The 5th Quarter

At the Celebration Bowl, the drum majors led the way

For both Grambling and N.C. A&T, it was all about preparation, practice and precision

The 5th Quarter in the world of football at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) takes place after the X’s and O’s, when each school’s band battles each other for bragging rights to the best musical performance. These displays of showmanship, from the choreographed routines to the song selection, require months of practice and dedication by every member of the team. In this installment, The Undefeated not only goes behind the curtain to reveal what goes into pulling off those amazing performances, but also some of the top moments from the 2017 Celebration Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Nearly 26,000 people watched the North Carolina A&T State University Aggies take on the Grambling State University Tigers, and the bands quickly became the main attraction during halftime and well after the game ended during their 5th Quarter band battle a perfect ending to a perfect weekend.

Being a drum major takes more than just being able to perform in a flashy field show, and requires a lot more than drum major Solomon Reynolds (right) realized. “You have to be a secretary, intern, doing paperwork and making sure stuff is moving smoothly,” he said. “[There is pressure] to always be perfect. Not that anyone can be perfect, but you’re looked to all the time. All eyes are on you. So you have to always focus and hone in and try to make sure you’re always doing what you’re supposed to be doing and always doing something. You can’t be in a passive role because this is more of active kind of leadership.”

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“The most pressuring thing is being a role model and doing everything correct for everybody in the band,” drum major Darian Eley said. “You have freshmen looking up to us and saying ok, this is what I need to do, this is what the band wants and things like that. I have to make sure I do everything right 24/7.”

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“I was always the little boy standing beside the band and always admiring them. I always wanted to be a tuba player,” Darian Eley (center) said. “I ended up being a trumpet player, but I never wanted to be a drum major until I met a drum major last year who motivated me to become the leader I am now. I just followed in his footsteps trying to do what he did.”

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Grambling State drum major Cornelius Ewing leads the band during rehearsal for the Celebration Bowl.

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A member of the Grambling State band during rehearsal for the Celebration Bowl.

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Grambling State drum major Cornelius Ewing leads the band during rehearsal for the Celebration Bowl.

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Screams from fans of the North Carolina A&T State University Blue and Gold Marching Machine nearly drowned out announcers as the band approached the field for their halftime show. The Machine gave fans a seamless mix of old and new school, smoothly transitioning between old school favorites, from Guy’s 1989 hit “I Like” and Rufus & Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody” to Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” and Boosie Badazz’s “Set It Off” to get the crowd going.

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“[The Celebration Bowl] is the spotlight,” Darian Eley said. “It’s the branding that the band will get out of the Celebration Bowl. The Blue and Gold Marching Machine came and showed out and then we’re going to recruit because freshmen are going to be like, ‘OK, I want to go to A&T because they’re doing great things there.’ That’s what pushes me, but what I believe pushes the band is the hard work and dedication that they’re putting in. This current week, we were practicing really hard, getting everything done, and they got it done.”

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Dec 16, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; North Carolina A&T Aggies band performs against the Grambling State Tigers at halftime in the 2017 Celebration Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

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Drum Major Cornelius Ewing of Grambling State performs during the half time show at the Celebration Bowl.

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Fans can always count on the World Famed Tiger Marching Band for an energetic show. The band took the field first and blared out the classic TLC hit What About Your Friends as its opening song, and followed with DJ Khaled’s Wild Thoughts. In what felt like a shortened halftime show, the band gave the crowd a signature dance session to upbeat tempos before signing off with their unofficial fight song–getting the crowd hyped as they exited the field.

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Drum Major Cornelius Ewing of Grambling State during the 5th quarter performance at the Celebration Bowl.

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Brent Lewis is the Senior Photo Editor of The Undefeated and a lover of all things Chicago except Chicago Mix popcorn. #justcheeseplease