Central State senior linebacker Gervell Morgan understands the meaning and knows what it already feels like to play in the Circle City Classic in Indianapolis at Lucus Oil Stadium, home of the Colts.
Only on special occasions do NCAA Division II football players get the opportunity to play a football game in a NFL Stadium.
“It is surreal,” said Morgan, who leads the 2-1 Marauders with 32 tackles. “When I got there last year and walked into the stadium, it blew my mind to know a bunch of Hall of Famers have been through there, dressed in there and took showers in there. It was crazy.”
Added into the mix for Saturday’s game is the fact that Central State is playing its rival Kentucky State. One other thing: the game will be televised by ESPN3. Kickoff is 3 p.m. (ET).
“It is a great thing,” Morgan said of playing on television. “I have family members calling me up and talking to me about it. It is a big deal. It is a dream, actually.”
The 32nd annual Circle City Classic has a storied, history. Central State sports information director Nick Novy pointed out that Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice played in the first one.
The Circle City Classic helps to support youth initiatives, awarding over $3,000,000 in scholarships to deserving youth attending colleges and universities across the country through the years. It is more than just a game. Some of the events surrounding the game are a Friday pep rally, a Saturday morning parade and a battle of the bands at halftime.
Once the game starts, the Marauders are looking to win their third game in a row and avenge last year’s loss to Kentucky State in the Circle City Classic.
Morgan said losing the first game humbled the Marauders. Central State rebounded the following two weeks, winning by at least 24 points in each game.
“The first game, we went into it and knew we had a great team, a well-rounded team, but we weren’t humble enough coming into that game,” Morgan said. “We tried to get past that game to get the next one. It really humbled our team and brought us back to reality. We still have to prove ourselves. We are still in the proving grounds right now.
“We are rebuilding the old Central State again. I feel like we are coming together as one unit. It is just fun.”
The fun of playing in the Circle City Classic will continue for Central State. The school signed an agreement to play in it next year and the following year.
“It is a huge deal for us,” Novy said. “Last year we played in the Bahamas. We decided this year that Indianapolis is the best fit for us.
“It means a lot for our players and coaches and you combine it with our top rival, Kentucky State and it is a conference game, you can’t ask for a better venue than that.”
Series history: Central State leads 35-19-1; Kentucky State has won last 7
Last meeting: Kentucky State won 31-24 on Oct. 4, 2014
Total Offense: Central State, 308.3 per game; Kentucky State, 241.0
Total Defense: Central State, 223.7; Kentucky State, 304.0
Points scored: Central State, 29.0; Kentucky State, 13.7
Points allowed: Central State, 11.3; Kentucky, 29.0
Coach Byron Thweatt at home at Virginia State
In all likelihood, Virginia State first-year head coach Byron Thweatt will need to find a few more tickets for Saturday’s home game against Fayetteville State that will be televised at noon (ET) on the American Sports Network.
Playing on television adds to the excitement level for NCAA Division II schools that don’t get the opportunity often.
“It means a great deal to have that exposure,” Thweatt said. “It brings attention to the program and attention to the school. It is more than well-deserved. These guys have played hard, practiced for this and to be on a national stage is pretty rewarding.”
Whether the Trojans are playing on television or not, Thweatt knows ticket requests will come his way. He said that is part of the gift and the curse of coaching at a school that was 2-minutes down the road from where he grew up. His mother and father went to Virginia State.
As a child, Thweatt attended many games, including Homecoming.
“It is a program I followed my entire life. When the job became available, I applied,” said Thweatt, who was an assistant coach at Richmond last season. “It was home for me. It was an opportunity to coach in my hometown.
“It is a gift because I have so many people around me, supporting me. They want to come out and show support for the school and me.”
Last week they saw the Trojans win 14-7 over Kentucky State at Rogers Stadium in Ettrick, Va. Virginia State, 2-1, will try to win its third straight in the middle of three home games in a row.
“It felt good to bounce back,” said senior wide receiver Jaivon Smallwood. “We definitely got a wakeup call in the first game. Now we are back in the groove of things.”
Thweatt said in the first game the defense gave up too many big plays.
“Since then we have been able to fix that problem,” Thweatt said. “We haven’t given up big plays the last two weeks and it has resulted in wins.
Against Fayetteville State, Thweatt said, the Trojans have to play Virginia State football, which means they have to play well on defense, can’t give up big plays and stop the run.
“On offense, we can’t shoot ourselves in the foot. If we can play penalty-free, and not turnover the football and protect the quarterback, we have a great shot,” Thweatt said.
One thing Smallwood is certain will happen on Saturday is there will be a lot of excitement in the stands from the home crowd. The bond with his teammates and the enthusiasm from the fans has made it a wonderful experience for Smallwood to play football at Virginia State.
“It means everything,” Smallwood said. “It is a family-oriented place. Everybody just loves each other. We are like brothers.”
Other Games to Watch
No. 15 Pittsburg State (2-1) at Fort Hays State (3-0), 7 p.m. (CT)
No. 6 Angelo State (3-0) at West Texas A&M (2-1), 5 p.m. (CT)
Eastern New Mexico (2-1) at No. 20 Texas A&M-Commerce (2-1), 7 p.m. (CT)