Camellia Bowl Notebook Posted December 22, 2023 By Barry Allen Cunningham’s Career Comes Full Circle Jalen Cunningham’s college football career has come full circle. The Arkansas State senior left guard began his playing career at Ole Miss and started his first collegiate football game against the No. 2 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide on Sept. 28, 2019 at Bryant-Denny Stadium He did not allow a sack, hit or hurry in more than 50 offensive snaps. “I started my first ever game against the University of Alabama,” Cunningham. “We drove down the field on the opening drive and they stuffed us on the goal line. I vividly remember that. I was heavy (388 pounds) and was so tired after that first drive.” Fast forward four years and Cunningham will close out his collegiate career at the 2023 Camellia Bowl at the historic Cramton Bowl in downtown Montgomery. In between those two games, he’s dealt with a lot of pitfalls. Cunningham had numerous offers during his prep career at St. Clair County High School in Odenville. While on his official visit to Ole Miss, his father, Kenny Wayne Cunningham, passed away after a brief illness. He ultimately chose Ole Miss and began his playing career with the Rebels. He played four seasons with the Rebels under two head coaches (Matt Luke and Lane Kiffin) and three offensive line coaches (Jack Bicknell, Randy Clements and Jake Thornton). Plus, he played on the offensive and defensive line. He had never played offense until he landed in Oxford. At the end of the 2022 season, Cunningham found a new home at Arkansas State, where he is playing for his third head coach (Butch Jones) and fourth different offensive line coach (Andy Kwon). He started all 12 games for the Red Wolves and was named to 2023 first team All-Sun Belt Conference. “After going through adversity every single year, I wanted something new,” he added. “I wanted someone that I can trust and play my last year. I didn’t know anyone here. I came here and trusted the process. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made. I am glad I did that.” He has one last game on Saturday. “It’s really been full circle,” Cunningham reflected. “I’m hour and half from home here in Montgomery. I made the right choice.” Sweet Home Alabama Arkansas State and Northern Illinois have a total of nine players on the Camellia Bowl roster from the State of Alabama. The list of Alabama natives on the ASU roster includes redshirt freshman offensive lineman Cameron Ambrose (Pinson Valley HS), freshman defensive lineman Brian Alston (Spain Park HS), freshman receiver Cam Bulluck (Russell County HS), senior offensive lineman Jalen Cunningham (St. Clair County HS), Clyde Curry (Gadsden HS), junior linebacker Cam Jeffrey (American Chrisitan HS; Tuscaloosa), freshman offensive lineman Mason Myers (Moody HS), junior safety Justin Parks (Gardendale HS), and junior tight end Emmanuel Stevenson (Eufaula HS). Ambrose played in all 12 games as a backup on the offensive line. Jeffrey posted 35 tackles, four tackles for loss (-17 yards) and one sack (-6 yards) in eight games. He had nine tackles and one TFL at Marshall and posted eight tackles against Troy. Parks has recorded 44 tackles and three pass breakups in 12 games. He logged a season-best 10 tackles against Coastal Carolina. Parks also recorded nine tackles against Troy. Stevenson, who is battling a knee injury, has 18 catches for 129 yards and two touchdowns this season. He caught four passes for 44 yards and one TD against UMass. He also had five catches for 37 yards and one TD against Coastal Carolina. Northern Illinois only has one player on its roster from the state of Alabama. Redshirt freshman cornerback Jacob Finley played in 12 games and made eight starts this season. He has recorded 30 tackles, three pass breakups, one tackle for loss, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He logged four tackles, two PBUs, one TFL, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in the last two games. He had a season high five tackles in the season-opening win at Boston College. Thursday Activities Thursday was ladies day at the Camellia Bowl as the wives of both administrations and coaching staffs enjoyed lunch cruise on the Alabama River. Both teams hit the practice field for the second straight day in Montgomery. The Red Wolves practiced for 90 minutes at Huntingdon College, while the Huskies held a 90-minute session at Alabama State. The Camellia Bowl hosted both teams at two separate events in the evening. NIU enjoyed a dinner and bowling party at Bama Lanes on Atlanta Highway. Arkansas State attended a BBQ dinner and karaoke at the RSA Activity Center. The BBQ was provided by Dreamland BBQ.