-Molly Conway, Contributing Writer
As the Mississippi College football team transitions into the world of Division II athletics, the players are not the only ones rising to the challenge of the Gulf South Conference. Jay Bright is the newest quarterback coach for the Choctaws and was selected intentionally by head coach John Bland, who was eager to have his former star quarterback as an assistant coach at MC.
“Coach Bland called me after he knew he was taking the job here, saying he wanted me to come with him if he could work out to where I could be on the coaching staff,” Bright explained. “I enjoyed playing for him and coaching under him for a year; I was very close to him and his family. This was a good opportunity because we were NAIA at Cumberlands, and I knew MC was transitioning into Division II. I liked that step up in the level of football in addition to continuing coaching under Bland.”
Bright was the starting quarterback for three seasons at the University of the Cumberlands under Bland. Even after being red-shirted for one year and missing another due to an injury, Bright was an All-Conference Honorable Mention three times, named UC’s Offensive MVP in 2009, and he still holds the university’s records for most touchdown passes in a game, career touchdown passes, and career passing yards.
In addition to his remarkable experience as a QB, the Fayetteville, Ga. native had another year of coaching with Bland before making the move to MC. After Bright graduated, Bland moved positions and appointed Bright to serve as quarterback coach for the 2013-2014 UC Patriots.
“In my later career as a player, John gave me a lot of responsibility which helped with the transition because there is a lot more responsibility as a coach,” Bright explained. “Once on the staff, I got to be a part of all the little details that as a player I didn’t see—all the behind-the-scenes, coaches meetings, every aspect that all the coaches do to prepare each week.”
The duties and obligations of being a coach certainly don’t end with the fourth quarter buzzer, for just as Bright finished his sentence about his responsibilities, there was a knock at the door. It was another coach rounding everyone up for a meeting.
“Right now?” Bright asked, immediately followed by a stern “Right now, line’s ready.”
After the coach’s meeting finished, Bright discussed his role as QB coach for Mississippi College. The Choctaws began the season utilizing two quarterbacks, but the decision was ultimately made to start freshman Kyle Smith for majority of this years’ games.
“I prefer to have one QB that the team knows is going to play every snap. The rest of the team isn’t going to be left wondering each game who will be throwing,” Bright explained. “We weren’t being very successful on offense with two of them splitting time, so when it came down to it, we decided to stick with one and hopefully it would help our struggles on offense.”
Bright has spent plenty of time studying old game footage, but all against our former Division III opponents. He doesn’t deny that the Choctaws have had a challenging season.
“Moving up from D3 to D2 will be a different level of talent each week,” as he put it, “On top of that, the Gulf South Conference is probably the best Division II football conference in the nation. It’s a big jump. Week in and week out there’s guys on the defense that are bigger, faster, and stronger than the teams the Choctaws were playing last year.”
Bright also expressed ambitions for his future career:
“The ultimate goal is to be a head coach one day, because with anything you do, you strive to be the best. Eventually I want to climb the ladder to be an offensive coordinator next, and when I’m ready, to head coach. I don’t know the time frame on that. It could be five, 10, or 15 years from now. But I enjoy the spot I’m in right now as a QB coach. It’s a great start to my coaching career.”