Jacksonville State coach Jack Crowe tells his players if they know of an available player who could make the Gamecocks better, don’t hesitate to pitch the program.
Receiver Trey Smith knew the Gamecocks were in need of some experienced defensive backs. His former Western Michigan teammate Raheam Buxton was available and looking for “a new start.” Put it all together and JSU should have an addition to its secondary next week.
“Coach Crowe tells us as a football team if you try to better your team, try to go out and find people,” Smith said. “I told him I had a corner who was trying to leave where I was from. He said to talk to him. He got his number and took it from there. Our whole objective this summer was trying to get him here and we finally got him here.
“It was nice to help. As a player on the team or a guy trying to win championships, if there’s a guy who can help us win, my objective is to get him.”
The school said it added Buxton to the team Friday — when the Gamecocks practiced in full pads for the first time — but actually the former three-star recruit had been on campus since the first day of camp. He still has some orientation issues to get through but hopes to be on the field for Monday’s start of two-a-days.
He’ll bring instant Division I credibility to his position. He was a former Miami (Fla.) commitment but wound up signing with Western Michigan the year after Smith arrived there. He played eight games as a freshman in 2010, starting five, and recorded 25 tackles and two interceptions.
“He proved a lot of people wrong,” Smith said. “He could play early.”
Buxton, 6-feet and 174 pounds, got a few plays in the Broncos’ 2011 season opener against Michigan before getting crossways with the coaching staff and didn’t play much again. He stayed in school the rest of the semester, then left in the spring to help mourn the death of his brother.
“We came to an agreement that I needed a fresh start,” Buxton said. “That’s what I’m looking for here — a fresh start, a new family, a new bond with the new guys and a chance just to play … the game I love.
“It was tough being away from the field, seeing teammates that I bled, sweat and teared with every day in the summer out there and knowing I should have been out there with them. This represents a lot for me and my family, a second chance from God for the opportunity to get out here and play the game I love.”
When it came time to seek that new start, Buxton sought out Smith for direction. Smith said he took Buxton under his wing when the cornerback first arrived at Western and they remained close ever since.
Actually, their relationship began even before Buxton got to Western. Buxton wanted to wear No. 7 — to honor his cousin, Norman Griffin, a high school teammate who was shot and killed their senior year — and reached out to Smith to ask if he’d change numbers.
“Ever since then we always had that bond and he always called to check on me,” Buxton said. “It happened he called when things went wrong at Western. I told him I wasn’t there anymore, I needed a home, and he was like, ‘I’ll holler at the coaches for you and try to get you here with me.’
“I was like that wouldn’t be a bad idea because I’d know someone who was like family, a home fellow who could come into my house and eat at the table.”
Buxton watched practice Friday wearing a No. 34 jersey, but will “run it by coach” the idea of wearing No. 7. That was worn by Washaun Ealey last year, but the Georgia transfer has 5 this season. No. 7 is currently assigned to freshman quarterback Eli Jenkins, who’s likely to be redshirted, and sophomore defensive back Desmond Brown.
“I really want to wear 7,” he said.
Regardless of the number, he can’t wait to get back on the field.
“It’s going to be very exciting,” he said. “I’ve been away from the game almost a year. It’s going to be very exciting for me and my family.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.