The seed was planted on Dec. 6, 2007, when the University of South Alabama’s Board of Trustees approved a plan to add football to the list of Jaguar sports. Joey Jones, a Mobile native and former University of Alabama star receiver, was selected to serve as head coach and be the face of the fledgling program.
With a mandate to be among the Football Bowl Subdivision teams by 2013, the Jaguars exploded out of the gate by winning their first 17 games. When the competition grew tougher, Jones kept his team focused on their goals: conference championships and bowl games.
The first objective has yet to be obtained, but the second wish has been granted. The USA football team will play the Bowling Green Falcons (7-6) on Saturday, Dec. 20, in the inaugural Camellia Bowl. The game at the historic Cramton Bowl in Montgomery kicks off at 8:15 p.m.
“I want to thank ESPN and the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl for inviting us to their bowl game,” Jones said, whose team is 6-6 overall and 5-3 in Sun Belt Conference play. “Last year, we became bowl eligible, but didn’t quite get in. This year, we became bowl eligible and got in.
“I’m so proud of our players and the sacrifices they’ve made to have this moment. My heart goes out to them; it’s really all about the players.”
USA pointed out that this is the fastest an FBS program has been invited to participate in a bowl game. This is the Jags’ sixth season of competition, and second as a full member of the FBS. Florida Atlantic was the previous record-holder, having made it to a bowl in its seventh year of competition.
“The importance of this bowl game is great, obviously for the football team and all the fans, but it’s also great for the student life here,” USA President Dr. Tony Waldrop said. “What an accomplishment. After just six years of having a football program, we are going to a bowl game.”
Tickets for the game are $25 per person. For information on ticket plans, call 251-461-1USA (1872).
“We are all one team, we are all one family, we represent this university and our community,” said USA athletic director Dr. Joel Erdmann. “The team and the coaches have a certain role; that’s to practice, to compete and to win. We — the ones not on the team — have a different role, and that’s to support them and drive that engine. We need to be able to go to Montgomery and represent ourselves to the best of our ability.”
Erdmann said USA has adopted a battle cry for the bowl game, calling it “Mission: Montgomery.” The three goals are to buy tickets, travel to the game and rally around the team.
The official USA website shows the team has an incredible 34 seniors on the roster. Among those playing his last game in a Jaguar uniform is tight end Wes Saxton.
However, it will not be the last outing for the Hueytown native. He has been selected for the 90th annual East-West Shrine Game on Saturday, Jan. 17, at 3 p.m. The game will be played on Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Saxton ranks fourth all-time in USA record books with 96 catches and 1,126 receiving yards. Last fall, the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder finished with 50 receptions for 635 yards and earned first-team all-SBC honors.
A preseason candidate for both the John Mackey and Biletnikoff Awards, he enters the bowl game with 20 catches for 155 yards, after having been hampered by injuries this year.
Sweet home Alabama
At first glance, most college teams and fans would hope to avoid going to the same bowl year after year. In the case of the Arkansas State Red Wolves, though, it is more of a homecoming.
For the fourth consecutive year, ASU will represent the Sun Belt in the GoDaddy Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Their opponent from the Mid-American Conference will be the Toledo Rockets (8-4). The game is set for Sunday, Jan. 4, at 8 p.m.
“Over the past few years, the Arkansas State fans have made the City of Mobile their home away from home,” said GoDaddy Bowl president Jerry Silverstein, “and we are excited to once again be hosting them for a record breaking fourth time. Last year’s win over Ball State with a blocked field goal in the final seconds of regulation made for a thrilling game for football fans everywhere.”
The Red Wolves first played in the 2012 game, falling to Northern Illinois. They returned to defeat Kent State 17-13 in 2013 and Ball State 23-20 last year.
“We’re delighted to be a part of this first-class bowl game, and can attest that the hospitality shown by the GoDaddy Bowl and the City of Mobile is second to none,” said ASU athletic director Terry Mohajir. “So we know the tremendous experience ahead for our program and our fans.”
This is the 100th year that Arkansas State has fielded a football team. Head coach Blake Anderson’s team set the SBC record with 764 yards of total offense in a 68-35 win over New Mexico State this year. They also lead the conference with 15 interceptions.
Teams are set to arrive Wednesday, Dec. 31. The highly anticipated Mardi Gras-style parade will be the night before the game, along with a pep rally, fireworks show and street party in downtown.
Tickets are $45 for sideline seats and $15 for end zone. Call 251-635-0011 for information.
• ASU was mentioned recently after the hiring of Colorado State’s Jim McElwain to become Florida’s new football coach. The Gators had to agree on a $5 million buyout to get McElwain out of his contract with the Rams.
This was the highest buyout ever paid by a college. The previous mark was the $4.375 million Texas had to give to Louisville for Charlie Strong.
Next on the list was the $1.75 million that Boise State had to give to Arkansas State for the services of head coach Brian Harsin. The Red Wolves are accustomed to these type of arrangements, and they have recently lost several coaches to other schools.
Other very familiar names are Gus Malzahn, who left for Auburn after a $700,000 buyout, and Hugh Freeze, who became the Ole Miss head coach after Arkansas State received $225,000 for his contract.