Magic City Classic: Coach switches sides, returns to alma mater Alabama State

Magic City Classic: Coach switches sides, returns to alma mater Alabama State
Travis Pearson played football for Alabama State in college, and he's back on the Hornets side as an assistant coach after two seasons on the coaching staff for arch rival Alabama A&M. (Alabama State University Athletics)

Travis Pearson knows the Magic City Classic from both sides of Legion Field.

The former Alabama State football player was on the sideline of the rival Alabama A&M Bulldogs the past two seasons as an assistant to Coach James Spady.

When Spady was fired and replaced in the offseason, Pearson was also out after new head coach Connell Maynor brought in a new staff. But Pearson wasn’t unemployed long.

The former Bulldogs defensive coordinator landed with his alma mater. Saturday, he will again view the Classic from the Alabama State sideline.

Travis Pearson spent two years coaching at Alabama A&M before returning to his alma mater. (Alabama A&M University Athletics)

“As a player, it was the game on your schedule,” said Pearson, who coaches safeties at ASU. “The pageantry is unmatched. This is one of the granddaddies of HBCUs and I think it will be for a long time. Just to be a part of that is always special. It was special as a player here, and it’s special to go back as a coach.”

Pearson has vivid memories of the 2016 Magic City Classic. That was his first time back at the game, except he returned as a Bulldog assistant coach.

“That was really special to me because the last time I went in that game, I was a player,” Pearson said. “To go back as a coach really was special and to get a chance for my kids … they’ve heard about the Magic City Classic, but to see it, and then their dad being a part of it as a coach, was real special.”

Pearson received his share of friendly ribbing from friends and former teammates the past couple of years. They told him he was on the wrong side.

“But as I tell them, my degree reads Alabama State University Bachelor’s of Science. No matter what side I’m on, I’m still a Hornet. That’s my school.”

Pearson said he had some good years as a student athlete at ASU and that the campus in Montgomery is dear to him.

“At the same time, I’m here to develop young men into good men. Hopefully I can help them be good husbands and good players and good students. That’s my goal. I did the same thing at A&M. I understand that when the horn sounds and the clock hits zero, those kids hopefully will understand what I tried to contribute to their life.”

Travis Pearson, in orange shirt, talks with then-Alabama A&M Head Coach James Spady on the Bulldogs sideline. After two years at A&M, Pearson will be on the opposite side of the field at this year’s Magic City Classic. (Alabama A&M University Athletics)

While Alabama State will always be Pearson’s school, he says he enjoyed his time on the staff in Huntsville. He met wonderful people and co-workers in a great atmosphere.

“Homecoming was awesome up there,” he recalled. “I had a bunch of kids that I really enjoyed coaching and I’ll get to see them again Saturday. It was a real good experience for me and my family.”

Despite having gone to the other side, Pearson hasn’t lost touch with his former players. Vernon Moland Jr., a junior defensive end, speaks highly of his former defensive coordinator.

“Coach Pearson is the one coach that I feel that I could talk to about anything,” he said. “He is truly a role model. Just from the way he treats his wife and women in general and the way he raises his children is a spitting image of how all of us men should act.

“Not only has he shown me how to be a better football player, but he has showed me how to be a better man,” the Minor High product said. “Coach Pearson has showed me the difficulties of trying to win and what it takes to win. He showed me how to watch film and what to look for while watching film. He’s shown me how to pay attention to the smallest details and how the details matter.”

Although Travis Pearson will be coaching on the Alabama State sideline this year, he looks forward to seeing his former players from Alabama A&M, many of whom praise him as a role model. (Alabama A&M University Athletics)

You could say that Pearson helped make Moland the player he is today. He switched him from linebacker to his current spot on the defensive line, a move that earned Moland All-Southwestern Athletic Conference honors last season.

“We have a really good relationship with him, Mike Mills, Yurik Bethune, all those guys that I had,” Pearson said. “Dylan Hamilton, Zach Oglesby, all those guys. I tried to let them see me in different lights other than just being a coach. I wanted them to see me in the father role. I wanted them to see me in the husband role. I wanted them to see me in all the other roles other than that guy that just kind of screams at us… ”

Pearson has remained in touch with Moland and other Bulldog players via texting.

“I’ve always told him when I was there my line is open,” the coach said. “… My line is open when I’m gone. If they’ve got any issues, hey man, give me a call. If I can help, I’ll help. If I can’t help, I’ll find someone who can.”

The lines of communication are shut down until about 6 p.m. Saturday.

“He’s gonna be blocked until after the Classic,” Moland said.

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