Coaches and players from Jackson State, Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State all talked about the importance of camaraderie and coming together as a team.
MVSU is trying to find some chemistry after hiring a new head coach. Alcorn believes it has achieved cohesiveness after two rocky years under head coach Earnest Collins Jr. And Jackson State is confident that it has developed a championship concoction.
"I think this team has already meshed," said JSU head coach Rick Comegy, whose team went 3-7 last season after making it to the SWAC championship game in 2008 and winning the league title in '07.
"I see how this team works together every day. How they police themselves, the friendship mode. There's no bickering going on. It only comes around so often that you have a team of that caliber."
The Tigers have some holes to fill, with the loss of five starters on each side of the ball. But the rest of the league must believe the talent is there for JSU to rebound. In the SWAC preseason poll, Jackson State was picked to finish second in the Eastern Division behind defending division champion Alabama Aamp&M, and the Tigers received five first-place votes.
JSU wasn't that far from having a much better season last year, since six of the Tigers' losses were by 10 points or less
"We're concentrating on doing the little things that can get you over the top, the things that kept us from winning games last year," said senior defensive end Sam Washington. "We're looking for that chemistry, that vibe."
Comegy said he has noticed a change in the team following the disappointment of 2009.
"What happened last season has really flipped a switch in their minds and changed their attitude," Comegy said. "With the leadership we have on both sides of the ball, I couldn't ask for more."
Collins feels much the same way about his Alcorn State team. When he took over as the Braves head coach in 2008, he brought quite a few freshmen in with him. Now, after going 5-16 the past two seasons, those players are juniors, and Collins said the team is ready to have a breakthrough campaign.
"You always want to have a veteran group. If you have to play a lot of freshmen, like we did two years ago, you're probably not going to win many games," Collins said. "But if you weather that storm and get into their third year, then you should have a pretty good team.
"That's where we are now. We have veteran leadership on our team, and we're going to be a lot better because of that. Once the coaches don't have to police the team and the players can do it themselves, that's when you get better."
Those are the growing pains MVSU currently is going through. Head coach Karl Morgan was not hired until mid-January, and he has been scrambling to create cohesiveness and chemistry among the Delta Devils, who went 3-8 last season and received the fewest votes in this year's preseason poll.
"We're definitely a work in progress," Morgan said. "When I first got here, I didn't think the guys really knew each other. There was a lot of competition between the offense and the defense. We have to get past that and realize that Valley is not on our schedule. We have to get along better. In order to win, you have to win together. Hopefully we're making strides in that area."