Prairie View A&M football coach Eric Dooley is rarely at a loss for words.
You can’t finish a question before he is already delivering a well-thought-out response. But during this week’s SWAC media call via Zoom, Dooley was informed his 7-1 overall and 6-0 West Division-leading Panthers had cracked the FCS Top 25 at No. 24 for the first time since 2010, the usually unflappable coach was visibly shaken.
“I really don’t have words to say because you told me something I didn’t know,” Dooley admitted. “I’m never lost for words but right now I am…you know the best thing I can say is, to God be the Glory.”
Truth be told, the Panthers have been one of the hottest teams in the FCS for nearly two months now having won six straight games, which includes a 10-point win over Houston Baptist of the Southland Conference to start the six-game streak, while also scrapping their way through a highly competitive SWAC this season.
PVAMU travels to perennial conference power Alcorn State (5-4, 4-2) for the chance to claim the West Division title outright, setting up a likely showdown with Jackson State for the SWAC Championship.
But having already anticipated the questions he would be peppered with on the call, Dooley acknowledged the importance of the showdown while being careful not to look beyond the next game. The Panthers will jump out of conference play next week to face Texas A&M of the SEC before wrapping up the SWAC regular season against Mississippi Valley State on Nov. 27.
For now though, Dooley and the Panthers are fixated on the Alcorn State Braves, who were once the East Division power but have moved over to the West following the conference expansion.
“We know the implications of this right here. There is no secret to it,” Dooley said to The Defender. “This is a big game right here. You are talking about a West Division opponent that when they were on the East side represented that side for five years. So we understand the magnitude of it and what it’s going to take. You are going to have to play for 60 minutes. That’s going to be a true statement.”
Once a struggling program, the Panthers have steadily been on the rise since Dooley arrived on campus in 2018. Now he has the quarterback he needs in Louisville transfer Jawon Pass and a hard-hitting, senior-laden defense.
“We are getting the fruit from our labor now,” said defensive tackle Jason Dumas, who was a member of Dooley’s first recruiting class at PVAMU. “We’ve put a lot of work in all of the time. Coach Dooley always keeps us on edge. Practice is always going to be intense.”
For Dooley, it’s a gratifying feeling in some ways to see his vision for the Panthers coming into focus. But for a coach who is very much about taking it one game at a time, he won’t allow himself to look even one game ahead.
“Hats off to the assistant coaches and hats off to the players and how they have prepared themselves to put themselves in a position such as this right here,” Dooley said. “It’s not over with. I still think it’s a long season. We’ve still got a lot of work ahead of us, but just the magnitude of the way those guys approach the season and the offseason workouts speaks volumes.”
Following their coach’s lead, the Panthers are not at all focused on their impressive run this season and what it could be setting them up for. It has been drilled into them to keep their focus narrow so they won’t repeat the mistakes of the past.
“I’ve never looked at our record to be honest,” Dumas said. “I hear about it, like you’re winning and all of that, but being 5-6, 6-5 (in the past), I’ve got that mindset that we need to win, we need to win, there is no other choice but to win. I guess that made it easier.
“I feel like it’s cool, but it’s just a record. It’s not what you want really. You want to win a championship. So I’m not really looking at it.”
Dooley smiles, knowing his words have sunk into his players and they are trusting the process.
“They understand it’s one game at a time,” he said. “You only can control what you can control and that’s the next game. It may seem like a cliché that everybody uses, but that’s what we live by and that’s what we are going to die by.”