COVID issues wipe out Grambling’s next two football games

By T. Scott Boatright

The Grambling State University athletics department on Wednesday night announced the suspension of all football activities effective immediately as a result of positive tests within the program that were identified through COVID-19 screenings.

Grambling’s next two Southwestern Athletic Conference contests at Alabama A&M (that was slated for Saturday and at Texas Southern (that was scheduled for April 3) have been canceled.

GSU’s season finale remains, against Southern in a Bayou Classic that was moved to Shreveport before what was originally to be a six-game spring season began. That game is scheduled for April 17 at Independence Stadium.

A source close to GSU athletics said that positive cases just detected recently combined with contact-tracing protocol left the Tigers without enough players eligible health wise to play either of the two upcoming games that were canceled.

Earlier this week, Grambling coach Broderick Fobbs had acknowledged the program had a small number of positive tests last week, speaking in an exclusive interview with Shreveport’s KTAL-TV, a station that produces the weekly show “G-Men Nation” during the football season.

The concerns arose after Grambling’s second game against Prairie View, since when some COVID-19 issues have surfaced.

“There wasn’t any talk of us shutting down, but there was a concern because we were engaged in a football contest with Prairie View, and (the question of) were some of our players in harm’s way. We tested all of last week and we had maybe a couple of guys who were positive, but nothing (so) significant to shut down the entire program,” Fobbs told KTAL-TV, in a comment aired Wednesday night after the news broke.

Since Fobbs spoke to KTAL, the situation deteriorated, leading to Wednesday night’s announcement.

Calls to GSU football and athletics department officials Wednesday night went unanswered and messages were not returned.

In the midst of that breaking news, GSU senior quarterback Geremy Hickbottom also announced on Twitter Wednesday night that he has entered the NCAA transfer portal and will be not returning to the Tigers. He referenced COVID-19 issues and thanked Fobbs in his statement.

After three recent games were cancelled, without any obvious weather issues, Grambling’s softball team returned to action by splitting a doubleheader against Jackson State on Wednesday in Vicksburg, Mississippi. A pair of games that were scheduled to be played on the JSU softball field last Friday and Saturday were canceled. A March 16 GSU home game against Louisiana Tech was also cancelled with no apparent weather issues involved.

On Wednesday in Vicksburg, Jackson State defeated Grambling 12-4 in the first game before GSU squeaked out a tight 7-6 win in game two.

It appears COVID-19 problems are arising through the Southwestern Athletic Conference right now.

A three-game series the Grambling baseball team had slated to be played this weekend against Prairie View A&M in Frisco, Texas has also been canceled. The Diamond Tigers did pick up a 9-7 road win at Jackson State Wednesday afternoon.

While it’s unclear whether or not some GSU baseball team members could be caught up in contact-tracing protocol involving Grambling football players, Prairie View had already been hit with COVID-19 issues.

Prairie View announced on Tuesday that a baseball doubleheader set to be played at the University of Houston on Wednesday had been canceled due to COVID-19 related issues within the program.

The last football game Prairie View played was a 17-10 win over Grambling on March 13 in Arlington, Texas, and the next game scheduled for the Panthers is set to be played at home on April 3 against Alabama A&M.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s softball team had a doubleheader set to be played at Alcorn last Saturday canceled after the Lady Goldens fell to the Lady Braves 3-2 in the first game of what was set to be a three-game series last Friday.

The UAPB baseball team’s three-game home series slated for last weekend was also postposted, as was a contest the Golden Lions had scheduled to be played at Little Rock on Tuesday.

In what otherwise would have been headline news, Grambling’s veteran quarterback’s sudden exit was overshadowed last night.

Hickbottom’s surprising tweet announcing his departure opened by thanking Fobbs as well as assistant coaches and the university as a whole.

“This was not an easy decision to make because of my love for the G,” Hickbottom continued in his tweet. “Although the season has not been easy for any of us due to COVID, through it all i am blessed to say i have remained healthy and given the chance to continue my football eligibility. As I go into the next chapter of my football career, i feel it is best to go in a different direction. I will be entering the (transfer) portal as a Grad student and taking my talents to another institution. I want to say thank you again for all who have been in my corner, invested, and who have made a difference in my time here. Forever a G-man. #19 out.”

Hickbottom had split time at quarterback in 0-3 Grambling’s first three games with junior Elijah Walker, a transfer from Hinds Community College. Hickbottom, the returning starter, started the first two contests, earning praise in a narrow opening loss to Jackson State but struggling since.

Look for more on the turbulent news within GSU Athletics from the Lincoln Parish Journal.

Photo: by T. Scott Boatright/LPJ