Fall sports teams raised the bar in a big way

Coach Willie Simmons being handed the 2023 Football SWAC Championship trophy. Photo courtesy: FAMU Athletics

Like the ‘Big Three’ in Miami, when athletic teams are assembled with an abundance of talent, the expectation can easily go from being competitive to “championship or bust.”

Florida A&M’s athletic program has had one of the most successful fall sports periods in school history — the most successful since the 2021 athletic conference change, as all three sports —football, volleyball and cross country — either won or appeared in their respective Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game.

“I was really grateful that our cross-country team — the first SWAC championship that’s offered during the year, they won. It’s very important to start the year with that type of momentum,” FAMU Athletic Director Tiffani-Dawn Sykes said. “Our volleyball team played in the championship [and] our football team just won the conference championship. So, when you start at that level, all of your peers and the other teams want to produce at that same level.”

The 2023 women’s cross-country team won its SWAC Championship in October, becoming the second program at FAMU to win a conference championship, since the 2021 change.

The team walked away with three All-SWAC Postseason Second Team selections and Garfield Ellenwood II won Coach of the Year.

The 2023 volleyball team reached its third consecutive SWAC championship, after winning the two previous in 2021 and 2022.

Coming into the season, the team was decorated with two selections to the All-SWAC Preseason First Team and two to the All-SWAC Preseason Second Team.

Alongside the selections, Brooke Lynn Watts was selected as SWAC Preseason Player of the Year and Brooke Hudson was named Preseason Lucero of the Year.

The team finished the season 18–14 (12-4 SWAC).

The team traveled to the SWAC tournament hosted by Prairie View listed as the No. 3 seed and advanced back to the SWAC Championship to face Jackson State, in a rematch from the 2021 SWAC Championship.

The 2023 Rattler football team notched a 10-1 (8-0 SWAC) regular season, earning a spot in the SWAC Championship game on Dec. 2. The Rattlers handily defeated Prairie View A&M 35-14, earning the program’s first SWAC championship.

Beyond the new jewelry for their fingers, the football roster was stacked with conference accolades coming into the season. The team had six All-SWAC Preseason First Team selections and two All-SWAC Preseason Second Team selections, with quarterback Jeremy Moussa selected as SWAC Preseason Offensive Player of the Year. The team was also voted favorites to win the SWAC Eastern Division.

At the culmination of the dominant season, those numbers only went up. The team went from six to seven All-SWAC Postseason First Team selections and from two to five All-SWAC Postseason Second Team selections.

Alongside the selections, the team walked away with three SWAC Postseason Individual Honors with Moussa winning Offensive Player of the Year, Isaiah Major winning Defensive Player of the Year and Willie Simmons winning Coach of the Year.

Coming into the season, the team was decorated with two selections to the All-SWAC Preseason First Team and two to the All-SWAC Preseason Second Team.

The success of this year’s fall sports have set a high bar for winter and spring sports to follow, many of which have either began their seasons or have ramped up the conditioning before it starts.

“Seeing how good all of the fall sports did this year just makes us go harder. I already wanted to win for myself and the team, but now it’s like we have to do it because that’s the standard of athletics,” FAMU triple jumper Michael Crimbley II said. “It’s a lot of pressure, but something I know we can live up to.”

While some of the spring sports teams are looking for a new addition to the jewelry box, both the tennis and baseball teams are coming into the season trying to defend their trophy while adding another to the display case.

Being overly competitive within athletics brings great attention to the school and its athletics program. The success can cause more stress on everyone within athletics, but can also produce everlasting memories.

“Being an athletics intern while in the heat of success for all fall sports has been such an exhilarating experience because you get to be immersed in all the school spirit as well as be introduced to new, exciting opportunities,” Zoe Jones, an athletics intern, said. “It’s truly been an unforgettable semester.”