Rattlers to face new opponents

This season, the Rattler football schedule is vastly different from that of years past. Gone are the games versus traditional historically black college and university foes like North Carolina A&T and Howard University. Instead, FAMU will go up against a new set of opponents like Florida Atlantic University, Virginia Union University and Nicholls State University.

The Rattlers will also travel to play Division I-A’s Virginia Tech, University of Illinois and Tulane University. The team is definitely feeling up to playing a schedule The Sports Network labeled the toughest in the history of Division I-AA.

“It’s all the same; they put their pads on just like we do,” said Jeff Green, a senior defensive end. “I am here to play football, whether it’s Virginia Tech or Norfolk State.”

Last year, the University’s board of trustees decided amid much controversy to delay the team’s proposed move to the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division I-A. Although, the decision left the team ineligible to compete for a Mid-Eastern Athletic Association championship or a NCAA Division I-AA national championship the team still feels like they have something to play for.

“We’re playing for pride, to get better as a team,” said sophomore offensive lineman Leonard Black. “We always have something to play for.”

Jonathan Evans, the University’s assistant athletic director for NCAA compliance, said the Rattlers won’t be able to compete in the MEAC this season, but will return to conference play in 2005.

In mid-February, top University administrators including President Fred Gainous, Vice President for Development Love Collins III and then Special Assistant to President for Athletics, Joseph Ramsey met with MEAC President Dennis Thomas.

“The main agenda of the meeting was to integrate FAMU back into the MEAC,” said Ebenzer Oriaku, chairman of the athletic committee.

Attempts to reconfigure the schedule to include seven additional conference games in order to be eligible for conference play failed because nearly all other MEAC members had already made their 2004-2005 schedules.

This forced FAMU administration to put together a football schedule as quickly as possible by filling in the holes in other Division I-AA schools’ schedules.

Evans said several factors went into formulating the existing schedule but said one of his primary objectives was to schedule teams that were regionally close in order to appeal to FAMU’s fan base.

“We contacted just about every Division I-AA school, starting with the HBCUs, but the dates just didn’t work out,” Evans said.

The Rattlers will play four home games, all in October, this season, which is one more than last season.

“We wanted to have four home games this year,’ Evans said.

Evans also inquired about scheduling road games with schools in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, but to no avail. The SWAC is home to several well-known HBCUs like Jackson State and Grambling State.

“We attempted to schedule a road game with Southern, and it could’ve worked,” Evans said.” But we didn’t get into serious discussion with them.”

However, all is not completely new with this year’s schedule. The Rattlers will face off against Tennessee State in the Atlanta Football Classic on Sept. 25 and Bethune-Cookman College in the 25th Annual Florida Classic at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando on Nov. 20.

In late June, the University also announced its return to the Orange Blossom Classic. The season finale, versus Florida International University Golden Panthers, will be played in Miami at the Orange Bowl on Nov. 27.

“With the strong support of the Orange Bowl Committee, of the alumni and supporters of both institutions in the South Florida area, as well as the great tradition of the Orange Blossom Classic itself, we are looking forward to a great weekend in Miami,” said Joseph Ramsey, Athletic Director in a release by FIU media relations.

Despite their independent status and the unfamiliarity with this season’s opponents, the Rattlers are ready to get down and play some football.

“I feel good about the new schedule,” Green said. “It’s another challenge, another opportunity to do something great.”

Contact Nick Birdsong at thefamuansports@hotmail.com.