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FCS Kickoff game gets promotion with golf outing




By Tim Gayle
RRS Correspondent
(June 14, 2017)

PRATTVILLE — Tuesday was an opportunity for participants and sponsors of the Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff to come together at RTJ Capitol Hill for a friendly round of golf after lunch. And even though it’s June, the collection of coaches and game officials in the Deep South meant the conversation turned rather quickly toward football.

The first Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff will pit Jacksonville State and Chattanooga in a battle of Football Championship Subdivision powers at Cramton Bowl on Saturday, Aug. 26 at 5 p.m. The game will be televised by ESPN as part of an agreement with the NCAA regarding televising FCS games in Week 0 before the rest of the college football season starts.

“The things that are so attractive about it (is) you’re the very first college football game, you’re on ESPN, you’re on prime time,” Jacksonville State athletic director Greg Seitz said. “Come Aug. 26, everybody is going to be ready for some college football. We’re going to have people tune in from Fargo, just a college football fan, that normally isn’t going to tune in to a Jacksonville State game.”

Jacksonville State coach John Grass was a longtime high school coach in Alabama before joining Bill Clark’s Gamecock staff in 2013 and taking over as the head coach when Clark went to UAB the next year. Under Grass, the Gamecocks have won the Ohio Valley Conference all three years and reached at least the second round of the FCS playoffs all three years.

“We recruit this area very heavily and you definitely want to brand here, so I think it’s huge,” Grass said. “It’s a huge deal for our players to get to play at Cramton Bowl. I think it’s kind of special for them to get to play here in this area and it does us some good in recruiting and for the university as a whole.”
Chattanooga officials, which included head coach Russ Huesman, agreed to play the game before Huesman left in December to become the head coach at Richmond, but new coach Tom Arth said he believes a challenging opener is good for a championship-caliber program.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “That’s something that is important to me, something I believe in, playing the best opponents that you can. I know Jacksonville State is an incredible program that has had so much success. For our team to have the opportunity to compete against them is going to help us have a better summer, it’s going to help us have a better fall camp and we’re going to find out where we stand right away.”

Jacksonville State and Chattanooga, off-and-on rivals over the years, were on the schedule for the 2017 season opener when ESPN officials approached Raycom Media Camellia Bowl officials about moving the game from Jacksonville to Cramton Bowl as a televised neutral-site game similar to those held by the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta or the Goodyear Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

Camellia Bowl executive director Johnny Williams said the Guardian Classic FCS Kickoff will have the same trappings as the Camellia Bowl, featuring a blocked-off Madison Avenue, a fan fest at Paterson Field, field level suites in the north end zone and the ESPN Zone in the Multiplex.

“After the Fourth of July, we’ll start a series of campaigns to advertise the event in their markets as well as our market,” Williams said. “Our expectations for this game isn’t the same as the Camellia Bowl. It’s an FCS game, but it’s great for the city of Montgomery to host a game like this because any event that will bring in 8,000-12,000 people from out of town, it’s a great event.”

For more information on the game or to purchase tickets, fans can visit www.guardianfcskickoff.com.

This will be the second trip to Cramton Bowl for the Gamecocks. Jim Fuller’s Jacksonville State team lost the 1981 season opener to Alabama State 20-14, but the offseason focus will be intensified for this trip to the Capital City.

“I don’t see any negatives out of it,” Grass said. “Number one, in the offseason you’re not looking at Game Two or Game Three, the pressure is on that first game to be at your best. It’s not like you’re playing a tune-up game before you play a big game. I like a challenge early and Chattanooga will be a challenge.”

This will be Chattanooga’s second trip to Cramton Bowl as well. In 1942, the Moccasins lost to Auburn 20-7 as a crowd of 8,000 watched Howard transfer Al Sanders score Chattanooga’s only goal. Dick Brady led the Mocs in rushing with 18 yards on five carries as they managed just 49 rushing yards and 134 total yards.

A return to the Capital City is an opportunity to showcase the Chattanooga program in an area steeped in football tradition, Arth said.

“Alabama is a great area for us in recruiting,” Arth said. “It’s a fantastic area for high school football in the country. So many of our players are from Alabama and they have a lot of friends that play at Jacksonville State, so it means a lot to them to have that opportunity to play in their home state and play against guys they played with in high school or grew up with.”

Arth, a former backup to Peyton Manning on the Indianapolis Colts, was the NCAA Division III Coach of the Year in 2016 after guiding his alma mater, John Carroll University, past Mount Union, snapping a streak of 24 consecutive Ohio Athletic Conference titles won by Mount Union. He was 40-8 in four years at John Carroll, but stepped into a tradition-rich program with high expectations at Chattanooga, where the Moccasins have made three consecutive playoff appearances, including a loss to Jacksonville State in the second round of the 2015 playoffs.

The FCS Kickoff has a three-year contract with ESPN and will feature Jacksonville State and an unnamed opponent in 2018 and two unnamed opponents in 2019.

“Jacksonville State has been very supportive and excited to be involved in the game, which I can understand because it’s great for their program to be in it for two years,” Williams said. “Chattanooga has been elated and is very easy to work with. When you get a chance to be on national TV with any of your sports, when you’re at the FCS level, it’s a monumental occasion.

“Their program has a rich history through the years, a former FBS program that was a steady on Auburn and Alabama’s schedule years ago so they have a great name identification. They’re close enough that I think they’re going to bring fans to the game that sometimes the opposing team wouldn’t be able to do.”


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