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Alabama A&M football earns national championship among HBCUs

The spring 2021 football season was a series of working and waiting for the Alabama A&M Bulldogs. Time and again, the squad got ready for a scheduled game only to have that game postponed or canceled because of COVID-19.

But with the season ending May 1 with a Southwestern Athletic Conference championship and then Monday’s announcement that A&M is the champion among historically Black colleges and universities, coach Connell Maynor said the frustration was definitely worth it.

“We just try to control what we can control, keep our guys safe as possible and just keep fighting and working and being prepared,” the third-year Bulldogs coach said. “We didn’t have a lot of game action and game speed, so we just had to try to do some extra running and stay prepared and fight.

“Now that the season is over with, of course it’s worth it,” he continued. “That’s why we practice, why we watch tape and lift weights and do what we do, to have an opportunity to win a championship. Yes, it’s well worth it.”

For the third time in his athletic career and second time as a head coach, Maynor can answer to the title of national champion. He becomes one of the few coaches to lead at least two teams to an HBCU national championship, having led Winston-Salem State to the crown in 2011 and 2012.

Maynor also won the national championship as a player in 1990 with North Carolina A&T. The coach was hesitant to rank one national championship over another, saying each has its place.

“All of them are different,” he said. “This was a different program, a different level, FCS. This is right up there, even though it was a shortened season.

“We still had to play the games and everybody had to deal with the same issues,” Maynor said. “We had no advantage and no disadvantage on anybody because we all played under the same circumstance. A championship is a championship and this ranks right up there with them all. They all are special.”

A&M finished No. 1 in the final Spring 2021 Boxtorow FCS HBCU Football Coaches Poll and the final Spring 2021 Boxtorow FCS HBCU Football Media Top 10 Poll.

The Bulldogs opened the spring season hoping to win the SWAC East Division and the resulting berth in the Spring 2021 Cricket Wireless Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) Football Championship. The path to an HBCU national title was to have then gone through the Celebration Bowl, where the SWAC champion would face the winner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC).

“We already knew if we won the SWAC then we would have a chance to play for a Black college national championship in the Celebration Bowl,” the coach said. “Since they didn’t have a Celebration Bowl and we were already ranked No. 1 in the Black college polls, and we won again (Saturday), of course that made us Black college national champs.

“At one time,” Maynor said, “it just became the normal that we weren’t playing, so we just tried to work on the fundamentals and stay ready.”

In the coaches’ poll, the Bulldogs (5-0) were first with 150 points with all 15 first-place votes, followed by the 130 of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, which A&M downed 40-33 in the SWAC title game Saturday in Jackson, Mississippi. The SWAC rivals were 1-2 in the media poll, with the national champions again grabbing 150 points and 15 first-place votes and the runner-up 134.

Alabama State of Montgomery was No. 6 in both polls.

Maynor wants to make national championships an every year bid.

“We want to be able to sustain it,” he said. “We don’t want this to be the first and the last. We want to make this thing to be annual.”

“The national championship is an historic accomplishment and we are very proud of our coaches, student-athletes and staff,” said Director of Athletics Bryan Hicks. “This year they have faced not just challenges on the field but the challenge of competing during a pandemic that has changed how we do things. It is a credit to them to have accomplished this in that environment.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

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