Florida A&M picked over Jackson State in SWAC East, days after rap video controversy

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Jackson State is no longer the Southwestern Athletic Conference front-runner. And Florida A&M has something to talk about other than a locker room rap video.

Coaches and sports information directors picked Florida A&M to win the East Division in voting released Tuesday at SWAC media day in Birmingham. Jackson State and then-coach Deion Sanders have been the dominant team the past two years.

The favored status came a few days after Florida A&M had banned its players from the team’s facilities after a rap video featuring some Rattlers was shot in the locker room without proper permission.

Florida A&M athletic director Tiffani-Dawn Sykes allowed the team to resume all activities starting Tuesday, coinciding with media day. She will not comment on the incident until the university’s investigation is complete.

Coach Willie Simmons addressed the incident with his team on Monday.

“They’re resilient. We’ve seen our fair share of adversity and this won’t be our last one,” Simmons said Tuesday. “We talk to our guys all the time about how we respond to the challenges that we face. But for us it’s about growing as a football team.

“Part of our job as coaches is just to lead and to teach and every moment is an opportunity to teach, and that’s what we look at this moment as,” he added.

The rapper in the video is Real Boston Richey, who is from Tallahassee, where Florida A&M’s campus is located. Richey, whose real name is Jalen Foster, performed at Florida A&M’s homecoming game last season.

SWAC Commissioner Charles McLelland said he talked to Sykes about the situation on Sunday and that the school has handled it “magnificently.”

“Any time you suspend football activities, it is a concern with the conference office,” McLelland said. “But we’ve worked with them every step of the way.

“We feel 100% confident that they have handled it in the manner in which it should be handled and we are confident that they are going to be able to move forward and that everyone is going to learn from this example of what occurred there with the locker room and the video and the content of the video.”

The Rattlers, who were 9-2 last season, and quarterback Jeremy Moussa have high expectations this season. Moussa was named preseason SWAC offensive player of the year, while Grambling State lineman Sundiata Anderson was picked as preseason defensive player of the year.

Southern was picked to repeat as SWAC West Division champion.

The race for the title is presumably more open with the changes at Jackson State.

Sanders left for Colorado, along with star quarterback and son Shedeur Sanders and two-way standout Travis Hunter, among others, as part of an exodus of talent. Jackson State was still picked second in the East Division, behind FAMU, which got 16 first-place votes while the Tigers and three other teams got two apiece.

“They didn’t just fall off the face of the earth because Deion Sanders left,” Alabama A&M coach Connell Maynor said of Jackson State. “They’ve still got a lot of good football players over there. They’re still going to be good.”

The two-time defending champion Tigers went 23-3 the past two seasons, beating league opponents by an average of 30 points last season.

New coach T.C. Taylor, a former Jackson State player and assistant coach, said the remaining Tigers have a desire “to show everybody what we’re made of.”

“Everybody knows that we had a lot of turnover on our roster,” Taylor said. “You can lose a quarterback like Shedeur Sanders, a phenomenal player like Travis Hunter. You know, teams start to look at them and think that, they’re going to struggle this year. But I know I’ve seen it every day, our football team, what we bring to the table this year, how the guys have approached it each day.”

Florida A&M and Jackson State face off Sunday, Sept. 3 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. Jackson State won 59-3 last season.

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Cover Photo: Florida A&M head coach Willie Simmons, left, runs onto the field before the Orange Blossom Classic NCAA college football game against Jackson State, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2022, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Florida A&M has banned its players from the team’s facilities after a rap video featuring some Rattlers was shot in their locker room without proper permission being granted. Coach Willie Simmons told The Associated Press on Saturday, July 22, 2023, the team facility, weight room and access to the stadium field were off limits to all the players until he and the administration could sort out who was involved in the video shoot. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File_

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