The 28th annual State Farm Labor Day Classic football game between conference and interstate rivals Texas Southern and Prairie View A&M universities will renew on Sept. 1, but this year’s version will carry a deeper meaning for Malcolm Ajayi and Jeffery Anderson.
This semester, Ajayi signed his letter of intent, committing to Prairie View A&M University, where he will attend classes and play football in the fall. Anderson will be playing his first year at Texas Southern University in the fall, also with a full athletic scholarship.
The former Comet football players will set aside their self-proclaimed “brotherhood” for an evening and let the competitive juices flow in the names of Panther and Tiger pride, respectively.
The Sept. 1 meeting will be the first game of their seasons.
However, the future meeting between the two will not be the first time Ajayi and Anderson have bumped heads on the gridiron.
Playing Pop Warner football, Ajayi, as a member of the Inderkum Junior Tigers football team, played against Anderson and his Junior Pacers squad from North Sacramento.
“(As members of the Comet football team) we found out we played each other when we were 8 and 9 years old,” Ajayi said. “(Anderson’s team) beat us.”
Anderson also remembers the game, although he recalls the contest a bit differently.
“We didn’t beat them, we destroyed them,” Anderson said. “I think the score was 63-0.”
After meeting one another formally for the first time during Anderson’s freshman year as a Comet, Ajayi and Anderson, along with receiver Jordan Morrow, shared an apartment together in San Pablo for the past two years.
Morrow said he met Ajayi his freshman year at Contra Costa College. He met Anderson prior to that during a high school all-star game practice.
“It’s their competitiveness that makes them better,” Morrow said. “If Jeff tried to do something (in practice), Malcolm would do something to counteract it.”
Living together, Ajayi and Anderson grew a strong bond. Growing up in the same area gave the pair a common ground from which to build their relationship. They have also declared majors in liberal arts.
“I look up to him as an older brother figure,” Anderson said. “We can joke around and be serious, but at the end of the day, we look out for one another. We learn from each other and try to become better individuals.”
Ajayi had nothing but kind words to say about his former teammate.
“Jeff has an awesome personality,” Ajayi said. “He has a good heart, he looks to give before receiving. It’s like having a brother with you making sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to on and off the field.”
Ajayi and Anderson have moved away from the apartment they shared in San Pablo, but they have not moved away from each other. Until they both make their trips to Texas in the fall, Ajayi will be living in Dixon at Anderson’s family home.
The bond between the two is so strong that Ajayi calls Anderson’s mother “mom.”
“I’ve watched them mature over the past two years,” Anderson’s mother Tracy Franklin said. “They really have each other’s backs. They both realize how hard it is to get to where they’re going.”
Franklin said that her son, Anderson, has had a love for football since he was a child, reminiscing about him in the back seat of her car drawing football plays, eager for her to see his work.
“My heart is overjoyed that he’s getting an opportunity and that he’s gotten to where he is now,” Franklin said. “It’s hard to put it into words. I’m so proud it’s almost overwhelming.”
This past football season 19-year-old Anderson led the offense as its quarterback, and safety Ajayi was one of the defensive leaders playing the safety position.
Anderson’s 116.8 passer efficiency rating and 170.2 passing yards per game average both led all passers in the Bay Valley Conference. As a captain of the 2011 Comet football team, Ajayi’s 25 total tackles, one sack and interception contributed to CCC’s No. 7 ranking in the state for defense.
The Comets allowed an average of 274.4 yards per game.
Both Anderson and Ajayi share a love for football, but as adolescents the duo displayed athletic versatility competing in multiple sports.
Growing up in Sacramento, Ajayi played basketball and baseball, but there was something about the gridiron that stood out to him.
“All of my friends played it,” the 20-year-old said. “It’s really competitive, the contact, using your body to take someone out — there’s just something about football that is superior to any other sport.”
Anderson played the same sports as Ajayi.
“My first love was baseball,” he said. “After a while it got boring. With basketball, I knew I was good, but not that good. In seventh or eighth grade I decided to try basketball for one more year then I would focus on football.”
Making the journey from youth athletics to collegiate football along with Ajayi is his younger brother, current San Joaquin Delta College defensive back Matthew Ajayi.
“We did everything together,” Matthew Ajayi said. “When he started playing sports, I started playing sports. Growing up, I always wanted to do what he was doing.”
Ajayi said he admires his older brother’s determination and drive, which enables him to fight through adversity.
“Since we were younger, there was always someone who told him he wasn’t good enough or strong enough (to succeed in football),” he said.
CCC’s second-year football coach Alonzo Carter could attest to the negativity Malcolm Ajayi faced coming to a community college immediately following high school instead of receiving a scholarship to a four-year college.
“Malcolm wanted to prove himself,” Carter said about the sophomore who was a redshirt during the coach’s first year at the helm. “Because of an injury he couldn’t play, so he would brag about his high school accolades and Jeff was the same way.”
The admiration expressed by Matthew Ajayi is mutual between the brothers. Malcolm Ajayi said he and his younger sibling did everything together as youths and that they talk daily.
“He’s a smart kid,” Malcolm Ajayi said. “All through high school he helped me with my homework. He motivates me to do better. If I need advice, I would ask him before anybody.”
Sept. 1 is fewer than four months away, but judging from Anderson and Ajayi’s trash talk, one would think the game is next week. Franklin jokingly said she has already had to break up a few “scuffles” between the two.
“Sept. 1, 2012, the talking stops,” Anderson said. “In my head, I’m thinking, ‘I’m not losing to this guy.’ We played together for a year and a half, and I’m going to go at him and he’ll go at me. But I’m going to win that game.”
Anderson’s Tigers finished last in the Southwestern Athletic Conference West Division, with a 4-7 overall record, including a loss to Prairie View A&M (5-6 overall, 5-4 in the SWAC West).
“We’ve always talked about playing against each other,” Ajayi said. “We’ll say what’s up to each other before the game, but we both know we’ll be ready to compete.”
The big game has supporters of Anderson and Ajayi virtually split in terms of who to root for.
“I’ve always been an offensive type of a girl, but I like to watch the defense, as long as they’re not messing with my baby,” Franklin said with a laugh.
“Malcolm told me I would have to make my own jersey. He figures Jeff’s number would be on the front, but he said his better be on the back.”