UWA travels to Jacksonville State for big road test

Published 10:33 am Friday, September 19, 2014

Despite spending 17 years on the Jacksonville State University campus as both a player and coach, Maxwell Thurmond will dress in the visitor’s locker room for the first time when West Alabama visits the Gamecocks on Saturday at Burgess-Snow Field at JSU Stadium.

“It will be different for me. I have never dressed in the visitor’s locker room. Coach (Adam) Ross did, but I never did,” Thurmond said. “It will be weird dressing over there and being on that end of the field.”

Even though he spent about as much time as Thurmond in Calhoun County, the guest lockers won’t be novel for Ross. In fact, he is heading back to Jax State looking forward to hanging his UWA coaching clothes where his JSU football gear was once kept.

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“Locker number 17 was mine. I haven’t told Coach (Brett) Gilliland yet, but that’s my only request. I want locker 17,” Ross said. “That’s where the freshmen dressed when I walked on that year.”

“That’s what he wants? He has it then,” Gilliland said in awarding locker number 17. “I know it’s especially noteworthy for Adam because he went in as a walk-on and worked his way into being a starter and a really good player for them.”

“There were about 30 of us in that locker room and just three made it to that final year,” Ross said. “Those are good friends of mine, so that locker room means a lot to me.”

Despite the fact that Ross and Thurmond both enjoyed tremendous success over an extended period as Gamecocks with conference titles and NCAA FCS Playoff appearances, both are emphatic that at no time before or after Saturday’s 3 p.m. kickoff between the 2-0 Tigers and the 1-1 Gamecocks will the game be about them.

“I can’t make it about me because I won’t play one single snap on Saturday, but it’s good for our guys to play up a level,” said Thurmond, who coaches linebackers and coordinates UWA special teams. “I was there from 1996 to 2012. That’s a long time, so I know a lot of people there. It will be fun to go back and see some of them.”

“It’s the next game on our schedule. As a coach you treat each game the same. You never should get too high or too low for an opponent,” said Ross, who coaches Tiger offensive linemen. “I am excited though about going back to where I started my college playing career and my coaching career.”

Tiger head coach Brett Gilliland knows the game has a special place in the hearts of his assistants, but the focus is on being able to run the ball and stop the run. Jacksonville State allows 142 yards rushing per game after losing at Michigan State and beating Tennessee Chattanooga in overtime.

UWA is allowing just 69.5 yards rushing per game and leads Division II with 14 quarterback sacks after two games. The Tigers held Shaw University to minus 26 yards rushing last week. Jax State averages 153.5 yards per game on the ground.

“Jacksonville State is a good football team. There is no hiding that,” Gilliland said. “They are good at running the ball and they are good at stopping the run. If you can do those two things, then you have a chance to be a championship level team.

“Those are also things we pride ourselves on,” Gilliland said. “So far we have had success doing that. To give us a chance we have to be able to run it and slow them down.”

The Tigers average 274.5 yards per game rushing and have two of the top five ball carriers in the Gulf South Conference in running back Javae Swindle (98.5 ypg) and quarterback Kyle Caldwell (72 ypg). West Alabama’s offense is averaging 433.5 total yards and 37 points per game.

In what was once a rivalry in the Gulf South Conference before JSU went Division IAA, the Gamecocks hold a 32-12-1 advantage in a series that began in 1949 but is resuming for the first time since 1992, when Jacksonville State won 54-27 in Jacksonville.

The game will be televised locally in the Jacksonville area on WJXS-TV 24 and the Ohio Valley Digital Network at www.OVCDigitalNetwork.com. The West Alabama broadcast can be heard in the Twin States on ESPN 104.9 and globally at www.espn1049.com with Lee Tracey, Robert Upchurch and Rob Pearson on the call.