Florida A&M soccer is primed for a Celebration Bowl run in 2023

2023 marks the third yr of Florida A&M soccer enjoying within the SWAC, and the expectations for the Rattlers are their largest but. After back-to-back nine-win seasons that included one FCS playoff berth, Florida A&M was voted the favourite within the all the time aggressive SWAC East division and opened the season ranked No. 25 within the FCS Coaches Ballot — the lone SWAC consultant. The entire hype has the Rattlers prepared for a run to what may very well be its first Celebration Bowl look in class historical past. 

Escaping previous failures

Florida A&M enters 2023 after going 9-2 in every of the final two common seasons, with only one FCS loss every year. But, there is no Celebration Bowl, SWAC title or SWAC East title to point out for the common season success. That is as a result of, in Week 1 of 2021 and 2022, the Rattlers fell to Jackson State within the Orange Blossom Traditional.

The Orange Blossom Traditional kicks off Florida A&M’s season once more in 2023, however this time it faces a Jackson State crew with out head coach Deion Sanders on the helm. Whereas Coach Prime’s departure could also be a part of the explanation hype has shifted throughout the SWAC East to the Rattlers this season, Florida A&M head coach Willie Simmons is aware of to not take the Tigers — who could have simply despatched a press release within the MEAC/SWAC Problem — evenly.

“Caring for enterprise in [the Orange Blossom Classic] is paramount,” Simmons stated. The season does not finish there… however once more, each sport on this convention issues. That is been proven during the last three years; one sport will knock you out of it.”

Simmons is aware of his crew wants to begin quick to have a shot at reaching its lofty targets for the yr. The 2023 Florida A&M soccer crew should put previous early season slips behind it, because it chases an opportunity in school historical past.

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It begins underneath middle

The largest distinction between the 2023 Rattlers and previous SWAC Rattlers groups is the quarterback place. For the primary time since coming into the SWAC, Florida A&M enters the season with a longtime starter at quarterback, Jeremy Moussa. Moussa’s not solely a returning starter, however he additionally enters the yr because the preseason SWAC Offensive Participant of the 12 months.

Moussa is now not the thriller switch quarterback trying to show himself after not taking vital snaps since a 2019 stint in junior school at San Bernardino Valley. He enters the season with expectations. Moussa is aware of that taking the subsequent step is crucial to Florida A&M’s title hopes.

“I feel I’ve all of the instruments to be an ideal quarterback,” Moussa stated. “I had a superb yr final yr and I do know that there are issues that I can work on, however for me, it actually comes down to a few performs a sport and consistency… What units you aside — on the collegiate stage and even the subsequent stage — is ‘how constantly can he try this?’ Finally that is what you are judged on.”

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As Moussa goals to grow to be extra constant as a passer, he’ll profit from the assist and tutelage of Coach Simmons, a former quarterback himself. Simmons is aware of he has a particular expertise that may deal with the load of being underneath middle for the Rattlers.

“Everybody is aware of the arm expertise. He could make each throw. However I feel the factor that makes Jeremy particular is simply his strategy to the sport,” Simmons stated. “, he understands the magnitude of being a quarterback at a spot like FAMU. He embraces the criticism. He embraces the fanfare, and he is only a man that is aware of tips on how to keep even keel you realize.”

Moussa should keep measured after his prime goal Xavier Smith turned the most recent Rattler to make an NFL preseason camp after making 87 catches for 1,021 yards and 11 touchdowns. Smith’s departure creates a void that may be difficult for any quarterback, particularly one with the expectations of Moussa. 

“Nobody’s going to interchange Xavier Smith. He is his personal man, however we’ve got many, many others which can be succesful,” Moussa stated. “We have now a very proficient receiver room, and I am trying ahead to working with all of them. The season’s gonna be nice as a result of we’ve got so many choices that we are able to distribute the ball to.” 

Huge receivers like Jah’Marae Sheread are anticipated to take a much bigger position, and there are a number of incoming transfers like former rival Marcus Riley from Bethune-Cookman. Moussa’s cabinet will not be naked, so he’ll must acclimate rapidly to his new weapons to maintain Florida A&M’s hopes of a Celebration Bowl alive.

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The Darkish Cloud Protection

On the opposite aspect of the soccer, Florida A&M’s protection is named the “Darkish Cloud Protection.” It is a unit constantly ranked among the many greatest within the FCS in a number of classes during the last two years. Nevertheless, that was with Buck Buchanan Award-winning linebacker Isaiah Land, who’s now gone after signing an UDFA contract with the Dallas Cowboys. That is an enormous loss from a protection that carried the load when the offense struggled to seek out its footing lately, however the Rattlers stay probably the most proficient defenses within the SWAC.

Florida A&M has three first-team preseason All-SWAC gamers in linebacker Isaiah Main and defensive backs Javan Morgan and Kendall Bohler, whereas defensive deal with Light Hunt earned second-team honors. That star energy plus high quality gamers down the depth chart has many pondering the Darkish Cloud Protection will not miss a beat.

“I simply really feel like we’re tremendous deep this yr,” stated Morgan. “Everyone’s decided, they usually wish to be nice.”

Florida A&M’s depth will probably be wanted because the Darkish Cloud Protection tries to get to the SWAC Championship and Celebration Bowl.

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Celebration Bowl or bust?

Along with the top coach, the quarterback and the protection, the Celebration Bowl expectations at Florida A&M have additionally come from the schedule. 

One of many elements which will have performed into Florida A&M lacking the FCS playoffs final yr was its play in opposition to a Division II opponent. In 2023, the Rattlers play two Division II opponents, main many to take a position that the FCS playoffs will not be an possibility for Florida A&M if it falters within the SWAC. 

Which means the Celebration Bowl is not simply the last word finish objective for Florida A&M; it is the one finish objective. One would suppose meaning it is Celebration Bowl or bust for the Rattlers, however in Tallahassee, there is a totally different outlook on the upcoming season.

“Our objective right here is to construct a perennial winner and a championship-caliber program. Which means sustained success,” Simmons stated. “I do not wish to say it is Celebration Bowl or bust. I do suppose it is ‘profitable season or bust’ for us as a result of once more, our expectation based mostly on the expertise that we’ve got and the fellows that we’ve got returning that we’re in that dialog for a convention championship.”

In accordance with Coach Simmons, 2023 will not be a failure if Florida A&M does not make the Celebration Bowl, so long as the Rattlers are within the hunt for a SWAC Championship down the stretch. 

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Nonetheless, expectations are nonetheless excessive. With excessive expectations comes strain to reside as much as them. So, how does Florida A&M attain a spot — the Celebration Bowl — that no Rattler crew has ever been earlier than?

“If we give attention to the little issues and make the primary factor the primary factor, I feel we’ll be proper the place we wanna do come December,” stated Simmons. “We are the FAMU Rattlers. I do not suppose you possibly can add any extra strain than it’s to be sporting the Orange and Inexperienced.”

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