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Prairie View A&M, TSU Motivated for Opener
Someone will move, and someone will get hit, so the plan goes.
Hence the theme for tonight’s State Farm Labor Day Classic, as Texas Southern and Prairie View A&M open the regular season (7 p.m.) in a contest that will feature an explosive quarterback (TSU’s Bobbie Reid) attempting to avoid being frequently hit by an equally volatile Prairie View defense that looks to pick up where it left off last season, when the Panthers allowed the fewest points in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
“Anything moving on the field (tonight) will get hit,” said Prairie View coach Henry Frazier III. “We plan on playing aggressive, confident football for 60 minutes.”
Confidence is one trait the Panthers don’t lack. With 18 returning starters and the momentum from last season’s 7-3 campaign flowing throughout campus, Prairie View embarks on a season in which expectations are higher than they have been in decades. A winning season isn’t enough for the program, which has its eyes locked in on a SWAC championship.
The anticipation for this season – entitled “Unfinished Business” – has also spread throughout campus, where the school will show its support by wearing black shirts for tonight’s game. It is an infection of enthusiasm that has been brewing since the end of the Panthers’ 2007 finale.
“You can feel it throughout the campus,” said Frazier. “There’s a sense that we could on the verge of a special season, and everyone wants to be a part of it.”
Enthusiasm is also abundant at TSU, as former Tiger quarterback Johnnie Cole makes his coaching debut. Cole, hired last November, has boosted interest in a lagging program that has just four wins in the last four seasons and has not recorded a winning campaign since 2000.
While Cole and Reid have garnered much of the attention, the Tigers’ defense – which was thumped around for much of last season – was the highlight of fall practice. TSU’s unit swarmed to the ball and showed a knack for causing turnovers, two elements that were sorely lacking in an 0-11 nightmare.
“It’s a much faster group than I expected,” said Cole. “They’re flying to the ball. We may not be as big, but this is a group that is well ahead of expectations.”
A win tonight would be a quantum leap for the Tigers, considering Prairie View has won three of the previous four meetings, including last season’s 34-14 victory.
The Panthers will be without running back Russell Ball, the Florida State transfer who had given the team another threat in its offensive arsenal. Ball (high ankle sprain) could also miss Prairie View’s home opener against Texas College next week.
Resting on the past is not an option for the Panthers, who know that tonight means more than just an opener. Instead, it is also a chance to establish themselves as a contender in the SWAC West division, where Grambling State and Southern have dominated in recent years.
“At this point, it is critical that we don’t get complacent,” said Frazier.
“We were able to reach many of our goals last season, but we still have a lot of room for improvement.”
Prairie View A&M, TSU motivated for opener
By Brandon C. Williams, The Houston Chronicle