Advertisement

Orange Blossom Classic remains a prime matchup at Hard Rock between FAMU, Jackson State

SAM NAVARRO/Special for the Miami Herald

What comes after Prime Time?

At Jackson State, it’s Taylor Time.

After Deion “Prime Time” Sanders — who posted an impressive 23-3 record during the past two years while coaching Jackson State — bolted for the University of Colorado, T.C. Taylor was hired as the Tigers’ new football coach.

“Deion raised the bar, and I know I have big shoes to fill,” said Taylor, a 44-year-old from Mississippi who is a former Jackson State quarterback and wide receiver and also an ex-assistant coach under Sanders. “Deion brought a lot to the game the past two years.

“But I’ve been preparing for this moment for a while. I’m excited for the ‘Post Prime’ era. I’m ready to go.”

Taylor made those comments Tuesday morning as he and Florida A&M coach Willie Simmons gathered at Miami Gardens City Hall in an effort to hype up the 2023 Orange Blossom Classic, set for Sept. 3 at 3 p.m. between the two aforementioned teams at Hard Rock Stadium.

The Orange Blossom Classic has a rich history that reaches back to 1933. The game, which always featured FAMU against another Historically Black College or University (HBCU), was discontinued in 1978.

In 2021, the game was brought back, with Hard Rock Stadium and the City of Miami Gardens serving as hosts. Jackson State beat FAMU, 7-6, in that game.

Last year, Jackson State embarrassed FAMU, 59-3, and the Tigers went on to win their second straight Southwest Athletic Conference title.

“I will say it simply,” Simmons said when asked about that 56-point blowout that was FAMU’s worst loss since a 62-0 defeat to UCF in 2019. “That was last year.”

Simmons has coached FAMU since 2018. Over the past three seasons, yes, he is 0-2 against Jackson State, but he is also 27-5 versus everyone else.

The Rattlers will enter its season-opening date with Jackson State on a nine-game win streak overall.

In order to expand that win streak to 10 games, Simmons said that handling the weather on a September afternoon in South Florida will be crucial.

“The heat could have a profound impact on the game,” Simmons said. “It’s important we start fast and sustain our intensity. A lot will depend on our preparation and hydration.”

Organizers of the Orange Blossom Classic said they gave free tickets to 1, 000 high school students last year, and a similar promotion is planned this September.

Simmons, a 42-year-old native of Tallahassee who played quarterback at Clemson and The Citadel, said he is aware of FAMU’s popularity and overall football legacy.

“I grew up 20 minutes from the FAMU campus,” Simmons said. “I know about Rattlers pride. Our team can’t go through an airport without a Rattler reaching out to us.”