Spears, who won 20 games and a conference championship as GSU’s head coach between 2004-06, is part of a staff preparing today for a Saturday out-of-conference game against ULM. He said driving past the Grambling exit on I-20, as Texas Southern’s team bus travelled down I-20 from Houston, was an emotional experience.
“My heart still flutters when I pass that sign,” Spears told me, as he completed a TSU practice today. “You can’t get rid of someting that started so long ago. I had a chance to do some special things here with a lot of people’s help. You are always going to have a place in your heart for it.”
Spears (shown in an archival TDR photo from 2005, with former Grambling athletics director Willie Jeffries, after the interim tag was lifted) was also offensive coordinator and assistant head coach on a trio of league championship teams in 2000-02 at Grambling under Doug Williams before succeeding him when Williams left for an NFL front-office position.
Meanwhile, two of Spears’ former quarterbacks — Brandon Landers and Larry Kerlegan — will face off in lower-division college football action as Shaw University plays Concordia College on Saturday in Raleigh, N.C.
Both were originally members of Grambling’s 2004 signing-day class.
Landers is now the starter at Shaw, which has opened the season 2-0. He transferred to the two-time defending Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association champions after graduating from Grambling, and has already helped the program to its first victory against an FCS opponent, Bethune-Cookman.
Landers was Grambling’s starter in 2004 then 2006-07 (redshirting when Bruce Eugene returned for the ’05 title-winning season), and earned the league’s freshman of the year award, a Bayou Classic victory and a SWAC West title. He left the program amidst some grade problems, but not before reaching No. 3 on Grambling’s all-time passing list with 7,024 yards and 58 touchdowns.
The athletic Kerlegan, who shared starting duties over the 2006 campaign with Landers, is now a quarterback at Concordia College of Selma, Ala. — which is 1-1 on the year, and nearly knocked off SWAC foe Alabama State, 38-33. Kerlegan played in seven GSU games in ’06, including a memorable start against FBS Houston, and went 47-of-71 passes for 633 yards and seven scores.
“I talked to him the other day, after they almost beat Alabama State on Saturday,” Landers told me. “He let me know he was coming! Me and ‘Kerl’ always competed, we battled, when it came to football — but we were always friends, too. We’ll just try to slow him down when he tries to run around.”
Grambling fans will also remember that Landers and Kerlegan were both reserves on the 2005 Grambling team that beat Concordia College, then a provisional NAIA program, 82-7 under Spears.
Spears will actually make two trips back to the area this season. Texas Southern also faces Grambling in a Thursday night TV game at Robinson Stadium on Nov. 12.
But first, there’s ULM — which has been scheduling SWAC opponents of late. Alcorn State fell 24-6 in the FBS foe’s 2006 opener; Grambling dropped a 28-14 decision (with Landers under center) in 2007, but helped set a new all-time attendence record; then Alabama A&M fell 37-15 last season.
Spears thinks a rising Texas Southern squad, with head coach Johnnie Cole at the helm, can stop that skid.
After all, Spears says, he has an inside track on scheming against the opposing team’s top performers, since he recruited many of them while at Grambling, as well.
“I think they have an outstanding team; they run to the ball,” Spears said. “The angle is, we know a little bit more about them than they think we do. We know the capability of those players.”