It had been a long time since I’d been to a junior college football game.
The last time was either 17 years ago when living in Laurel (Jones County) or 28 years ago when I was in Fulton (Itawamba).
I don’t know why I’ve gone so long without experiencing it. I grew to love junior college football when covering the Itawamba Community College Indians from 1986 through 1990. Those are some of my best memories on the sideline.
Last Thursday night, Fred Carlisle, Todd Sanderson and myself made the short ride to Senatobia for the huge game between No. 10 Northwest and No. 1 East Mississippi.
As it turned out, the anticipated close game wasn’t close at all. The underdog crushed the favorite. The Rangers were clicking on all cylinders and rolled to a 61-38 victory. It was a record crowd at Bobby Franklin Field.
As I remembered, junior college football is some of the hardest-hitting football I’ve ever witnessed. And the players are good – really good.
The junior college kids are looking to impress. Their goals are to win and progress to the next level. They want move on to Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Florida State, Southern Miss, Alabama, Delta State, Jackson State or wherever. They just want to keep playing football after Northwest, Itawamba, Jones County or the other community colleges.
And believe me, the Northwest Rangers were very impressive on this night. It was a fun game to watch – a gigantic win over the “Last Chance U” program and one that ended the Lions’ 17-game win streak.
And I’m sure the celebration continued on into the night after we left Senatobia late in the fourth quarter with the win well in hand.
I was a young sports writer when I began following Itawamba in 1986. I was introduced to head coach Mike Eaton, and the relationship with him and his Indians was a special one all five years I covered the team for The Itawamba County Times.
It all started “between the bricks.” At that time, Itawamba played in a small stadium in the middle of campus enclosed by a brick wall. It was tight, real tight. It was a huge home field advantage, one unlike any other I’d ever seen. Fans were definitely on top of the action, and the competition was always fierce. It was a terrific environment for football, and a young reporter’s dream.
But I enjoyed following the Indians away from the bricks, too. It helped me to experience Mississippi after my move from Alabama. I went places like Clarksdale (Coahoma), East Mississippi (Scooba), Holmes (Goodman), Hinds (Raymond) and Pearl River (Poplarville). I even accompanied the Indians to a bowl game in Boone, N.C. Basically, Coach Eaton and his staff always made me feel like I was a part of the team.
And there was the hardest rainstorm I’d ever experienced at a football game one season at Mississippi Delta (Moorhead). It’s one of the few times I ever left the sideline for the press box.
Hopefully, I won’t go 17 years or 28 years without going to another junior college football game.