JACKSONVILLE — Jacksonville State has a new quarterbacks coach this year, and he's got a lengthy resume.
One note should catch anyone's attention, however:
This summer in a passing contest, JSU's Cleo Lemon beat Drew Brees, who has completed more passes for more yards than anyone in NFL history.
"That was pretty cool," Lemon said after a recent Jacksonville State practice. "Me and Drew used to be teammates back at San Diego. For us to compete like old times, it was fun, and I came out with a 'W.'"
Lemon, 39, is a former NFL quarterback who went into coaching not long after hanging up his helmet. He coached in high school and junior college before joining the Jacksonville State staff as a receivers coach in 2017. He switched to quarterbacks this year.
As part of his coaching education, he spent a week in July in New Orleans with the NFL's Saints.
Brees was there, too. While taping a short video for social media in the Saints' practice facility, Brees gathered some teammates for a passing contest and talked Lemon into joining the fun, too. Lemon, a quarterback in the NFL during 2002-09, and Brees played together with the San Diego Chargers in 2003-05.
Players received points for hitting the target, but they got even more if they got the ball through the hole in the middle. Points doubled for the final "moneyball." Lemon totaled 15 points, as he zipped the moneyball through the center.
When Brees took his turn, he needed to ace the moneyball, too, to win, but it hit the rim and bounced away, leaving Lemon as the winner.
"Somewhat surprising, but I guess not when you bring a former NFL quarterback," Brees said in the social media video of the contest. "With no warm-up throws … the dude throws a 15 and beats us all."
Brees even took time to turn to the camera and mention JSU: "Big shout to the Jacksonville State Gamecocks for getting this guy prepared and ready to come down here and win the QB competition."
Lemon said he appreciated Brees focusing some attention on the Gamecocks.
"It was pretty strong," Lemon said. "For him to know the value of that and this program, a guy like that, a Hall of Fame quarterback, who knows the tradition of Jacksonville State University Gamecocks, that's pretty good."
Lemon got the opportunity to spend time with the Saints partly through his friendship with Pete Carmichael, who has served as New Orleans' offensive coordinator since 2009. Carmichael was a Chargers assistant coach when Lemon was in San Diego.
"I kind of kept in touch with him," Lemon said. "Me and Drew have been friends over the years, and we've always been in touch. I hit those guys up in the off-season to see if there was an opportunity available. They had one, and I was grateful to go down there and learn from them."
The Jacksonville State players saw the video: "It was the talk of the camp when I got back," Lemon said.
That video of the passing contest also helped JSU players realize that they've got a coach who spent enough time in the NFL that he still has friends there.
After playing collegiately for Arkansas State, Lemon played for Baltimore (2002), San Diego (2003-05), Miami (2006-07), Jacksonville (2008) and Baltimore (2009). He threw for 2,185 yards and eight touchdowns. All of that came when he was in Miami, where he started eight games.
He also spent 2010-11 with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League, throwing for 5,069 yards and 22 touchdowns.
"The guys saw the video online, so it was pretty exciting for those guys to see it, to know my history of playing in the league and being around those guys," Lemon said. "I guess they've kind of figured it out. I've been blessed to be around a lot of good coaches and former players."
Asked about the video, JSU head coach John Grass laughed and said he wasn't surprised.
"Everybody just said, 'Well, we expected that,'" Grass said. "We see it every day, so you couldn't come out here, watch him throw and don't know he could do that. He's got one of the best arms I've ever seen. He can really spin it, so it did not catch us by surprise. They messed up by giving him the opportunity."