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Orange Blossom Classic ‘is bigger than FAMU’ as focus shifts to new HBCU football blood

As Trei Oliver and Eddie Robinson Jr. cordially discussed each team’s plans for the latest installment of the Orange Blossom Classic, the event’s organizers wanted to be clear that North Carolina Central and Alabama State were valued additions to the game.

“Respectfully, I would like to see Florida A&M in the Orange Blossom Classic, but the truth is, the Orange Blossom Classic is bigger than FAMU,” OBC Chairman Oliver Gilbert III said during Tuesday’s introductory press conference. “These are wonderful institutions with great alumni. These schools are going to do a great job. We’re going to have a great game and a great time.”

Florida A&M withdrew from the Orange Blossom Classic officially last summer after beating Jackson State 28-10 in 2023.

The Rattlers and Tigers opposed each other in each of the previous three Orange Blossom games since its 2021 revival after a 43-year absence.

“What I do know about these two teams is because it is a new game, this is now an opportunity for this fanbase to get excited and come to Miami for something new and different that they haven’t experienced before,” OBC committee executive director Kendra Bulluck-Major added. “Also, this marks the first week for both institutions, so this is an opportunity for two top teams in each of their conferences to showcase what they can do from the very moment that football starts.”

As for the game itself, both coaches discussed the current state of their rosters, most notably the quarterback position. Alabama State benefitted from the transfer portal when Texas Southern quarterback Andrew Body made the move to Montgomery. At the same time, NC Central has a homegrown replacement for Davius Richard, Walker Harris, who has seen plenty of game experience for the Eagles.

Trei Oliver, North Carolina Central head football coach
North Carolina Central football coach Trey Oliver during the Eagles’ game against Alcorn State at the 2021 MEAC/SWAC Challenge. Photo: Mandela Jones/HBCU Sports

“Walker has had a chance to play a lot of fourth quarters for us when we got up some teams,” Oliver said. “When he started against Mississippi Valley State last year, he threw five touchdowns. I think he’ll be fine once he settles in and realizes he doesn’t have to do too much.”

“We all know the importance of the quarterback position and Andrew has some familiarity within the conference, so we know what he can do,” Robinson said. “We know Andrew can make plays on the field but he’s a great person off the field, so we’re just trying to bring in high character individuals who can compete and win football games.”

Oliver and Robinson both highly praised the Orange Blossom Classic, which will take place Sunday, Sept. 1, at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.

“When you recruit kids, they talk about how they want to play at the highest level. To me, this is high-level, big-time football. I don’t see many PWIs and Group of 5s playing in this type of game,” he said. “I had the opportunity to coach in the Celebration Bowl, then had a chance to coach in the playoffs. The opportunity and experience? Wasn’t even close. For us to play on this stage at an NFL venue is great for us to show people our brand.”

Magic City Classic
Photo: Alabama State Athletics

“We were driving down to play Florida A&M last year, and I was reading the biography of the legendary Jake Gaither, and in that book, there was a lot about the OBC and the contributions made by FAMU and the teams they would play against,” Robinson said. “I thought, ‘Man, it would be great to play in that game someday.’ [ASU athletic director] Dr. Jason Cable said, ‘We might be able to play in it,’ and it just all came together. We’re glad to be here.”

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