Jacksonville State wants to return to title game to win it this year

Jacksonville State wants to return to title game to win it this year
Jacksonville State Gamecocks cornerback Jaylen Hill (11) carries the ball in last year's 42-20 victory over the Murray State Racers. (Jacksonville State Athletics)

Some people might think you’re on Easy Street the year after your football team finishes as the runner-up to the national champion in the Football Championship Subdivision.

Don’t count Jacksonville State coach John Grass among that number.

“You’ve got to work harder now than what you were working,” said Grass, whose team lost 37-10 to North Dakota State in the 2015 FCS title game. “You’ve got to try to stay there. That’s the past.”

Grass acknowledged that getting to the championship game wasn’t the goal. He and his Gamecocks want to win it. “We weren’t that team last year,” he said. “Hopefully, this year we’ll make another run at it.”

Alabama NewsCenter is posing five questions to state college coaches as the 2016 football season draws near. Next up are Grass and his Gamecocks, who open their season at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 1, hosting longtime rival North Alabama.

NC: What is the outlook for this season?

JG: Same as it’s always been. There’s a process that goes to it. We’re just looking to be the team we can be on a daily basis, just get better as the year goes and make the playoffs, and get a chance in the playoffs to win a national championship. Our team’s very dedicated to doing that. I’ve seen a lot of good things in the offseason and fall camp in how they work and how they approach the game. We’ve got a good platform, foundation built here. Our guys know what to expect, they know how to get the job done and they know what it requires of them.

NC: What is your team’s strength?

JG: Our depth is pretty good across the field. We’ve got some newcomers but we’ve got a lot of guys back who played a lot of snaps last year. I think that team speed and our overall athleticism is good and I think our depth is good.

NC: Who are your standouts this season?

JG: That’s a good question. I don’t know how to predict that. We don’t pay a lot of attention to preseason this, preseason that. You have to not talk about it; you have to actually go out there and do it. We have some returning players on both sides of the ball who have a chance to have some great years. Of course, offensively you start with (quarterback) Eli Jenkins, (wide receiver) Josh Barge and guys up front like Casey Dunn and Nick Johnson and Justin Lea and Dylan Cline. Defensively, you’ve got guys like (defensive end) Darius Jackson and (defensive back) Jaylen Hill. It’s hard to predict who’s going to have a great year.

NC: What game do your fans have circled on your schedule?

JG: I’d say any home game. Our fans – just like our players and staff – they love playing at home. They like playing on Burgess-Snow Field, the gameday experience. It’s a pretty special deal that we have. They look forward to having a good time.

NC: What is your lingering question?

JG: Can we win the last one? You’ve got to play and play well enough so that you have a chance to win the last one. Then, of course, you’ve got to win the last one to be a national champion.

Also in this series: Read Alabama NewsCenter’s interviews with head coaches Reginald Ruffin of Miles College, Bobby Wallace of the University of North Alabama, Brett Gilliland of the University of West Alabama, Eddie Garfinkle of Birmingham-Southern College, Willie Slater of Tuskegee University, Chris Hatcher of Samford University, Joey Jones of the University of South Alabama and James Spady of Alabama A&M University.

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