Albany native Alice Coachman, the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal, came back home to Albany State's Homecoming game Saturday for the first time in more than a decade.
ALBANY — Justin Blash smiled and pretended to wipe tears from his eyes.
Albany State’s star defensive lineman lined up on the field with his fellow seniors before Saturday’s Homecoming game vs. Clark Atlanta as they were recognized for their careers as Golden Rams.
As the crowd applauded the 14 seniors, Blash turned to his mom.
“I was just playing with my mom, not actually crying,” Blash said. “She is real sentimental about stuff like that, so I told her not to be crying.”
Blash’s real tears will come soon enough.
“I’ll shed my tears in the shower,” Blash said. “I won’t let anybody see me crying.”
Blash, who has been at ASU since 2008 and has been a Ram as long as anybody on the roster, talked about the emotions he will have when he finally hangs up his Albany State jersey.
He’s got at least two more games left — possibly more if the Rams play for the conference championship and advance to the NCAA Division II playoffs — but Saturday was the final time he and his fellow seniors played in front of a home crowd.
“We dedicated the game to (the seniors),” coach Mike White said. “This is probably the last time they are going to play in the Rams’ Den, and I am glad we came out and had a better second half.”
All 14 seniors were recognized during pregame festivities in front of a packed crowd at the Albany State Coliseum. Seniors included starters Blash, running back Nathan Hoyte, quarterback David Kooi, left tackle Darvel Nelson, receiver Ronnie Tubbs, tight end Cessel Taylor, defensive end Troy Morgan, corner back Gary Howard, free safety Chavius Jackson and punter Justin Keable.
Other seniors honored were receiver Janell Jones, receiver Julian Bellinger, running back Richard Watson, linebacker Qwontex Mallory and defensive lineman Joshua McMullen.
“It came so quick,” Blash said about his career coming to an end. “But it feels good to go out with a win on Senior Night and Homecoming.”
COACHMAN RETURNS TO ASU: Albany native Alice Coachman, the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal, came back home for the first time in over a decade.
Coachman, 90, initially attended Tuskegee University but earned her bachelor’s degree from ASU after returning from the 1948 Olympics in London, where she won a gold medal in the high jump.
The legendary track & field athlete sat in the president’s suite during Saturday’s game and said that her home town is always a special place to come back to.
“I was 75 years old the last time I was in Albany, and a week from now I will be 91,” Coachman said Saturday. “I love everything about Albany and Albany State. It feels like home to see everyone. Everyone feels like kin to me here. They are my folks.”
To go along with her gold medal, Coachman won 10 consecutive U.S. titles in the high jump and collegiate national championships in the 50, 100 and as a member in the 400 relay.
She is honored each year at ASU with the annual Alice Coachman Invitational track and field meet, which has been held since 1992.
COMING HOME: Albany State alumni from as far as California came home this week for Homecoming, Rams athletics director Richard Williams said on Saturday.
“They come far and wide, all the way from the west coast to the north,” Williams said. “We even have some of our centenarians here.”
Notable alumni Frank “Choo-Choo” Brown, the school’s first player to be selected in the NFL draft, and Coachman took part in festivities this week, and U.S. congressman Sanford Bishop was on hand for the game.
“It’s great to be a part of this,” Williams said. “Old friends and young friends can get together, and sometimes they can rekindle old relationships and old friendships. It’s a great day to come back home to Albany State.
“I hear from all the alumni about the new buildings and new structures and how the campus is growing and expanding. (ASU president Everette J. Freeman) has done a good job of expanding the campus and selling our brand, the ASU brand.”
And nothing impressed the alumni more than the new student center, which was officially opened in the fall of 2011.
“That’s the cornerstone of this campus,” Williams said. “It’s a beautiful facility for the students to come out and enjoy it. When they see it, they are all in awe of the enormousness of it and how massive it is.”