JSU seniors hoping season extends past this weekend
by Al Muskewitz
amuskewitz@annistonstar.com
Nov 21, 2013 | 1703 views |  0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jacksonville State tight end Gavin Ellis. (Photo by Stephen Gross
Jacksonville State tight end Gavin Ellis. (Photo by Stephen Gross
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JACKSONVILLE — For the 14 seniors who will walk across JSU Stadium for their final regular-season game, especially those who’ve gone the full five years, it has been an eventful career.

Some might suggest it’s as eventful as any senior experience in Jacksonville State’s Division I history.

Consider:

In 2009, when these seniors were redshirts, the Gamecocks were under an APR postseason ban that prevented the team with the best record in the league from going to the FCS playoffs. That team almost beat Florida State.

The next year, they beat Ole Miss, moved into the plush digs they now call home, played to be No. 1 in the country and made the playoffs.

They also in their JSU lifetimes went through the uncertainties of a head coaching change and some played for multiple position coaches.

A win over Southeast Missouri Saturday, barring an at-large bid to extend the season, would allow these seniors to finish tied for the second most wins in a four-year class (31) and the third-best winning percentage (.674) in the school’s Division I era.

“It has been eventful,” said tight end Gavin Ellis, who transferred in from Troy in 2012 and fretted some through the coaching change, “but it’s been great. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I know I made the right decision coming here.”

Of course, it’s up to each of the seniors to determine the individual high and low points of their JSU playing experience.

For Ellis, the best part of his college career is the “unbelievable amount of information” he has absorbed playing for three coaching staffs. He said he tries not to think about the “bad stuff.”

For left guard Taylor Johnstone, who transferred from a junior college in 2010 and redshirted his first year, the worst part came last season when the team lost five games and had to fight to extend the program’s streak of winning seasons to 10. And he had to accept an NCAA decision that forced him to sit out the first four games this season.

The best part, for him, was easy.

“Getting to meet our new coaching staff and getting to help set the tempo for what they have coming up recruiting wise; in general the Coach (Bill) Clark era,” he said.

It will be a particularly bittersweet moment for the JSU linebackers. Half of the other seniors who could be playing their final home games Saturday play there — Harris Gaston, Robert Gray, James Powell, Rashad Smith, Anniston’s Brenton Tolson and Ketrick Wolfe.

The others are receiver Mike Bradford, defensive backs Arias Lockheart and Jamill Lott, nose Barry Stafford, kicker Griffin Thomas and versatile Jerry Slota.

Clark has only known them for 11 months, but has been appreciative of their effort through this season of transition. All but two of the seniors — Lott and Gaston — were in the program when he arrived.

“For those guys to buy in and not know us — and we ask so much out of them — I’m so proud of them,” Clark said. “Hopefully this isn’t our last week with them.”

You’d get no argument from Johnstone on that. He said it would be “one of the best things ever” if the Gamecocks could have playoff games at each end of his JSU career.

Of course, that call rests in the hands of a committee.

Not knowing if Saturday will be the last game or not, Johnstone agrees it will be an emotional day.

And although Ellis doesn’t plan on this being his last game, he knows exactly how he’ll approach it.

“Whether I’m running a pass or watching, I’m going to line up and go as fast as I can as hard as I can and try to take in every second of it,” he said. “I’m going to look up in the stands and see everybody and try to take mental pictures I can keep forever.”

Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.
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