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COOL UNDER FIRE Jay Walker is using his considerable skills as an outstanding former black college and NFL quarterback in the broadcast booth for ESPN‘s black college football telecasts


by Lut Williams

If anybody can break down a football game, it should be a quarterback and that is exactly what Jay Walker was.

Walker put Howard football on the map during a two-year stint as the Bisons‘ signal caller in the 1992 and 1993 seasons. With Steve Wilson as head coach and the 6-4 Walker at the controls, Howard went 7-4 in his junior year (‘92) before Walker led the Bison to the Mid Eastern Athletic Conference title and an undefeated 11-0 regular season mark in ‘93. The 11 wins are still a school record and the Bison have not won an MEAC title since.

What he lacked in arm strength or pure athleticism, Walker, a 1994 graduate in political science from Howard, made up for with intelligence and guile. Quick decisions and pinpoint passing were his forte.Jay Walker at Howard

Legendary were his two battles with Alcorn State quarterback Steve McNair in a ‘92 game at Howard and the ‘93 Gateway Classic in St. Louis. He was 2-0 vs. the late Alcorn, SWAC and NFL great.

Perhaps most memorable during his remarkable final season was a 41-35 win over North Carolina A&T at the Aggies‘ homecoming game in October, where Walker, before a national TV audience, put on one of the more awesome displays of quarterback play.

Both teams came into that game with unblemished 6-0 marks, and ranked among the top teams  in black college football in a rivalry that has seen nothing like it before or since. And the game lived up to the hype.

Walker threw for 325 yards and three touchdowns in that game, part of a record-breaking season (3,508 passing yards) that still stands in the Bison record book. The game was memorable but the play Walker made that ended it was moreso.

After A&T missed a field goal in the first possession of overtime of the nip-and-tuck battle, Walker walked under center when the Bison got the ball, taking the snap seemingly before his offensive counterparts or the Aggie defense was ready.

He ran behind and to the right of center Kenneth Reese, sprinted to the left finishing just inside the left pylon for the game-winning TD.

1993 NC A&T Homecoming vs. Howard

Scroll to the 17:35 mark at this link on YouTube - - to see the play and the wild celebration that ensued or highlights of the entire game. This is the A&T Homecoming where a skydiver brought in the game ball (2:17) and the A&T drum major came in at halftime by helicoptor. Watch that and the A&T band‘s halftime performance on You Tube at -

Untouched! There have hardly been many plays like it since.

Walker says today and has said for years that the play was not called in the huddle. As he walked up to the line, he read the defense and told the center to snap the ball.

The overflow Aggie homecoming crowd, the A&T players and even his Howard teammates were stunned. So was I, wearing headphones and woking as the Red Hat (sideline timeout coordinator) for BET stationed on the 20-yard line as Walker ran by.

It was a stunning finish to a heart-stopping game and one of the greatest ever on BET with black college legends Charlie Neal and Lem Barney on the call.

That season ended with the Bison battling defending I-AA champion Marshall before succumbing 28-14 in a first round I-AA playoff game. Based on his play over those last two seasons, Walker, a two-time all-MEAC selection and the ‘93 MEAC offensive player of the year, was drafted in the seventh round by the NFL‘s New England Patriots. He spent two years playing behind Drew Bledsoe with the Patriots before spending another two years as a back-up at Minnesota.

The ability to dissect offenses and defenses and literally call plays on the fly is what Walker now brings to the broadcast booth as ESPN‘s go-to color analyst for the network‘s black college football games.

“Jay said long ago that he wanted to be the ‘John Madden‘ of black college football and that‘s exactly what he‘s become,“ said longtime Howard Sports Information Director, Ed Hill, Jr.Jay Walker at ESPN

Hill, at Howard since 1983, was in his first decade as SID when Walker came through. He has watched as Walker‘s dream has materialized.

Though he doesn‘t puctuate his commentary with the sounds (Boom!, Whap!, Bang! or Doink!) or the flamboyance of Madden, Walker calmly and literally matches Madden‘s ability to analyze plays that have been made or are coming, and in giving glimpses into the minds of the coordinators and head coaches who call and have to defend them or the players who execute them. And, like Madden, his use of the telestrator is particularly instructive.

“His delivery, his analysis, his confidence are all top notch,“ said Hill.

And that ability was on display again Thursday night in perhaps the biggest game thus far in the black college football season. Alabama State and Alcorn State, both ranked in the Top Ten in every black college ranking and favorites for top SWAC honors this year, hooked up for a SWAC East Division battle in Lorman, Mississippi. Walker has perhaps not been better.

He walked the audience through nearly every play, analyzing players and coaches, tendencies, and as he usually does, mixed in a little black college history. It was a virtuoso performance.

And as an added feature, Walker left Lorman headed to Atlanta for Saturday‘s 3:30 p.m. Atlanta Football Classic between MEAC rivals and contenders North Carolina A&T and South Carolina State.. If you can‘t make the Georgia Dome contest, catch the game and Walker live on ESPN3 (Watch ESPN online) or on tape delay at 10:30 p.m. on ESPNU.


Well, it appears there‘s a powershift in the Southwestern Athletic Conference from the West to the East Division.

Southern in 2013 and Arkansas-Pine Bluff in 2012 are the last two of a string of six straight league champions from the SWAC‘s West Division. In fact, the five West programs have each won a title in the last five seasons (Prairie View A&M in ‘09, Texas Southern in ‘10 and Grambling State in ‘11) though TSU‘s title was vacated to avoid the NCAA imposing the dreaded ‘Death Penalty‘ on the program.Jay Hopson

“We‘re going to Houston. We‘re going to Houston,“ 6-6 Alcorn State quarterback John Gibbs said Thursday on the ESPNU telecast after his 53-yard TD run put the Braves up 26-7 over Alabama State. His statement was in reference to the December 13 SWAC Championship Game set for Houston‘s NRG (formerly Reliant) Stadium.

The 33-7 dismantling of ‘Bama State, a week after a 56-16 shellacking of defending champ Southern, confirms that football is indeed back at Alcorn State! The Braves are now the odds-on-favorite to run away with this year‘s title.

Only three East Division teams – Alabama State in 2004, Alabama A&M in 2006 and Jackson State in 2007 – have won league titles since the league went to an East/West format in the 1999 season. Alcorn State has never won the East Division championship nor played in SWAC Championship Game.

But that could be changing this year. Third-year head coach Jay Hopson has the Braves playing at a high level on both offense and defense. After a 682-yard, 410-yard rushing yard performance against Southern, Hopson‘s troops put up 608 total yards including 391 on the ground vs. Alabama State.

That‘s putting it down!

Remember Dave Robbins at Virginia Union of the CIAA (the first white basketball coach in the CIAA who won three NCAA Div. II national championships in an illustrious 30-year career). If Hopson, the first white head football coach in SWAC history, and his team keep this up, believe me, it won‘t be long before SWAC folks will be talking about taking this kind of talent to the FCS playoffs.



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