Bittersweet moment for TSU as university prepares to kick off football season with John Merritt Classic

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – A trip down memory lane, a celebration of perseverance, new beginnings and remembering a fallen tiger, all will take place when Tennessee State University football has its season opener this Saturday at Nissan Stadium. The TSU Tigers will take on Mississippi Valley State University for the John Merritt Classic.

As the much-anticipated duel against the Delta Devils kicks-off at 6 pm CST, the smile of a prominent member of Big Blue Nation will be absent from the arena.

Debra K. Johnson

Former Tennessee Department of Correction Administrator Debra K. Johnson, who was killed by a prison escapee earlier this month, will be recognized throughout the game. Johnson’s usual seat at home games will be draped with the university flag in honor of the slain TSU alumna.

TSU President Glenda Glover, who presented Johnson’s family with a proclamation along with a special donation during a recent fundraiser organized by WKRN Channel 2, said Johnson was a great football lover who came to TSU home games and functions.

“We celebrate the life and the legacy of Debra Johnson,” Glover said. “She was just an ideal sweetheart of a person, very professional all the time, downright nice, and we are happy to honor her because she just loved TSU.”

At the conclusion of the first quarter, President Glover will present former TSU Football Player Christion Abercrombie with the HBCU Male Athlete of the Year Award, one of HBCU DIGEST’s top awards. Abercrombie continues to recover from a severe brain injury he suffered on Sept. 29, 2018, during a game against Vanderbilt. The Atlanta native will also be recognized during this year’s homecoming as the Special Presidential Grand Marshal.

Christion Abercrombie

TSU assistant athletics director for Media Relations Zekeya Harrison said the award is well deserved because of how Abercrombie has persevered through an extraordinary situation.

“Just to see his progress now from where he was after his injury last year at the Vanderbilt game is phenomenal. He has inspired not only Tennessee State University, but the entire world,” she said. “The strength of Christion’s entire family is something that I know encourages and inspires many people, and his journey is an inspiration to us all.”

At halftime, the university will unveil its new signage at Nissan Stadium. Glover, 2019–2020 SGA President Katelyn Thompson, Athletics Director Teresa Phillips and TSU National Alumni Association President Joni McReynolds will unveil signs simultaneously on the mid-level at the four corners of the stadium.

Members of Tennessee State’s 1999 Ohio Valley Conference Championship football team.

Also during halftime, members of Tennessee State’s 1999 Ohio Valley Conference Championship football team will be honored. This season marks the 20th anniversary of TSU’s second OVC title. Posting an 11-1 overall record including an undefeated 7-0 mark in OVC games, the 1999 team was guided by back-to-back OVC Coach of the Year L.C. Cole.

For ticket information, (615) 963-5841, or order tickets online at

Department of Media Relations

Tennessee State University
3500 John Merritt Boulevard
Nashville, Tennessee 37209

About Tennessee State University

Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a  premier, historically black university and land-grant institution offering 38 bachelor’s degree programs, 24 master’s degree programs, and seven doctoral degrees.  TSU is a comprehensive research intensive institution with a R-2 Carnegie designation, and has a graduate school on its downtown Avon Williams Campus, along with the Otis Floyd Nursery Research Center in McMinnville, Tennessee.  With a commitment to excellence, Tennessee State University provides students  with a quality education in a nurturing and innovative environment that prepares them as alumni to be global leaders in every facet of society. Visit the University online at