Belhaven and Mississippi College tab new football coaches
Published 3:55 pm Tuesday, January 2, 2024
At one time, three Jackson area college programs were in need of a head football coach as Mississippi College, Belhaven University and Millsaps College were all looking for new leadership.
The Choctaws in Clinton were the first to make their move as Mississippi College recently announced the hiring of Mike Kershaw as head football coach. Belhaven made their next hiring official by announcing on Sunday that the next leader of the Blazer would b CJ Nightingale, who comes to Jackson after previously being the defensive coordinator at Wheaton College.
Mississippi College is turning to a coach who knows the Gulf South Conference (GSC) to lead its football program with the announcement that Kershaw would be replacing John Bland. Bland led MC for 10 seasons, including a move from the NCAA Division III ranks back to Division II and membership in the GSC.
Kershaw played at GSC member Delta State as a quarterback and then later coached at the school from 2004-2006. Delta State connections run deep through college football and at Rice Kershaw worked under head coach Mike Bloomgren, himself a former DSU assistant coach.
Kershaw graduated from Westminster Christian Academy in south Louisiana, but he has roots in Canada as his father Phil was a Canadian Football League (CFL) president for both Saskatchewan and Ottawa as well as being CFL Chairman in 1991-1992.
From 1997-1998, Kershaw threw for 2,741 total yards while playing quarterback for the Statesmen in Cleveland, including a 1998 GSC championship. He then transitioned to a graduate assistant position under former coach Steve Campbell.
While at DSU, Kershaw coached safeties, quarterbacks, receivers and was recruiting coordinator. In 2006, he was part of a Delta State staff that reached the semifinals of the NCAA Division II playoffs.
From 2007-2018, Kershaw was out of coaching as he opened his own insurance office in Austin, Texas. He made a return to football when he joined Bloomgren’s staff at Rice.
Former Copiah-Lincoln head basketball coach Kenny Bizot is the athletic director at Mississippi College.
“Mike Kershaw’s extensive coaching background and success in developing talent algin perfectly with our vision for the football program,” said Bizot in a release by the school announcing the hiring.
Rice finished the regular season with a 6-6 record, the most victories for the program during the regular season since 2014.
The Belhaven job came open after former head coach Blaine McCorkle took a job leading the program at Northwestern State University in Louisiana.
McCorkle led Belhaven to the NCAA Division III playoffs in 2023 as the Blazers went 9-1 in the regular season and won the USA South title before playing in the DIII playoffs for the first time in program history.
Nightingale is no stranger to Division III football as he played at Wheaton, a DIII school located in Wheaton, Illinois.
As the defensive coordinator, Nightingale was part of a Wheaton staff that led the Thunder to the second round of the Division III playoffs this season, where they lost 49-42 to perennial title contender Wisconsin-Whitewater.
The only loss of the season for Wheaton was a 54-35 setback to Noth Central College, one of their league rivals. North Central is the team that beat Belhaven 65-0 in the first round of the postseason. North Central finished 14-1 and national-runners up after losing 38-37 to SUNY-Cortland in the championship game.
As a player at Wheaton, Nightingale was a four-year letterwinner as a defensive back. He was on a team there that made the round of 16 in the 2010 NCAA Division III playoffs.
His coaching career began at Indiana Wesleyan University before he came back to his alma mater to join the staff at Wheaton.
His 2021 defense led the nation in total sacks and sacks per game.
In his four seasons as the defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach, Nightingale has been part of Division III playoff teams every year.
Millsaps College (1-9), also a Division III member school, was coached by interim head coach Cory York this season and has not named a permanent hire yet.