NASHVILLE — With the first win of the season under its belts, the Tennessee State football team is set to host Gardner-Webb in the John Merritt Classic for the Tigers’ home opener at Nissan Stadium on September 16. This game will serve as the Big South-OVC opener for both teams as TSU and GWU carry 1-1 records. This will be the first-ever meeting between the Tigers and the Bulldogs.
THE JOHN MERRITT CLASSIC: It’s the annual game that brings out the barbecue grills, fish fries, and fellowship. It’s a community revival of sorts and a North Nashville family reunion wrapped in one — the John Merritt Classic. Though it brings thousands from across the city and region to Tennessee State University, it all started years ago with one man, John Merritt, the coach who took Tennessee State to its highest level of football in the program’s history. Affectionately known as “Big John,” Merritt dominated and revolutionized the game of football during his coaching career, compiling a record of 172-33-7 at TSU and 232-65-11 overall. His former players and the Big Blue Nation still remember Merritt’s signature cigar smoke after wins.
The Tigers have played in the John Merritt Classic 23 times dating back to the first event in 1999. The Tigers are 16-7 in the event. TSU won the first six John Merritt Classics from 1999-2004. The Tigers took down Alabama A&M three years in a row, followed by wins over Prairie View A&M, South Carolina State, and AAMU. TSU’s first loss in the classic came in 2005 to AAMU, as they would drop three in a row to AAMU from 2005-2007. The Tigers fell in last year’s JMC 28-27 to Lane College in overtime.
WHERE TO WATCH & LISTEN: TSU Football can be heard on WNSR’s flagship network, 560 AM, 95.9 FM (Nashville), 107.9 FM (Smyrna), and WNSR.com. Globally, the broadcast can be heard on Sirius XM. Additionally, WNSR will offer in-depth pregame and postgame analysis, exclusive interviews with coaches and players, and behind-the-scenes content to engage fans on a deeper level. “The Voice of the Tigers” Greg Pogue returns for his 12th season behind the mic and will be joined by former Tennessee Titans wide receiver Chris Sanders. Nashville broadcasting legend Albert Dawson will fill-in for Sanders. The action can also be heard on the TSU Tigers app.
NEW BEGINNINGS: For the first time in 35 seasons, the TSU football team will be playing in a new conference. Saturday’s game marks the first Big South-OVC game for the Tigers after the OVC and Big South joined forces this past offseason to become a joint conference. With the release of the 2023 joint football schedule, it was announced that the partnership between the two conferences would exist through the 2026–27 season.
GROUND AND POUND: The Tigers are one of two teams in the newly formed Big South-OVC that have two players with 100+ rushing yards after two weeks of play. Jalen Rouse (119) ranks 5th in the league, while Deveon Bryant (109) is 9th in the Big South-OVC rankings. Lindenwood is the other team with two 100+ yard rushers.
Source: Nicholas Guerriero/TSUTigers.com