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Steve McNair came off the bench in the first game of his freshman season and rallied Alcorn State to a victory against Grambling State.

Steve McNair came off the bench in the first game of his freshman season and rallied Alcorn State to a victory against Grambling State.

So began one of the great careers in the history of college football.

McNair, who was shot and killed Saturday in Nashville, brought big-time football to Lorman, Miss. He attended Alcorn State, about a two-hour drive from his hometown of Mount Olive, because he wanted to play quarterback instead of defensive back. That’s where the marquee programs wanted him to play.

Alcorn State coach Cardell Jones was happy to bring a talent such as McNair into the Southwestern Athletic Conference. The plan was to ease McNair into college football.

McNair had other plans.

“I was going to try to work him in slowly in preseason practice,” the now-retired Jones said in a telephone interview with the AP from his home in Raymond, Miss., on Saturday night. “I finally put him in a scrimmage, and he was fantastic. He went 9 for 9 (passing) and drove the team to a touchdown.”

Jones didn’t start McNair in the first game of the season against Grambling State in 1991. But with the Braves down, McNair got his chance and the youngster delivered like a veteran, throwing three touchdown passes in a 27-22 victory.

“He was mature at a very young age,” Jones said. “I put Steve into the football game, he was very poised and took the team down to score the winning touchdown.”

McNair took over the starting job and didn’t relinquish it until he was done rewriting the NCAA record book, making a run at the Heisman Trophy and turning a historically Black school in rural Mississippi into a college football hotbed.

Fans, Black and white, made their way to watch “Air McNair” run with power and speed, and fire footballs all over the field. NFL scouts came in droves. The television cameras followed.

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