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FAMU's playoff loss caps a resurgent season for Black college football

Nov. 27 FAMU at Southeastern Louisiana football-14.jpg
Will Brown
Southeastern Louisiana running back Taron Jones escapes the tackle of FAMU safety Markquese Bell en route to a 39 yard touchdown reception during the fourth quarter of a NCAA FCS playoff game at Strawberry Stadium. Jones finished with 85 receiving yards, 55 rushing yards and two total touchdowns in the Lions' 38-14 win. (Photo by Will Brown)

Florida A&M’s football season is over. The Rattlers' surprising run to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs ended Saturday on a cool Louisiana night.

The next time Markquese Bell puts on shoulder pads, he could be playing professionally. Bell is one of the top safeties in Black college football. And while he won’t be on FAMU’s field again next year, he says the Rattler’s will be back.

"The fact that we fought to get here means we’re not done. Even though I probably won’t be here next year, I know we’ll get the job done next year.”

Southeastern Louisiana sent the Rattlers home to Tallahassee with a 38-14 defeat in the first round of the NCAA FCS football playoffs.

"Naturally, we probably don't understand the magnitude of what this season meant. But, when the history books are written, this 2021 football season will be one for the FAMU (record) books," said head coach Willie Simmons.

Simmons has led the Rattler resurgence in his four years at the helm of the program. This marked the Rattlers' first appearance in the FCS playoffs in 20 years. Hundreds of FAMU faithful made the six-hour trek to Hammond, La. to be a part of school history. One of those was Florida A&M President Larry Robinson.

"It tells a lot about how our athletic program is doing, in particular football," said Robinson.

"As we move from the MEAC conference to the SWAC, it talks about the quality of our administration in athletics, our coaches and, of course, most importantly, our student-athletes. If you look out here in this stadium, you see a lot of orange and green. It shows the tremendous amount of support we get from our fans who make all of this possible."

FAMU was the first HBCU in five years to qualify for the FCS playoffs. The berth was a consolation prize of sorts for a program that started 1-2 and realized in October that its hopes of winning the Southwestern Athletic Conference title in its inaugural season in the conference were dashed. That’s because the SWAC and MEAC agreed not to send their champions to the playoffs. Instead, the winners of those predominately Black conferences choose to play in the Celebration Bowl.

"When we talked to them about our goal of making the FCS playoffs they bought into that. We had taken that playoff mindset, really, after Week 5," said Simmons.

The Rattlers are finishing the season 9-3. No other division 1 program in the state won more games this year. The disheartening loss was difficult to digest. But Simmons says it's not the end.

"Again we will learn from this. These guys will go back to work and this ain't the last you'll hear of the Florida A&M Rattlers."

Will Brown has served as a reporter at newspapers in Florida and Texas since 2007. He has earned journalism degrees from Florida A&M University and the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. He is based in Fleming Island.