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Beleaguered Delta Devils struggling to compete
Tim Johnson, Jackson State’s burly defensive tackle, grew up about 35 minutes away from Mississippi Valley State.
Jalil Johnson, the Tigers’ quick-footed cornerback, was raised just 20 minutes down the road from Valley’s campus.
One would think they grew up a Delta Devils fan, right?
“Nooooo,” Jalil Johnson said. Said Tim: “No.”
There in lies the problem with Mississippi Valley State’s football program, historically the cellar-dweller of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
The program, of course, has more problems than getting kids from the Delta - like the Johnsons (no relation) - to adore the school.
No, this team has a laundry list of issues - from not offering the full 63 scholarships the FCS allows to having to play home games at a high school stadium and having an already paltry athletic budget slashed by some 20 percent this year.
Then there’s the stuff on the field. The Delta Devils (0-3, 0-2 SWAC) enter Saturday’s meeting with Jackson State (2-1, 0-1) having scored one - ONE - touchdown through three games.
They’ve been outscored 105-15 and lost their starting quarterback in a Sept. 11 defeat at South Carolina State.
Valley coach Karl Morgan, what say you?
“I think we’ve gotten better each and every week,” the easy-going first-year coach said. “I think we’ve taken strides.”
Some say Morgan accepted the toughest job in Division I football when he took over for Willie Totten during the off-season.
But Totten said it’s all about a person’s perception.
“It all depends on how people look at it,” he said, before adding, “It’s just a tough situation.”
Valley hasn’t beaten Jackson State since 1994. The Delta Devils have won just five games against the Tigers in the 56 meetings between the two schools, emphasizing the disparity between the talent levels at the programs.
It’s difficult, Totten says, to get kids to come to Valley.
Jalil and Tim Johnson are prime examples, two Delta boys who went to a rival school.
“Valley was never a place I wanted to go because they always lost,” Jalil said.
For Tim Johnson, it was more about leaving the Delta, a region known just as much for its hardships and poverty as its blues and jazz.
“You just want to get away from the Delta,” he said.
Jackson State coach Rick Comegy said a handful of players he was recruiting have gone to Valley, but he never said if Jackson State offered those players.
All Totten could do was try his best to sway kids to come to Valley, he said.
“You’ve got to work with what you have,” Totten said.
Following eight seasons as head coach at Valley, Totten is now the assistant director for office of advancement at the school.
In short, he’s in charge of raising money for the institution. It’s him and another person, Totten said.
Since beginning in that role a few months ago, he’s raised $5,000 for the football program.
Said Totten: “It comes in small amounts.”
Ross Dellenger, Clarion Ledger