Tigers host season opener against Alabama A&M in John Merritt Classic
Friday, September 4, 2009

Nashville, Tenn. – Tennessee State University will open the 2009 football season when they host Alabama A&M in the 11th Annual John Merritt Classic (JMC) on Saturday, September 5th, at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn. Kick-off is scheduled for 6 p.m (CDT). TSU is 5-4 is season opener's dating back to the 2000 season.

The John Merritt Classic honors John A. Merritt, the legendary TSU football coach who led the Tigers from 1963 - 1983 and is one of only two football Classics solely hosted by a single NCAA FCS institution. The Tigers post a 6-4 record in the JMC since the first game played in 1999.

The John Merritt Classic's live simultaneous broadcast will be featured on the Big Blue Sports Network (WVOL, WMRB, WOJG), OVCSports.TV, Sirius 113, XM Radio 243 and the Heritage Sports Radio Network (HSRN).

TSU was picked fourth in the 2009 Ohio Valley Conference Preseason Poll after finishing the 2008 campaign 8-4 overall, 5-3 in conference play. The Tigers are also currently ranked 8th in the Sheridan Broadcasting Network Black College Football Poll.

The Big Blue opened last season against Alabama A&M with 34-13 win at Louis Crews Stadium in Huntsville, Ala. The Tigers hold the series advantage at 18-9 and will play the Bulldogs for the teams' fifth meeting in the JMC with the Classic record knotted at 2-2. The Bulldogs picked up wins in the last two meetings in Nashville in the Classic.   

The Tigers return 11 starters from last year with eight on defense. Juniors, Eugene Clifford (DB), Marcus Broxie (DE) and sophomore Rico Council (LB) lead a defensive squad that finished No. 1 in the OVC in total defense.

In 2008, Clifford started all 12 games after transferring from Ohio State, finishing second on the team in tackles (61) with three interceptions and one touchdown. He was selected to the 2008 OVC Second and Newcomer Teams and was named to 2009 All-OVC Preseason squad.

Broxie, a transfer from West Virginia, led the Tigers in sacks (6) starting nine games with Council leading the team with 67 tackles in 11 starts.

Seniors Anthony Levine (DB), Kellen Woodard (DT) and juniors Sidney Tarver (LB) and Marquez Hall (DB) will also help anchor an experienced defensive unit. In 2008, Levine started eight games and tallied three interceptions with Woodard making nine starts finishing second on the team in sacks (5) for a consecutive season. Tarver made four starts late in the season and registered 29 tackles (20 solo). Hall collected one interception and 38 tackles on 11 starts.

AAMU returns 17 starters (9 offensive, 8 defensive) from a squad that finished 2008, 5-7 overall and 4-3 in the SWAC. The Bulldogs were picked second in the East Division in the 2009 SWAC Preseason Poll with five players selected to the conference's preseason squad.

In SWAC preseason, wide receiver Thomas Harris, placekicker Jeremy Licea, offensive lineman Xavier Manuel, and defensive end Jeremy Maddox picked up first-team honors with running back Ulysses Banks earning a second-team selection. In 2008, Licea and Manual gained All-SWAC first team selections with Harris and Maddox named to the second team.

Harris leads the AAMU offense finishing 2008 with 72 receptions for 1, 208 yards (16.8 ayg.) averaging 100.7 yards per game scoring seven touchdowns. Maddox highlighted the defense last year leading the Bulldogs with 10 sacks while collecting 34 tackles, including a team best 14 tackles for losses.

Next up, the Tigers will face Jackson State in the 20th Southern Heritage Classic in Memphis, Tenn. on Saturday, September 12th. Tickets are available on tsutigers.com and southernheritageclassic.com.