A member of the Jackson State “Sonic Boom of the South” marching band at the Orange Blossom Classic
STUDENT ATHLETES

HBCU Football Reborn: Scenes From the Orange Blossom Classic

Boardroom relives the sights and sounds of Jackson State vs. Florida A&M live from Miami.

Music blasting in the tunnel. Enthusiastic fans, most of them decked out in orange and green fill Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. The anticipation of waiting 652 days to play a football game following a canceled 2020 season is finally over. Florida A&M takes the field. 

This season feels different than others, too. There are more eyes on the MEAC conference, rosters and coaching staffs are adding bigger and bigger names, and the stakes feel that much higher given all the increased media attention — this one aired live before a national audience on ESPN2.

HBCU football is back. And so are all of the accouterments that come with it: the marching bands, the royal courts… and of course, the on-field action many historic historically Black programs have waited almost two years for.

Boardroom was there at the reborn Orange Blossom Classic, a college football tradition dating back to 1933, to take it all in.

On Sunday, the Jackson State University Tigers, coached by the legendary Deion Sanders took on the Florida A&M Rattlers. The game was a close match-up, but in the end, the Tigers came out victorious 7-6. 

The one-touchdown game came on the heels of a long time of no play for the Tigers as well. During the 148 days that JSU went without playing a game — the SWAC conference played their 2020 season this past spring — the man nicknamed Coach Prime on his Barstool Sports docu-series of the same name had to prepare a new starting quarterback. And not just any QB, but the highest-rated signee in program history:

His son, Shedeur Sanders.

Shedeur, a phenom out of Texas’ Trinity Christian School, suited up for the first time over the weekend, which meant Coach Prime had to work double duty as Coach Dad. But as his press conference at the end of the game made it clear, Deion plans to coach hard regardless of whose blood is running through his QB’s veins. 

“Shedeur was aight,” Sanders told The Clarion-Ledger. “I was in his butt, but you got to understand I’m his father, too, and I know what he’s capable of doing. He was trying to do too much early on.”

The quarterback finished 18-24 passing for 221 yards — not a bad way for a freshman to start his collegiate career. But while JSU took won the football game on the scoreboard, the battle of the bands goes to FAMU. 

The Marching 100 performance had the entire stadium singing along. This isn’t the band’s first time doing so; in 2007 the band performed alongside Prince during the superstar’s iconic Super Bowl XLI halftime show. This performance, however, was a tribute to Miami’s finest, including a stick figure dunking as an homage to Heat legend Dwayne Wade

“Because of the way the Marching 100 marches with intensity and precision, when you put everything out there, the crowd is always in awe,” FAMU Drum Major Jonathan Wiggins told Boardroom. 

The marching bands often steal the spotlight, and rightly so, but the game wasn’t complete without a guest appearance from south Florida native Chad Johnson, who was so hyped up that he was ready to go at it against Deion himself like they were both still doing their thing in the league.

Such is the pageantry of a grand old tradition retooled and tuned up for 2021.

There’s only one Orange Blossom Classic. But fortunately, there’s a whole lot more Jackson State (and Coach Prime) to come. Tune into the Southern Heritage Classic for a Tigers vs. Tigers matchup on Saturday, Sept. 11 when JSU takes on Eddie George’s Tennessee State squad.

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