TSU kicks off football season with John Merritt pep rally

The melodic sounds of Tennessee State University’s Aristocrat of Bands filled the campus as the Tigers kicked off a spirited pep rally in preparation of a new football season.

At the pep rally, students, alumni, faculty and staff blasted roaring screams and applause cheering on the Tigers in support of the big opener – the John A. Merritt Classic.

The Classic will be the first home game held Sunday, Sept. 6, 6 p.m. at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee. The TSU Tigers will face off with rival Alabama State Hornets. Fans will enjoy the big blue experience complete with the game, the band and a salute to TSU great, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, who was drafted by the NFL in 1974 and was one of only three players to ever play 15 seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. Jones’ successful professional football career includes being named an All-Pro, Pro Bowl and Super Bowl XII champion.


Among those motivating the crowd at the pep rally were student leaders and administrators including Mr. TSU Delvakio Brown and Miss TSU Tyra Laster, along with TSU Athletics Director Teresa Lawrence-Phillips and Head Coach Rod Reed.


“We really appreciate your support and need you there on Sunday night,” Reed said to the crowd. “We want you to show up and show out because that’s what the Tigers plan to do!”

Psychology major Kenneesha Beckwith was excited to share in the festivities on TSU’s campus.

“This is my first TSU pep rally on campus,” said Beckwith, a freshman from Chicago. “The band is great.”

Also joining in the celebration were TSU alumnae Margo Cain (’61) of Nashville and Renee McCleary (’88), who traveled from Chicago. They fondly remembered the excitement that pep rallies had in building the spirit on campus and the energy at TSU during their years as students when the games were held in the William Jasper Hale Stadium, affectionately known as ‘The Hole.’

“There was a lot of student involvement when the games were in ‘The Hole,’” said McCleary. “The pep rallies were always fund and the band would come from across the campus, and everyone would be ready to win.”

The John A. Merritt Classic was first played in 1999 and honors John Ayers Merritt, the legendary TSU football coach who led the Tigers from 1963-1983. During 21 seasons, “Big John” won four undisputed national championships among historically black colleges ranked by the Sheridan Poll, compiled a lifetime record of 172-33-1, and built a powerful program that produced NFL stars like Richard Dent (Chicago Bears), “Jefferson Street” Joe Gilliam (Pittsburgh Steelers), Ed “Too Tall” Jones (Dallas Cowboys), Claude Humphrey (Philadelphia Eagles) and many others. John Merritt Boulevard in Nashville is named in Coach Merritt’s honor.