Alcorn State University head football coach Jay Hopson talks to a crowd of football fans and interested residents during the Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce Friday Forum at the Natchez Coffee Company. (Ben Hillyer \ The Natchez Democrat)

Alcorn coach honest about state of program

Published 12:01am Saturday, July 21, 2012

NATCHEZ — Jay Hopson took a play out of Bill O’Reilly’s playbook and turned Friday Forum into his own personal no-spin zone.

The Alcorn State head football coach and members of his staff had a chance to mingle with local Alcorn fans at Natchez Coffee Company Friday morning. Hopson took the time to share his feelings on the upcoming season, and he was blunt when describing the state of the Braves.

“We have a lot of work to do in a five-week period,” Hopson said. “We’re in the process of building a program. We’re taking over a program that’s had four coaches (in five seasons). That filters down. You have to put a coaching structure and work ethic in place.”

And in order to change the trajectory of the Alcorn football team, Hopson said he would have to change the mindset of each player with which he’s been entrusted.

“We want competitors,” Hopson said. “We want kids who, win or lose, they’re upset after a game because it’s one less chance for him to compete.

“If he’s not focused on the competition, if he’s focused on the results, we’ll never win. We have to develop that competitive spirit and work ethic, and that’s a process that goes from January to December.”

At the same time, Hopson acknowledged that there are certain results on the field for which he and his staff are aiming.

“Our goal is to win championships,” Hopson said. “Our plan is, four to five years down the road, we want to be competing for championships every year. We don’t want to be a roller-coaster program.”

Hopson also took the time to point out how excited he was about hosting Jackson State in Lorman this year, despite naysayers’ complaints about how bad the traffic could potentially be.

“I hope the traffic is like that every game,” Hopson said. “If that’s the case, something good is happening. We want to get to where we have six home games on campus (each season).”

Alcorn fans will play a huge role in getting the football program turned around, Hopson said, and he stressed to fans in attendance how important it was to show up to games this fall.

“We’re going to have recruits there,” Hopson said. “If I tell them how awesome the atmosphere is, and there’s only 300 people there on game day, they’re seeing something different with their eyes than what I described. They’re going to say, ‘There’s nobody here, let me go over to Southern Miss.’”

Hopson said the short-term would likely be rough for Alcorn fans, but that was no reason not to create an electric atmosphere on game day.

“Now is the time to support us when we’re in the building process,” Hopson said. “We’re going to take our lumps. That’s just the reality. It’s how we handle it that’s important.”

Fan support would also need to come in the form of donations, Hopson said.

“We just put in a video system to where we can see film quickly,” Hopson said. “It cost a lot of money, and that’s why we need your support.”

Hopson elaborated on the video system during the question-and-answer session, saying that, when he got there, there were only two VCRs in the corner of the video room. He said the team quit watching video midseason last fall, and they only had a real-time Panasonic recorder when he first arrived.

“What real-time means is, if you tape the practice, it takes you two hours in real-time after practice before you can see video,” Hopson said. “Natchez High and Cathedral probably has a better video setup than what we walked into.”

Upgrading the weight room is also an immediate need, Hopson said. For example, he said the benches are sort of cut down the middle with the sponging coming out, and the power racks are probably at least 25 to 30 years old.

“I say this to alumni, because I think it’s important you hear the truth on this,” Hopson said. “We have to get some new equipment in the weight room. We have to get some accessory stuff like leg presses, leg curls and those type deals.”

Hopson said he’s added a number of transfer players since his arrival, including a long-snapper, two kickers, several offensive linemen, a couple of defensive backs and a defensive end. Hopson also said he’s in the process of bringing in two or three more guys. Long-term, Hopson said he wants to fill his roster with more players from Mississippi, and he’s made offers to approximately 50 players in the state.

“We have, what, 10 kids from Mississippi on this team?” Hopson said. “I don’t understand that. I’m a Mississippi kid, so I believe in Mississippi kids. I don’t want to take a guy just because he’s from Vicksburg, Natchez or Fayette. I want him to be a football player, but I’d like to get as many players as I can (from those areas).”

After the question-and-answer session, Hopson said he understands some locals’ frustrations with feeling disconnected to the Alcorn football program and school.

“If you’re an alumni or former player, come to practice,” Hopson said. “We want you here as many times as you can come back.”

Hopson said it was his second time to visit Natchez since taking over at Alcorn, and he said it was very important to establish a good reputation with local Alcorn fans.

“Natchez and Vicksburg, along with Port Gibson and Fayette, are our anchor cities along (U.S.) 61.”