when he had to run. We'll get back on track offensively. We just have to make some adjustments."
Totten believes Southern will be a major test for his ballclub. Mississippi Valley State has been touted as one of the league's stronger teams. He hinted that his team might have been caught up in some of the preseason hype. At any rate, the matchup between Nelson and Lewis should be an interesting one.
"We know it's going to be tough going down to Southern," Totten said. "We know Southern is going to have [20,000] to 25,000 fans. We've always played them tight. I think it's going to be a shootout."
• Walter Stith entered Western Michigan as a 6-9, 260-pound tight end. He is now a 6-9, 320-pound senior offensive lineman for North Carolina A&T. Western Michigan converted him to an offensive lineman after his sophomore season.
• After the now-famed documentary "Year for the Bull" was filmed for Showtime on the rise of young football star Taurean Charles just a few years back, the senior at Bethune-Cookman College is now getting ready for Part 2 of that movie. They will be featuring Charles in a new documentary as he plays his last year of college football and prepares possibly for the NFL. Charles receives numerous e-mails through the office of sports information wishing him the best of luck.
• Delaware State has become more attractive to transfers in recent years. A total of 24 players are on the Hornets' roster after first signing with other schools. A record six players previously attended Division I-A schools. Delaware State's I-A transfers are wide receiver J.J. Bedle (Syracuse), long snapper Jarin Giesler (Colorado State), wide receiver Kelvin Grant (Clemson), defensive end Stephon Hopkins (Minnesota), nose tackle Jamaal Jones (Purdue) and strong safety Tyrone Kelly (Central Michigan). A seventh I-A transfer, halfback Chris Strother (Central Florida), is expected to join the team in the next couple of weeks. Delaware State's roster also includes 18 players with junior college experience.
• With 182 career victories, Hampton head coach Joe Taylor ranks fourth on the list of winningest active coaches in Division I-AA. Taylor trails Dayton's Mike Kelly (232 wins), Albany's Bob Ford (211) and Penn's Al Bagnoli (185).
• Hampton senior Jermaine Mallory is a testament to the fact that hard work and perseverance do pay off. After spending his first three seasons as a walk-on limited primarily to special teams duty, Mallory earned a scholarship and a starting spot at strong safety with his superb play during spring and preseason camp. His work off the field has been well-recognized, too. Mallory, an architecture major, completed an assignment to design a house and the Hampton Housing Authority liked it so much that they are making plans to actually build it based on his design.
• Detroit's second-term mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, was a star lineman for Florida A&M from 1988-91. Kilpatrick, a dominating offensive tackle, earned All-America honors as a senior in 1991. FAMU won the 1990 MEAC title during his junior year and earned a share of the crown with Delaware State in 1988. Kilpatrick's city hosted the Detroit Football Classic IV last weekend and Delaware State defeated FAMU, 34-14.
• The Rattlers will visit the University of Miami, a major Division I-A opponent, Saturday. FAMU head coach Rubin Carter was an All-America defensive tackle for the Hurricanes from 1972-74.
• Bruce Eugene, a former Grambling State Division I-AA All-America quarterback, is an assistant coach with the Tigers. Eugene has been working with sophomore quarterback Brandon Landers.
• Senior wide receiver Marquay McDaniel of Hampton and quarterback Jimmie Russell of Bethune-Cookman College were selected as the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference co-Offensive Players of the Week. Delaware State linebacker Russell Reeves was named the Defensive Player of the Week.
McDaniel earned MVP honors for his performance in Hampton's 27-26 victory over Grambling State in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge. He had six receptions for 111 yards and one TD. Russell completed 13 of 22 passes for 187 yards and two TDs in a 29-24 loss to Southern University.
Reeves had 11 total tackles and a 41-yard interception return for a score in the Hornets' 34-14 win over the Rattlers.
• Alabama A&M linebacker Johnny Baldwin was named the SWAC Defensive Player of the Week. Baldwin had 15 tackles (nine solo) and a pass breakup as Alabama A&M nipped Tennessee State 27-20 to win the John Merritt Classic.
Donald Hunt is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune.