Alabama honors university’s first Black football players

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — John Mitchell and Wilbur Jackson already had their place in Alabama football history. Now, the Crimson Tide’s first Black players also share a prominent spot outside Bryant-Denny stadium.

The university unveiled a plaque honoring Jackson and Mitchell Saturday in a ceremony before the current team’s end-of-spring A-Day game, more than 50 years after they broke the color barrier.

“It was a moment I will never forget,” said Mitchell, who had become emotional when he spoke at the ceremony. “It was very touching. You grow up a little Black kid from south Alabama and these are things you never dream of. ”

The two 70-year-olds were also honored at halftime.

The introverted Jackson became the Tide’s first Black scholarship football player when he signed on Dec. 13, 1969. In 1971, defensive end Mitchell, a transfer from Eastern Arizona Junior College, became the first to play in a game.

The longtime Pittsburgh Steelers assistant and current assistant head coach wound up starting all 24 games over two seasons and becoming a two-time All-Southeastern Conference performer.

Jackson became a star running back for Alabama, the only school to offer him a scholarship. He was a first-round draft pick in 1974 by the San Francisco 49ers, where he played five seasons before spending three more with the then-Washington Redskins.

“If somebody had told me when I was 18 or 19 years old, that 50 years later we would be here today being recognized for integration, I would never have believed it,” Jackson said. “And yet here we are.”

Both are now members of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.

Tide coach Nick Saban showed his team a video of Jackson and Mitchell last year, the 50th anniversary of Mitchell’s first season on the field.

“These guys were people who did something that nobody else was really willing to do that created so many opportunities and changed lives of so many people and changed the mind-set of a lot of other people and was a big step in desegregating the South,” Saban said. “And I think Coach Bryant should be commended for what he did to make that happen.”

Jackson and Mitchell each said Bryant told them if they ever had a problem to come see him first.

Both said they never had to make a trip to Bryant’s office for that reason.

“A lot of people don’t understand the situation back then,” Mitchell said in a phone interview with AP earlier in the week. “Coach Bryant handled the situation as well as any coach could handle it. And I’ve said this before, if it had been anybody but Coach Bryant, the situation probably could have been different.

“He didn’t treat me any different, or Wilbur, than any other players on the team.”

Mitchell got his coaching start as Bryant’s defensive line coach from 1973-76 shortly after wrapping up his playing career. He still uses lessons learned under Bryant and his Alabama staff and saved the notes from those staff meetings.

Back then, he roomed with white teammate Bobby Stanford, who remains a close friend and served in his wedding. Stanford made the trip to Tuscaloosa for the ceremony from Albany, Georgia.

Earlier in the week, he recounted how Mitchell came to Bryant’s attention in the first place. USC coach John McKay had mentioned to Bryant that the Mobile native was planning to come play for him. Bryant excused himself and called back to Tuscaloosa, ordering an assistant to track Mitchell down.

“Worst mistake John McKay ever made was telling Coach Bryant about him,” Stanford said in a phone interview.

“Coach Bryant had been trying to sign Black ballplayers for years, and the power structure in the state of Alabama wouldn’t have it,” Stanford said. “Even as strong as coach Bryant was, it wasn’t easy. He tried.”

And ultimately, he succeeded. So did Mitchell and Jackson.

Clemson gives raises, contract extensions to staff

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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson’s board of trustees approved raises for special teams coordinator and cornerbacks coach Mike Reed and defensive tackles coach Nick Eason.

Reed and Eason also received one-year extensions keeping them tied to the Tigers through Jan. 31, 2026.

Reed, who’s been with the Tigers since 2013, had his yearly salary increased $50,000 to $800,000. Eason, the former Clemson standout defensive lineman, joined the staff this past season. He also had his compensation upped by $50,000 to $800,000.

Seven other assistants were given one-year extensions by the trustees’ compensation committee, but without a raise in salary.

Co-defensive coordinators Wes Goodwin and Mickey Conn had their contracts extended through Jan. 31, 2026.

Defensive ends coach Lemanski Hall, tight ends coach Kyle Richardson, offensive line coach Thomas Austin, running backs coach C.J. Spiller and wide receivers coach Tyler Grisham all got one-year extensions through Jan. 31, 2025.

New offensive coordinator Garrett Riley last month received a three-year contract at $1.75 million per season.

Clemson will pay its 10 on-field assistants $7.475 million this season, an increase of $925,000 from the total for 2022.

The Tigers went 11-3 last season, winning the Atlantic Coast Conference title for the seventh time in the past eight seasons.

South Carolina’s Beamer suspends three freshmen from program

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina coach Shane Beamer said freshmen Monteque Rhames II, Anthony Rose and Cameron Upshaw were suspended from the football program.

There was no reason given for the suspensions in the school’s statement Friday. Online records showed Rhames, 18, was booked last night and was being held at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center on charges of carrying weapons on school property and obstructing justice.

“Our student-athletes know what is expected of them,” Beamer said. “They know that both the university and the football program will hold them accountable for their actions and decisions.”

None of the three have played for the Gamecocks.

Rose is a 6-foot-1, 190-pound defensive back from Miami who enrolled in January 2022 and redshirted this season. Rhames and Upshaw were part of South Carolina’s latest recruiting class and enrolled last month.

Rhames is a 6-5, 235-pound defensive lineman from Sumter and Upshaw is a 6-2, 193-pound safety from Perry, Florida.