MURRELL COLUMN: A crown jewel in football’s landscape

Published 11:58 pm Thursday, October 8, 2015

Consider me guilty.

I, along with hundreds of sports journalists across the country, value the chance to cover Division I football — any Division I football, no matter how many miles I travel or how many Sundays I used to spend missing the NFL to drive back home. It doesn’t overshadow the Friday night lights locally and nor should it, but Division I football made my decision to come to Southeast Texas easier.

Five years of covering the Southwestern Athletic Conference gave me a first-hand view of the shape communities take from the support and pageantry of the Football Championship Subdivision. Unless Lamar takes a serious nosedive to finish the season, the big story of the season will be the Cardinals’ continual surge toward prominence.

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Warm feelings aside, there are plenty more stories coming out of Lamar than I have the time of day to write about. The storylines for this week, though, can be packed into two sentences:

Lamar (2-2, 1-1 Southland Conference), which almost defeated its third straight ranked FCS team and fourth straight Southland opponent overall, plays at home at 7 p.m. Saturday (please note — 7 p.m.) for the first time in 35 days when it hosts conference upstart Abilene Christian (2-2, 2-1) in an game. The Cardinals are looking to start a winning streak that could secure their long-awaited spot in the NCAA Division I playoffs, coming out of the crown jewel that is the Southland.

If you’ve often driven down South Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway past an empty football stadium between 1990 and 2009, the preceding paragraph might be a refreshing read. What may also be refreshing to you is that Lamar is back home after their toughest road stretch to date.

“We haven’t played a conference game at home yet,” Lamar coach Ray Woodard reminded the press Monday. “This is a big game. This is a TV game. It’s a game that when people turn on the TV, they need to see a big crowd and a large crowd and hard-playing football team. That’s what we want to be and that’s what we want to see Saturday.”

Actually, if you turn on the TV for this game Saturday night, be sure it’s Internet-ready. is webcasting the game.

If you go to the game, you should know that Echo Maintenance has bought 5,000 tickets for members of the U.S. military and their families as part of the Honoring Our Veterans game promotion. The tickets may be picked up at lot A-1 of Provost Umphrey Stadium beginning at 3 p.m. Saturday.

The promotion includes free food for military members and families in the tailgating area, a Color Guard presentation, skydivers, a halftime fireworks show and music from Jamie Talbert & The Band of Demons (starting at 3:45 p.m.) and Kimberly Dunn (at 4:50). Wounded veterans will receive free parking at lot C-1 (Recreation Center) and have a shuttle provided for them. Shuttle service will begin at noon.

All fans will receive a free rally wear head band while supplies last.

But promotion or no promotion, the Cardinals’ resurgence is worth the price of admission. The stories surrounding it, not enough of which I can write in one week, are why. You’ll just have to see the stories unfold for yourself.

I.C. Murrell can be reached at On Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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