FAMU football players ‘persevering through adversity’

Bragg Memorial Stadium will remain empty this fall. Photo courtesy FAMU athletics

What would have been the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s 50th year of intercollegiate competition was put on pause when the Council of Presidents and Chancellors of the MEAC announced earlier this month that the league will suspend all athletics this fall due to the still surging coronavirus pandemic.

This left Florida A&M, a member of the MEAC until next summer when it moves to the SWAC, with no choice but to also announce it was suspending all fall athletics including its prime money maker — football.

The MEAC hasn’t ruled out playing football and other sports in the spring and will continue to discuss the option.  The conference of historically black colleges and universities joined the Ivy League and Patriot League in canceling football for the fall. All three are members of Division I Football Championship Subdivision level.

Azende Reyis a graduate student at FAMU who plays running back and wide receiver for the Rattlers. He is also a member of the 2020 FAMU Football Leadership Council.

“Going through this pandemic, it taught myself to appreciate the little things.  Finding out that we will not have a season took a toll on me not only because I worked so hard, but I was  looking forward to becoming MEAC champions, going undefeated and winning the Celebration Bowl,” he said. “It hits you hard because it is a delay, but at the same time God does not make any mistakes.  This is just a challenge that we will have to overcome. I feel as though safety is first, and I ask that everyone continue to wear a mask, use hand sanitizer, and wash their hands to help alleviate this virus.”

Willie Simons has a combined 15-7 record after two seasons as FAMU’s head coach.  The 2019 season was Simmons’ best to date as the Rattlers finished with a 9-2 overall record including a 7-1 conference record, resulting in his team being ranked No. 21 in the final FCS polls. When the announcement was made, Simmons did not mourn, but found a way to motivate and encourage his team.

“We have to be leaders during this time. As the saying goes, there’s no sense in crying over spilled milk. We have to be very aggressive in our planning moving forward. A lot of individuals will be affected by this decision,” Simmons said in a release. “Their safety and well-being is paramount.”

Elijah Jones, a safety and special teams captain for the Rattlers, plans to convert the disappointing news into a way he can benefit from it.

“In regards to the season being canceled, I am looking at it as a blessing in disguise. Many of my teammates and myself are taking this time to better ourselves in the mental aspect of the game as well as some of my teammates who have battled injuries are able to physically get their body rejuvenated.  At the end of the day, we are persevering through adversity, and plan to bounce back and have an even better season than the previous years,” Jones said.

Carrie Tollison, an academic adviser for FAMU athletics, says it is unfortunate that student athletes were not able to compete in the spring and now in the fall. She said the student athletes should take this time to excel in their academics.

“Health is first and foremost in my opinion, and I think that now would be  the opportunity to go ahead and take those advances in excelling in the classroom, working on themselves, working on their personal goals, and hopefully we will be able to conquer COVID-19,” Tollison said.