Quarterback Aqeel Glass (Alabama A&M) and linebacker Kailen Abrams (Central State).
There is little doubt that football attracts more attention than any other sport along the Alabama Gulf Coast. The Mobile Sports Authority (MSA) confirmed this when its economic impact report was released for the fiscal year ending in September 2018.
Of the 29 sports events attracted, supported and/or hosted by the nonprofit sports commission, at the top of the list was the inaugural Gulf Coast Challenge. The week-long gridiron celebration generated an estimated economic impact of $6,615,776 to the Mobile area — the highest amount for any event ever hosted by the MSA or by its predecessor organization, the Mobile Area Sports Commission that dates to 1998.
The second annual Gulf Coast Challenge is set for this Saturday at Ladd–Peebles Stadium. The contest, which kicks off at 6 p.m., will again pit two Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) against each other.
Alabama A&M University returns to host Central State University (CSU) in a Southwest Athletic Conference versus Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) showdown. This will be the seventh time the Bulldogs from Huntsville and the Marauders of Wilberforce, Ohio, have played. A&M leads the series 3-2-1.
Along with the actual game, various events will take place during the week, including a college fair for high school students, concerts, alumni and team luncheons, a traditional Mardi Gras-style parade and gameday tailgating.
In head coach Connell Maynor’s debut campaign last season, A&M finished with a 6-5 record while posting a 5-2 mark in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC).
Alabama A&M returns nine starters on offense and seven on defense. The head coaches and sports information directors from the SWAC projected A&M to finish second in the East behind defending conference champion Alcorn State.
“It’s nice to be in that discussion,” Maynor said. “Every season, our goal is to win the conference and play in the Celebration Bowl. But before we can do that, first we have to beat the top teams in our conference — teams like Alcorn, Southern and Grambling.
“To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
A&M has five players named to the SWAC’s preseason all-conference roster. Junior linebacker Armoni Holloway and redshirt sophomore tight end Kendric Johnson were first-team selections.
Holloway led the SWAC last season with 108 tackles. Johnson recorded 189 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
Junior quarterback Aqeel Glass, junior offensive lineman Shonye Reams and sophomore receiving Brian Jenkins Jr. were second-team picks.
Glass led the SWAC last season in passing with 2,421 yards and 20 touchdowns. Jenkins paced the Bulldogs with 470 yards and three touchdowns on 48 receptions.
During the past two seasons, Reams has been a staple for A&M at left tackle. Last season, he anchored an offensive front that paved the way for one of the SWAC’s most productive offensive units.
Earlier this month, Glass and senior running back Jordan Bentley were named to the Deacon Jones Trophy watch list — an award given to the nation’s most-outstanding HBCU football player.
This game is almost a homecoming for Cedric Pearl, who has served as CSU’s head coach since 2014. Pearl came to Central State after 13 seasons at Alabama A&M. The native of Selma played at Tuskegee University where he was all-conference three times.
Central State players Kevin Greenhow, Kailen Abrams, Terraris Saffold and Robert Corbin Jr. were named to the All-SIAC preseason team.
Greenhow led the conference with 34 receptions for 880 yards and nine touchdowns last season. Abrams, twice named all-American, emerged as the conference leader in tackles with 118 and an impressive average of 12 tackles per game.
Saffold, who finished the season with a career-high 214 rushing yards against Lane College, led the SIAC with 1,776 all-purpose yards. A transfer from the University of Pikeville, Corbin finished among the SIAC’s top tight ends with 11 receptions for 228 yards and two touchdowns.
After last season’s 5-5 record and a second-place finish in the SIAC West Division, CSU was picked to finish third in the conference behind Tuskegee and Miles.
CSU will have four active players from the state of Alabama playing in the Gulf Coast Challenge. Devon Cunningham, a starting senior at safety, is from Mobile.
Events are scheduled throughout the week leading up to the game:
College and career fair for high school seniors only: Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Mobile Marriott; this is an opportunity to learn about colleges, trade schools and industries that may be of interest to them upon graduation;
Kickoff concert featuring Cupid: Wednesday at 6 p.m., at Cathedral Square; will be a free community concert;
Business-networking reception: Thursday at 5:30 p.m., at Mobile Marriott; this invitation-only event brings the business community together for an evening of networking;
Gulf Coast Challenge breakfast: Friday at 7:30 a.m., at Mobile Marriott; presented by Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce;
Team luncheon: Friday at 11:30 a.m., at Mobile Marriott; by invitation only;
School Daze Cabaret; Friday at 7 p.m., at The Grounds; presented by the Mardi Gras Coalition;
Gulf Coast Challenge parade; Saturday at 11 a.m.; the route starts on Warren Street, weaves through downtown and concludes at Congress Street;
On game day, organizers say tailgating begins at 1 p.m. at Ladd–Peebles Stadium. A march with the Krewe de Secondline will go into the stadium at 5 p.m. The 5th Quarter Event featuring the college bands will immediately follow the game.
For more information, including registration, schedules and tickets, visit thegulfcoastchallenge.com or call 251-237-1092.
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