UNA faces President Kitts’ previous university for homecoming matchup

What are the odds a college football team will play it’s new president’s former university for homecoming? Nearly impossible? The stars have aligned for UNA’s 2015 homecoming game.

This Saturday, UNA faces the University of North Carolina-Pembroke. Our own President Kenneth Kitts previously served Pembroke’s provost.

“I’ve had people ask me good-naturedly if I have any divided loyalties,” Kitts said. “No. I’m a Lion now. I’m proud to be here and I bleed purple and gold. On homecoming, it’s all about the Lions.”

UNA previously played Pembroke in both playoff games and nonconference regular season games, Kitts said. The Lions prevailed in both meetings.

“I’m sure this game means more to President Kitts now than it would if he had never served at Pembroke,” said head coach Bobby Wallace. “If we don’t win, I’m sure he’ll get some ribbing.”

This year’s matchup is special because it is not just any homecoming game. This year marks UNA’s 185th homecoming and the presidential family’s first homecoming.

“It’s just interesting and a little funny, you know?” Kitts said. “Who would have thought it? Life is just strange that way.”

When UNA played at Pembroke last year, Kitts said he already knew he was interviewing for the presidency at UNA.

“Interestingly, that (game) was within a week of me interviewing here,” he said. “North Alabama was very much on my radar.”

However, Kitts and his wife did not attend that game because they were out of town, he said.

“I remember thinking it was probably a good thing because it might have been weird if I had been there watching my current school play this bunch from Alabama where I’m getting ready to interview,” he said. “When I came to interview (at UNA), it had been about a week, and I actually heard some jokes about it.”

The first time UNA and Pembroke met was in a playoff game in 2013, he said.

“They’re a good team,” he said. “I commend the job they have done. They haven’t been a team for very long, but they’ve been successful.”

Pembroke recently re-started their football program after it was discontinued in the 1950s, Kitts said.

The Lions first faced Pembroke in 2013 at a playoff game.

“It’s kind of a newish experiment for them but they’ve done well,” he said. “They’ve obviously done well since they were in the playoffs a couple years ago.”

Even though UNA prevailed against Pembroke for the previous two years, Wallace said UNA must play to their fullest to gain a homecoming victory.

“I think it will be a great game,” he said. “If we play like we are capable of playing, we will win. If not, we won’t.”

Kitts said he enjoys sports and has attended UNA’s first three football games.

While a 10-hour drive separates UNA and Pembroke, they both have a rich history in academics and athletics, Kitts said. However, he said the community’s support of UNA’s athletics is significant.

He said he thinks one reason the gameday experience is so great at UNA is the size of Braly Stadium.

“This is a large stadium for a Division II (football team),” Kitts said. “Getting 10,000-12,000 people out for a Division II game is really nice. There’s a lot of history here, so people come out for it.”

Kitts said he and his wife still keep in touch with many friends and co-workers from Pembroke.

“I still have a lot of good friends at Pembroke who I worked with he said. “They’re good people.”

He said he hopes to spend time with Pembroke’s athletic director and his family while they are in town for the homecoming game.

Senior Brittany Leach said she usually attends the homecoming game every year. She said she is attending the game Saturday.

Even though Kitts is now UNA’s president, she said she thinks he might have some old loyalties.

“It’s a funny coincidence that we’re playing them on homecoming,” Leach said. “On homecoming, I think he should be loyal to his current university.”

Freshman football manager Kyariss Stewart said this is a “funny coincidence” for President Kitts.

“You know he’s going to pull for the home team, UNA,” he said. “This is just funny.”