By ADD SEYMOUR JR.
No one said it would be easy.
It’s year four of Rick Comegys' tenure as head football coach at Mississippi Valley State and the Delta Devils so far have won a total of four games, as in a record of 4-29.
But this season alone, Comegys is hoping for more wins than that, he said during the Southwestern Athletic Conference Media Day in July.
“I’m sure that the athletic director wants us to have more wins than we’ve had, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “I’m sure alumni as well. But I’m looking at maybe around .500, something of that nature, to kind of balance that thing out.”
Those five or six wins would be the most that MVSU has won since a 5-6 campaign in 2012. The program has won five or six games only four times since 2000, including back-to-back, six-win seasons in 2005 and 2006. Before that, the last back-to-back (to-back) winning seasons came in 1983, 1984 and 1985. That’s back when the legendary Willie Totten was throwing a lot of touchdown passes, those first two seasons to a guy named Jerry Rice.
These Delta Devils look nothing like those teams. They had the SWAC’s worst offense last season, averaging an anemic 245 yards and 14 points a game. The MVSU roster that appeared in the 2017 SWAC media guide didn’t include last year’s quarterback, Austin Bray, or last year’s leading receiver, Joshua Banks, or rusher in Slade Jarman.
“I believe offensively we’ve got some weapons coming in that can make a difference in what we do,” Comegys said. “But I think our strength will be defense right now because we’re mature. But yet and still, we’ve got some quarterbacks coming in that I think will make a big difference.”
The Delta Devils defense had issues last season also, giving up a SWAC-worst 504 points and 45 points a game. They lost their leading tackler, but return defensive back Mark Pegues who had 63 tackles last season, and preseason All-SWAC defensive back Everett Nicholas, who picked off four passes last season. Farrian Toney also returns to the secondary where he had three interceptions, but will also play wide receiver for the Delta Devils. He caught seven passes for 151 yards against Grambling in 2016.
There’s a lot of work to do in Itta Bena to get to at least five wins this season as Comegys hopes. And the schedule doesn’t help. Besides a high-scoring, but four-win team in Southern Illinois, MVSU faces three post-season FCS teams in their first four games – North Dakota State, Grambling and Charleston Southern.
“But that’s just the way the schedule is,” he said. “The only thing I can say right now is that we’ve got to get our kids prepared to play football and if we can get our kids prepared correctly, we’ll be alright up in there.”
A lot of MVSU’s issues are out of Comegys, or any coach’s, control. A big one -- resources, or lack thereof. A USAToday study found that of the 347 schools participating in NCAA FBS or FCS football, Mississippi Valley State ranks dead last in the amount of money that a school spends on athletics - $4.29 million. North Dakota State meanwhile has a $22 million athletic budget and just opened a new state-of-the-art locker room facility.
But Comegys said he is just focusing on getting his team ready to compete.
“[We’re] not where I want to be right at this moment,” Comegys said. “But I believe by the time we start the season, we’re going to be in a position where we can play with those guys and make a game out of it. If we don’t win, we don’t. But I’m looking to win those football games. I don’t care if its Grambling, North Dakota State. I’m looking to win.”