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ECSU's Jones ready for first Classic

Anthony Jones

Elizabeth City State football coach Anthony Jones speaks during Thursday's press conference at Rocky Mount's city hall to announce the 21st annual Down East Viking Football Classic.

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By SAMUEL EVERS
Sports Writer

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Though he had heard of the annual event through the HBCU pipeline, Anthony Jones wasn’t all that aware of its prominence before being named Elizabeth City State’s new football coach this past spring.

On Thursday, after a press conference held at Rocky Mount’s city hall to announce the 21st Down East Viking Football Classic — an event held more than a month before the actual game — its impact on the city was more overt to him.

“You never really get the full crux of it until you’re actually involved in it,” said Jones, an ex-NFL player with the Washington Redskins who was wearing his 1987-88 Super Bowl ring on Thursday.

“The fact that we’re here three weeks before the season starts — not before the game, but before the season starts — and there’s already excitement being built, that gives you an idea of how important an event like this is.”

Indeed, the DEVFC, hosted and organized each year by ECSU at the Rocky Mount Sports Complex, has become a week-long cultural institution, an economic driver, and a sold out show on the Saturday of the game. It started in 1996, and has since earned its billing as a “Classic.”

Last year, about 10,000 people tailgated, then packed into the Sports Complex’s football stadium to watch the Vikings edge Fayetteville State, 45-42.

This year, the game will be on Sept. 15 at 4 p.m. It matches the Vikings up against Winston-Salem State University.

It will be the third game of the season for both teams, and the first CIAA game for the new ECSU coach.

Jones joins the Vikings after a long career in football, which began as a player for Wichita State in the early 1980s. He was drafted by Washington in 1984, and lasted four years in the pros before retiring in 1988. He was head coach at Alabama A&M from 2002-13, then stepped away from the game in 2015, when his two years as an assistant with Arkansas-Pine Bluff were up.

The plan was to retire from football. The itch to come back started about two months in.

“The best word I can use, is I started missing a purpose. When I was coaching, I always felt like I had a purpose. That purpose was to teach and guide young men,” said Jones after speaking on a panel that included WSSU-ECSU brass and Rocky Mount mayor David Combs.

“When I got away from that, it was good for a little break, but when this is in your heart, when you love to do what you can to help young men develop, it’s hard to get away from. It’s in the heart.”

Another year for Kienus Boulware

Kienus Boulware, entering his fifth season as Winston-Salem State’s head coach, last was a part of the DEVFC when the Rams came to Rocky Mount to play the Vikings in 2015.

He mentioned fond memories of the game, the BBQ and the event’s big picture, and, during his time to speak at the podium on Thursday, made sure to acknowledge his newest coaching contemporary.

“I’ve tracked him for quite a while,” said Boulware of Jones. “Even dating back to his days in the Super Bowl.”

Boulware, whose team last year finished 6-4 and snapped a streak of six straight conference titles, also spoke to the importance of shining a light on WSSU’s football program in this area.

“The eastern part of North Carolina is a very good hotbed of recruitment for us,” he said. “We have a chance to showcase our talents, our hard work and our efforts.”

As for the press conference, held five weeks before the game?

“It almost has the feel that the game is a couple of days of away,” he said, laughing.

Local ties

According to the two team’s rosters, only one player from the Twin Counties will be available to play on Sept. 15. WSSU’s Antwion Pittman, a Tarboro native who attended North Edgecombe, is a redshirt freshman for the Rams.

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