Attitude change No. 1 priority for Mississippi Valley State

FARGO — There was a time when Mississippi Valley State was the toast of the college football world, with quarterback Willie Totten and receiver Jerry Rice putting the school on the map. The tandem set several NCAA records with Rice going on to a NFL Hall of Fame career.

That was in the early 1980s.

The modern-day Delta Devils will make the trek to North Dakota State this weekend as a program nowhere near the Totten-to-Rice years. They’re coming off back-to-back 1-10 seasons. They also dismissed about 15 players in the offseason for attitude reasons, said offensive coordinator Ray Caldwell.

“Last season wasn’t the season that you want to put in the record books, but we had to deal with it,” Caldwell said. “And we were dealing with some guys who weren’t sold about being in Mississippi Valley. We gave some guys their transfer papers and gave some guys an attitude check.”

Caldwell cited a history lesson from the 1500s in how the Delta Devils are dealing with last year, referring to Spanish sailor Hernan Cortes when he landed in Veracruz to conquer the world.

“They had to ‘burn the ship,’ “ he said, in reference to his team’s go-forward mentality. “There’s no turning back to last year, there’s no turning back to anything. There are no excuses for anybody — holding kids accountable — and making sure they’re doing everything to make Mississippi Valley a better program.”
Caldwell said the results made for a better fall camp. He gave the example of receiver and kickoff return specialist Booker Chambers, who was the Southwestern Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year in 2015.

Chambers wanted to leave the team after last year, Caldwell said, and the Delta Devils gave him his release. Chambers changed his mind in July, however.

“He said he wanted to come back and he was sorry about his attitude,” Caldwell said. “He made a re-commitment to Mississippi Valley and Booker Chambers is back in the house. He’s back in the green and white and we’ve been pleased with his attitude and leadership in working with the other kids. He’s accepted it as a man. He has to work to get his position back but he’s doing that on and off the field for us.”

It won’t be easy for the Devils in the early going, thanks to a schedule that is one of the toughest in the FCS. They play No. 2 NDSU, No. 14 Charleston Southern and Southern Illinois of the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Five of their first six games are on the road.

“You can embrace it or you can run from it,” Caldwell said. “We’re going to embrace it. We might not see it in the beginning but hopefully throughout the season we will see some improvement from playing top-tier talent and top-tier teams that will benefit us as a program.”