As Florida A&M football continues to grapple with player eligibility and certification issues, the Rattlers have focused on Jackson State and the Orange Blossom Classic.
Twenty-six FAMU players were originally deemed ineligible to play in Saturday’s season opener at North Carolina, which opened a close game to win 56-24.
FAMU players who missed the game for various reasons, such as not being NCAA certified or academic reasons, included current Buck Buchanan Award-winning linebacker Isaiah Land, SWAC preseason draft picks cornerback BJ Bohler and tackle right Cameron Covin.
Simmons called it a “best case scenario” to get all the players back for Sunday’s SWAC matchup against Jackson State in Miami Gardens.
Kickoff is at 3 pm on ESPN2.
JSU, coached by Deion Sanders, beat FAMU 7-6 in last season’s Classic en route to the conference title.
FAMU, along with the NCAA and SWAC, will continue to work on the player reinstatement process as it prepares for the game.
“All of our goals that we’ve set for this season really start this weekend,” Simmons said in his opening statement during Monday’s media briefing.
“I’m proud of the guys’ effort last weekend in the midst of all the turmoil we had to overcome as a football team to show the country what kind of team we are capable of being.
“Hopefully we can get a few more guys back this week so we can go back to Miami with as many players as we can to play our best ball.”
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There are no changes to FAMU player certifications as of now
The full reasoning for the rulings was not released Monday, but FAMU is aware of the explanations behind the players not dressing up for the UNC game.
With a short week as the Rattlers arrive in Miami on Wednesday, SWAC will help the team try to activate as many missing players as possible through appeals and hesitation.
“We know the reason for all of them and we’re working on some of those processes this week,” Simmons said. “I want to be clear that we don’t have 26 ineligible soccer players, but we do have 26 guys who haven’t been certified as capable of competing for various reasons and a couple who are academically ineligible.
“Guys have certain issues within our college structure that are causing them to not be certified as eligible to play, and those are the processes that we’re working on. Any time you’re a low-resource institution, we have to be creative. and innovative in how we implement some of the practices and policies to ensure our student-athletes have the resources they need.
“We’re enlisting the help of the conference office to assist in the enforcement of submitting waivers and getting interpretations on decisions that will allow us to get some of these guys back on the field. As of today, there are no changes, but we’re optimistic that we will see some movement in the next few days.
There is no timeline for NCAA rulings before the Orange Blossom Classic. It can be extended until the start of Sunday at 3 pm. So FAMU is set to make some late additions while in Miami for most of the week.
Non-certified players can practice while waiting for clearance, according to Simmons. Academically ineligible players may not participate in team activities.
Freshman offensive lineman TJ Demas was flown to Chapel Hill on game day when he was cleared as the Rattlers boarded their Allegiant Air charter flight Friday night. Demas’ original ruling was due to his high school transcript not reaching the NCAA on time.
Land tweeted on Sunday that “I can’t wait to get dressed with my boys again, but only in God’s time. To clarify, I am ineligible for a reason beyond my control, but I CAN’T AND WILL NOT BE DENIED.”
“A lot of this is up to the NCAA’s discretion — they can make a decision up to game day as to whether a player is eligible,” Simmons said.
“We’re looking at our scheduled release date and looking at whether we’re going to adjust it so more guys are cleared. We talked to the athletic director and administration and we have a plan that if we can get some guys cleared after we leave.” Miami, we will take you there to participate as well.
“I’ll take a last-second addition any day of the week and we’ll play as many as we have.”
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Take two of the Orange Blossom Classics from their revival
Sunday will mark the second year since the revival of the Orange Blossom Classic, which began in 1933 and ended in 1978.
In 2021, the Rattlers lost in the resurrection game against Jackson State 7-6.
“Last season ended with a tough one-point loss, but we don’t dwell on that too much right now,” Simmons said.
“We remember that, but this is a different football team under different circumstances. We are still in control of our own destiny, regardless of what happened last weekend.”
“We have all the motivation we need without a constant reminder of last year’s game.”
Simmons said he sat down with his quarterbacks on Sunday to watch the game, where FAMU’s offensive attack struggled. It was tough watching him and last season’s starting quarterback, Rasean McKay.
“I hated watching yesterday’s game,” Simmons said.
“As quarterbacks, we watched last year’s game to get a sense of what they do on defense and it was hard for Rasean and me to sit there and watch the game because we had to relive it.”
“Once we put aside the feelings from last year, we’ll be able to set up a game plan for our players to come in and do what we need to do.”
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Who: Florida A&M (0-1) vs. Jackson State (0-0) — Orange Blossom Classic, SWAC
When: Sunday, September 4 at 3:00 p.m.
Where: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida
Broadcast/Radio: ESPN2, Rattler Sports Network
Gerald Thomas III covers FAMU athletics for the Tallahassee Democrat. Contact him via email at [email protected] or on Twitter @3peatgee.
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