JACKSONVILLE — Bill Burgess makes his point in a team setting.
The former Jacksonville State football coach held form when speaking to the current team Monday morning, ahead of the Gamecocks’ FCS title-game showdown with North Dakota State on Saturday.
“He just said some things I can’t repeat in an interview, just talking about beating North Dakota State,” JSU wide receiver and Wellborn High grad Dalton Screws said. “You could definitely tell that there was bad blood between them.”
For the record, JSU is 2-0 all-time against its next opponent, beating the Bison in the Division II playoffs in 1977 and 1989. Burgess was the head coach in 1989 and later led JSU to its only NCAA title, in 1992.
Twenty-six seasons after Burgess led the Gamecocks past North Dakota State, he was asked by current JSU head coach John Grass to contribute to the motivation of this season’s team as it seeks JSU’s first title Division I-era title.
“He’s always been someone I’ve looked up to,” said Grass, like Burgess a former Oxford High coach. “He’s just a mentor to me.
“He’s a great person, number one. Always enjoyed the bond he had with his players.”
Burgess attends most of the Gamecocks’ games on Burgess-Snow Field and visits with players. He’ll speak to the entire team a couple of times each year, often in preseasoncamp, but Monday’s speech was his first to the team this season.
“I don’t think that he could have come at a better time,” Screws said.
Burgess brought what Grass calls his “blunt-spoken” style. It’s a style his former JSU players know well, and a group called the “Burgess Boys” fought to get his name attached to the stadium when it was expanded before the 2010 season.
“He’s always talking positive, always giving us a good laugh,” JSU quarterback Eli Jenkins said. “He was basically just telling us to go out there and give it our all. Leave everything on field. Every time the ball is snapped, try to beat that guy in front of you.”
Screws said the current Gamecocks “love” Burgess.
“He keeps it black and white for you,” he said. “He’s just a hard-nosed, gritty guy that knows how to win and is a champion.”
The former coach talked about more than North Dakota State, those who were in the room said. He talked about how proud he is of the current team and how much he enjoys watching the Gamecocks play.
It resonated, especially to someone like Screws. His high school coach, Jeff Smith, played for Burgess at JSU, and Screws has known Burgess for years.
“If he didn’t mean it, he wouldn’t say it,” Screws said. “For him to come in and say that we’re doing things the right way and that we’re hard-nosed and get after it meant a lot to our team.”
But the former coach’s favorite topic was the next opponent.
“He was really passionate about that,” Jenkins said.
North Dakota State has won the past four FCS titles. The Bison won five Division II titles between 1983 and 1990, so beating them 21-17 in the 1989 quarterfinals meant a lot to Burgess’ JSU team.
“Like he said, the championship always went through North Dakota State,” Screws said. “He said, if he, at the beginning of the year, drew it up, he’d have drawn it up just like the draw that we have with North Dakota State.
“He’s excited that we’re playing them, and we are, too.”