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.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.