Alcorn State trying to rebuild under Hopson

By David Brandt/The Associated Press

LORMAN— After an offseason of uncertainty, Alcorn State is ready to turn the focus to the football field.

The Braves hired veteran Jay Hopson to lead the program in May. Hopson has made headlines for being the first white football coach in Southwestern Athletic Conference history, but he’s more concerned with bringing some stability to a program that’s had five head coaches in the past six seasons.

“We’ve got the ingredients to win here,” Hopson said. “But we’ve got to establish our expectations of players, coaches and staff and then really follow through. Once we do that, I think you’ll see some good things happen at Alcorn State.”

Alcorn State finished with a 2-8 record last season, including just a 1-8 mark in the SWAC. The Braves do return some talent, including receiver Terrance Lewis, who led the team with 28 catches for 489 yards and five touchdowns. He was also the biggest special teams threat, scoring one touchdown on a punt return and two touchdowns on kickoff returns.

The Braves hope to get improved quarterback play this season. Junior Darius Smith returns after completing just 38.1 percent of his passes last season for 1,044 yards, nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

Lewis and Smith were among a core group of veterans who worked to keep the Braves together during a rocky offseason, when the team didn’t have a head coach for several weeks.

“We’ve really stayed motivated,” Lewis said. “We can’t control what happens with the coaching changes. We think this program is headed in the right direction and we like coach Hopson, so we’re just looking forward to winning some games.”

The Alcorn State defense is led by linebacker Robert Gainwell, who made 44 tackles last season, including eight for a loss. Defensive back Casey Freeman also returns after leading the Braves with three interceptions last season.

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Follow David Brandt on Twitter: (at)davidbrandtAP