STATESBORO — Lynon Jefferson ran through the tunnel of players to take his place beside his family on the Georgia Southern sidelines in the moments before the Eagles kicked off their final regular season home game for 2007, and perhaps Jefferson’s final appearance before the home fans.
The former Effingham County High School star from Guyton realized the moment as it was happening.
“I was getting tears,” he said. “I lived my whole life playing football. Just knowing this could be the end, I’m dumbfounded. Words can’t describe it.”
For Jefferson and the Eagles (7-3), Saturday may have spelled the end of the season. Their 24-22 loss to bitter Southern Conference rival Furman denied them a share of the conference title and its automatic playoff bid. It would have been the Eagles’ first conference title since 2004.
It’s a far cry from the 3-8 record in 2006 in the one-year tenure of Brian VanGorder. The Eagles seniors, who also had suffered two first-round playoff losses, the first of those kind in GSU’s modern football history, didn’t want their careers to end with that trend.
They took quickly to the optimistic outlook of new coach Chris Hatcher and his staff.
“We came back in the offseason and decided we were going to do something about it,” Jefferson said. “We just came together quick and decided we were going to do something about it.”
In their first 10 games, the Eagles have won four games by four points or less and of their three losses, two have been in overtime and the other was on a potential game-winning field goal gone awry on the final play. Last year, the Eagles lost five games by four points or less.
They relished the chance to be conference champions again, if only to miss by an eyelash.
“We came so close, yet so far,” Jefferson said.
Such could be said of his career as an Eagle.
Jefferson missed the entire 2006 campaign, but he had already had a redshirt season, sitting out 2003 after signing with GSU that February.
As a freshman in 2004, he had a career high 333 yards rushing. For his career, he has 649 yards rushing on 71 attempts, a whopping 9.1 yard per carry average. He also had 12 catches for 226 yards for 18.8 yards a reception, another staggering total.
But those numbers were logged under Southern’s old triple option spread package, where he played slotback, a position that carried players to be ball carriers, pass catchers and blockers.
In the new system the Eagles have, there are as many as four wide receivers on the field at a time. Jefferson was listed as a starter at receiver over Tim Camp at one of the four spots, but did not see any action during the Eagles’ final home game.
So far this year, he has four catches for 67 yards, including a 31-yard grab against Western Carolina.
Jefferson knows the end of his college career is coming sooner rather than later, whether this weekend or next month, should the Eagles make the playoffs and advance.
“I’ve been thinking about it every time I hit the practice field — cherish the moment you have,” he said.
Jefferson said he never doubted to be playing again after three shoulder surgeries. His eye black patches have an abbreviation for Philippians 4:13 on them. He even has the verse — “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me” — tattooed on his arm.
“I give God thanks every day for allowing me to come back every day after three surgeries,” he said. “I never gave up hope. I don’t live like that.”
But his career may not be done, if the Eagles can beat Colorado State on Saturday. A win over the Rams, a Football Bowl Subdivision team, even at 1-9, could go a long way in convincing the Football Championship Subdivision playoff selection committee of the Eagles’ worthiness.
“I can hope and pray,” Jefferson said.