Mississippi native feels right at home
Alcorn State coach Hopson becomes SWAC's first white coach
Jay Hopson’s selection as Alcorn State’s new football coach has historical relevance to perhaps everyone but him. Yes, he is the first white head football coach in the school’s history. And yes, he is the first white head football coach in the history of the Southwestern Athletic Conference as well. Yet, people who are so distracted by those obvious distinctions, miss the Vicksburg. Miss., native’s primary motivation for wanting to work in Lorman, and take on the task of returning pride to the Braves’ football program.
“Guys from N.Y. and California have talked to me, but they don’t understand who Jay Hopson is and where he is from. This is the mud I grew up in from the time I was born,” Hopson said. "To me it’s no big deal. I’m from Vicksburg. I’ve grown up around here and know many Alcornites – alumni and played [at Warren Central High School] with people who played there.
“It’s close to home, 41 miles from Vicksburg, which is 30 minutes from Jackson. And Alcorn is 30 minutes north of Natchez and that makes up a pretty nice triangle. The campus is gorgeous and it’s a really great environment. I’m thankful to Dr. [M. Christopher] Brown [Alcorn’s president] for the opportunity. It’s just a natural fit for me because it’s home.”
Hopson brings a wealth of coaching experience to the position. His last coaching assignment was as defensive coordinator at Memphis. Previously he coached at Marshall, Delta State, Southern Mississippi and Michigan.
Hopson’s resume also includes his four-year collegiate career as a defensive back at Ole Miss, a place where its pep band played “From Dixie With Love,” – a song that melded the Confederate Army's fight song, "Dixie," with the Union Army's "Battle Hymn of the Republic" – during its football games for decades. Reconciling that with where he is now was easy.
“I’m more than an Ole Miss grad,” Hopson said. “I’m proud of that, but what this is about is not about black and white. It’s football. I’ve been doing this 20 years. When everybody gets in the huddle, they’re brothers. You’ve sweat and bled together. That’s the thing I love about sports and athletics. The world could learn a lot about athletics.
“I don’t think about me being the first this or that. But anything that helps make people look at Mississippi in a positive light, I am all for it. I’m a football coach, and want to build the program the way we want to build it. We want to again be a team that consistently – year in and year out – competes for titles. Just trying to go to work hard, and build a team with some character kids. It’s time to get going. We don’t have a lot of time.”
Hopson is all too familiar with that phrase. Twice he’s beaten cancer and he is cancer free right now. During his first bout, doctors painted a grim picture. His cancer was aggressive, fast-growing and he wasn’t likely to survive the year. It was a misdiagnosis, but the psychic damage was done.
“That’s not a fun drive home [from the doctor’s office] when you have that,” Hopson said. “It puts the world, puts life – all those things – in perspective.”
He received a second diagnosis and had treatment with doctors in Indianapolis and is as healthy as a 43-year-old man could be. As for his priorities in life, they have been adjusted, too.
“When something like that slaps you in the face, you realize what’s important,” Hopson said. “And really what is important all my coaches and myself is to make a positive impact on these young men’s lives. At the end of the day we want to win.
“Everybody wants to win. But the bottom line is that’s why God put us here – to work with young men. Hopefully we can do a good job. Hopefully one day they can say, ‘Coach, I appreciate him being part of our lives. He helped me along the way.’ ”
Hopson replaces Melvin Spears, who in his only season as the Braves head coach, was dismissed in February after finishing 2-8 – Alcorn’s fifth consecutive losing season. He’s got two months to hire a staff and install offensive and defensive schemes.
“Hopefully we can do a good job,” Hopson said. “My whole deal is doing a great job hiring a good staff. Any football coach, you’re only as good as the people you hire. The real pressing issue for me is get the team up and running in the next two months to get it going. We are in fast forward right now.”