Natchez natives play for Braves in game against Jackson State

Published 3:48 pm Thursday, November 18, 2021

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LORMAN — Three players with ties to Natchez will wear the purple and gold of Alcorn State Saturday when the Braves play Jackson State.

Natchez High School alumni Ernest Woods and Kee Wayne Jones will represent the Bulldogs and Cristofer Thompson will represent Adams County Christian School in the game.  

It is the 85th time the two teams have met since Alcorn State was Alcorn A&M and Jackson State was Jackson College. Since 1976, Alcorn State has won 12 out of the 25 games against Jackson State. The Braves won the last meeting of the “Soul Bowl” 41-6 in 2019.

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“I’m really excited to play in that game. Besides the championship and the celebration bowl, it is really the biggest game of the year,” Jones said. “It is a rivalry game. We have been playing them for so long and they have been playing us for so long. It is a really good and intense environment.”

Jones is a senior in the classroom studying agricultural business but on the football field he is a sophomore. Alcorn State opted to not play football in the SWAC’s spring football season in  2020 because of COVID. He did not lose a year of eligibility for that year. 

In his three years, he has grown as a person and as a man, he said. Coaches have taught the players there is more to life than football, which came in handy when COVID hit. The time away from the game gave the team time to bond, he said. 

As a player, he has changed in his role on the team. When he first got to Alcorn State he was playing offensive line but had to make a move to the defensive side of the football. 

“I had to learn a whole new setup. I had to learn how to runstop and pass rush,” Jones said. “It was kind of hard to adjust. When I was on the offensive line I was aggressive so I guess that’s why they moved me to the defensive line. It was hard to adapt at first. 

Best moments

In 2019, Alcorn State played in the celebration bowl. The Braves were backed up against the goal line and got into their heavy package. Jones said he stopped the running back short of the goal line for a key stop and they went on to score the next drive. It was his best play for the Braves so far, he said. 

Kicker Cristofer Thompson transferred to Alcorn State from Jones Community College this year. He said he chose Alcorn State because it was close to his family. Since arriving on campus, he has made a lot of great friends, he said. 

It did not take long for him to get off to a strong start. Alcorn State’s game against Northwestern came down to a difference of two-points, Thompson made a field goal from 27 and 40 yards, his longest of the season, in the game. 

“We happened to win that game by two points,” Thompson said. “You have to take it one play at a time and execute when you get the opportunity. Since we won by two and it was the longest kick, I think it is the most important kick I have made.” 

Continuing to grow

Everyday he works on being disciplined and getting the technique right. As a kicker, he has to spend a lot of time putting in reps to be disciplined. He said staying consistent is how a kicker gets better so they can perform in the game. 

“Kicking can be tough mentally, especially. You go into a game and you think to yourself ‘You have one job,’” Thompson said. “You have to stay locked in. I stay locked in by taking it one play at a time. If things do not go for you it’s alright to brush it off, next play up.What is done is done and there is no going back.”

Growth begins with tackling discomforts. As a kicker, he does not like to kick from the right hash because he is afraid he will over hook the ball. In practice, he will spend more time kicking from the right hash so he is ready come game time. 

If the game against Jackson State did come down to a field goal, he said he would be ready. 

“Day by day, play by play, we have to see it as just another kick,” Thompson said. “Whether it is a 20 yard field goal or 55. If I did get there, there would be a lot of pressure for this kick. That is where you have to prepare mentally and lock in. I have heard and understand it is going to be a big game. It is another part of being a high level athlete. You have to stay composed and keep a level head.” 

Facing challenges

Alcorn State defensive back Ernest Woods III is an alumnus of Natchez High School. In his time with the Braves, he has played one game before injuring his hand. He broke his thumb on the first drive of the first game this season. 

Additionally, COVID took an entire season away from him too, he said. During the period of not having football, he had a lot of off time similar to what he has now, he said. 

“I would go to Natchez High School and workout or go to the gym and lift weights to try and stay in shape,” Woods said. “I broke my thumb at the beginning of the season. Again I have a lot of off time. I could not do anything after the injury. It was not too much of a pain. It was more of a nagging injury like I couldn’t dress on my own but I should be back in the spring.” 

His hope was to be cleared by his doctor to play in the final two games of the season, he would still be able to redshirt, but he is not cleared for another four weeks. As a result, he will miss the game against Jackson State Saturday. 

A broken thumb will not keep him away from the field as he will be on the sidelines with his teammates as the Braves visit Jackson State. It is expected to be a sold out stadium for a game. The stakes are higher, he said. 

Football brings joy

Woods has played football since he was eight years old with the Natchez Falcons. He said he enjoys the fact he always learns something new about the game.

His hope is to continue playing at Alcorn State for the next two seasons. Playing with Natchez players like Kee Wayne is fun too. He said they played together on the Natchez Falcons. strengths and weaknesses and I know his,” Woods said. 

His mom Patty Woods is a big fan of Alcorn State football and motivates him to keep playing, he said. 

“She went there, everybody in my family went there,” Woods said. “Ever since I was young I have been going to Alcorn games. I have known a lot about their football program. She is the biggest fan.”