Hall of Famer Deion Sanders has dedicated himself to energizing the idea of attending a historically Black college/university to the masses since taking over as the head football coach at Jackson State University two seasons ago.
But even with Coach Prime’s megawatt smile and star power, the idea of attending a Division I university still seems to be beyond the realm of possibility for most five-star recruits.
Unlike Sanders, who attended Florida State University, UAPB head men’s golf coach Roger Totten is a true HBCU product, having coached for 35 years in universities including Grambling State, Alabama A&M, Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State.
Totten, a former football disciple, relished the opportunity to continue on in sports in some capacity, and when an opportunity at UAPB came knocking in the summer of 2016 after serving as a strength coach, he didn’t hesitate to answer the call.
“I knew football for me had to come to an end at some point because football has changed so much over the last 10-15 years.” Totten said. “But I wanted to let these players know that playing at an HBCU school puts you in a unique situation where you have a family-type concept. Once they see the support of the administration and coaches, they are amazed and really begin to love it .”
The idea of coaching or playing at a Power 5 school anywhere else never really crossed Totten’s mind. Now he is beginning to build a strong golf program almost from scratch and is maintaining his loyalty to his beloved HBCU community all the while.
“I always tell my players and potential recruits to not prepare themselves for four years, but come to prepare yourself for life. Because we can’t guarantee you will go pro (in whatever sport you play) but we can guarantee you will get a good education here.”
In addition to spearheading the golf program, Totten was promoted to senior executive athletics director back in May 2021 and now also heads the internal operations, compliance and academic services for UAPB athletics.
But as much impact Totten has made in administration, he may have doubled it with his team’s performance on the golf course. Since his arrival, the Golden Lions have become quite a powerhouse within the Southwestern Athletic Conference. The turnaround began during the 2018-19 season, when his team made an impressive 100-shot improvement from their previous season, a feat that earned him the designation as the SWAC Co-Coach of the Year.
Things have only continued to soar for the UAPB golf program with Totten reaping some of the fruits of his labor by racking up a total of three Coach Of The Year awards. But more important, Totten’s teams have registered the highest men’s GPA in the athletic department.
“Basically when I got here it was administration first and then golf came second,” Totten said. “The golf program wasn’t much, but we started recruiting and we looked for players who took golf seriously. Bill Jones (of Sissy’s Log Cabin jewelry store) was inspirational in helping this program grow because he took a liking to the program and then stepped in and helped us open some doors.”
Totten and his golfers have continued to take full advantage of their opportunity. This season the team finished in a tie for third place at the PGA Collegiate Minority Championship at the Union League Golf Club at Torresdale in Philadelphia.
The Golden Lions’ 38-over pair finished tied with Alabama State and they followed that up with second-place finishes in the SWAC Fall Invitational and SWAC Men’s Spring Championship. As a result, UAPB is the third-ranked HBCU golf program in the country.
Sophomore Patrick Mwendapole has led the way for UAPB with his top-five finish on the individual leaderboard, shooting 4-over 218, followed by sophomore Jamie Moliner who finished 10th, shooting 9-over 223.
Senior Grayson Martin carded a three-round tie at the 16th spot, with a score of 226. Senior Joshua McCray finished the tournament tied for 24th, shooting 16-over 230.
Sophomore Nikolas Pitiris rounded out, tied for 32nd, 19-over.
Now that covid-19 is no longer hindering travel on the collegiate level, Totten is optimistic that his team can once again seek stronger competition.
“We are proud of the fact that we are going to play in the TCU Invitational next season because you have to be invited.” he said. “Any time you can compete against a Power-5 school, it is a great opportunity. We played in the Arkansas State Invitational before covid-19 hit, so I hope we get an opportunity to make it back out there, too. Arkansas has an event we would like to compete in, too. Playing those caliber teams will bring higher rankings.”
The future of the Golden Lions golf program remains bright and with a strong incoming class that will combine forces with several key returning student-athletes who have already established themselves. It seems likely that Totten’s program will continue to trend upward.
“Golf is a real sport that can take you places where other sports can’t take you.” Totten said. “I am a product of an HBCU and it’s more than golf. It’s a lifetime guarantee with a small family touch that will get you prepared for life. I want to get the message across that playing here is an amazing opportunity. We will continue to try to put a strong team together and lead the way.”