BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It's bragging rights for Southern and Grambling, and with the Bayou Classic taking place Saturday afternoon, a group of Jaguars got up extra early Friday. Their mission had nothing to do with shopping.
At 5 a.m. in the shadows of A.W. Mumford stadium, a Navy ROTC sergeant barked marching orders at a group of midshipmen and Army cadets. Their transport mission was one like no other.
"It just feels good to carry on a legacy that's lasted well before my time, so it feels good to be a part of something like that," Commander Corbin Heath said.
The Southern University senior got the honor of leading off the 100-mile motivational run of the official Bayou Classic game ball. It would eventually pass through 42 sets of hands on the journey down Airline Highway to New Orleans.
"Eight hours in, by the time you get to New Orleans, it's kinda like you're winded, you're ready to just finish it off, and you give it all you got, so that's the best feeling in the world," Heath said.
The grueling tradition dates back to 1992. The troops take turns, sprinting for two minutes then handing off the cargo. The trip to the Superdome takes them through seven parishes and more than a dozen towns.
"So far so good, I mean I got legs for days. Army doesn't get tired," freshman Private Denzel LaBiche said during a break.
A police escort cleared the way as future officers from Southern, LSU, Southeastern, and Baton Rouge Community College tested their mental strength and endurance. The run normally takes between eight and nine hours.
"Our biggest thing is always breaking the record every year," Midshipman 2/C Gage Harper said. "So just try to keep your stride up, try to run as fast as you can for your two-minute stretch, and hopefully if everyone keeps doing that, we'll beat our record like we do every year."
When the Jags take the field Saturday they'll know the pigskin has a little hometown luck, thanks to a dedicated – and tired – group of students.
The sailors will run the ball onto the field during pregame ceremonies.
The 42nd annual Bayou Classic kicks off at 4 p.m. Saturday in the Superdome.