Jackson State keeps winning and then lurking in the American Football Coaches Association Football Championship Subdivision national rankings.
Even without head coach Deion Sanders.
The Tigers, winners of five games in a row and 7-1 overall, rank 17th in the AFCA Top 25 this week after a 28-19 win against Mississippi Valley State – the second consecutive game JSU had to lean on interim coach Gary Harrell as Sanders has recently been hospitalized due to both illness and lingering effects from his Sept. 22 surgery to repair multiple issues in his left foot.
During Monday's Southwestern Athletic Conference weekly coaches' video conference, Harrell updated Sanders' condition and discussed the Tigers' closing stretch with home games against Texas Southern and rival Alcorn sandwiched around a trip to Southern.
“Coach Prime is still getting better and better, every time I talk to him,” Harrell said Monday. “I talked to him last night; I talked to him this morning, to update some things he wanted to make sure we keep incorporated and pretty much showing how proud he was, how proud he is of the staff and the players and how we're doing.
“He's doing well right now. I just try to leave anything as far as medical things, just try to let him make those comments when he gets back. When I talk to him, he's in great spirits and he's well engaged and he's continuously just helping us get better as we go throughout the weeks.”
Sanders last Saturday tweeted an updated statement on his recovery that said "recovering from my recent surgeries has taken longer than expected."
Sanders, who has tweeted 67,500 times from his official account, has authored just three original Tweets since October 20 -- when sources first told FootballScoop that Sanders had endured some complications in his recovery from the initial surgical procedure that had left Sanders on crutches and reliant upon a mobile scooter to move around the football field.
The Tigers are seeking their first SWAC East Division title since 2008 and their first overall SWAC crown since 2007.
“We want to make sure we understand what we're trying to get done like every program as far as finishing. Late October, November is pretty much championship football,” Harrell said.
“That's what we are at this point, trying to make sure our guys understand what we're trying to work towards. This part here, we know we got three games remaining so we try to take it week by week. We know we got Texas Southern. From our standpoint, Texas Southern, we want to go 1-0. We want to complete this mission. To understand, even though they're on the other side of the bracket (in the SWAC divisional standings), we want to win all these games.
“We're not just concerned about the East. We want to make sure we show a good representation throughout the SWAC as we play the game of football. We know we got Southern coming the following week and we know we got a big game against Alcorn.”
Harrell said the JSU coaches select a different trait each week to emphasize to their players, with this week's mantra self-discipline.
It's set to change again in two weeks with the looming battle against Alcorn, which has won the last six SWAC West Division titles in full seasons and captured three overall SWAC crowns during that span.
“As we get closer to Alcorn, we'll change things up. We'll focus on winning the state of Mississippi,” Harrell said. “We did a good job versus (Mississippi) Valley, but now versus Alcorn, we want to win the state of Mississippi.
Each week we want to make sure as a staff to give our guys something to push for. During the month of November, this is a championship run.”