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The 'Brotherhood' legacy

The 'Brotherhood' legacy

The 'Brotherhood' legacy

Georgia Southern's Jerick McKinnon (r...

    The legacy left behind by Georgia Southern’s seniors seems to be obvious.
    They came in during a 5-6 season in 2009 that marked a four-year absence from the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs and an overall program record of 21-23 during the span.
    Since then, they’ve helped lead the program to an overall record of 35-16, including a 7-3 record in the playoffs and three-straight trips to the semifinals.
    Saturday at Paulson Stadium will mark the end of an era. When Western Carolina visits, it will be the last FCS game ever played at Paulson Stadium.
    As that sinks in for the seniors, they aren’t thinking about the wins and losses of the last four years. They’re thinking about another legacy — the “brotherhood” they helped build.
    “This year hasn’t gone the way we wanted, but we know we’re a good football team with great kids on our team. We have great character on our team. It’s not just about talent. We have really great guys on this team,” said senior linebacker Josh Rowe, who played as a true freshman in 2009. “That’s something I can honestly say we didn’t have when I first got here. We changed this program around, and I know we’re going to leave a legacy here. We’re a brotherhood.”
    So what, exactly, is the brotherhood?
    “I can give you one word. It’s ‘love.’ We love each other,” Rowe said. “The brotherhood is something you can’t explain. You have to be in the brotherhood to understand it. Love is the only word that explains it. I’d do anything for them, and I know my teammates would do anything for me.”
    Graduate assistant Jaybo Shaw, a quarterback in 2010 and 2011 who transferred to GSU as a junior from Georgia Tech and returned as a coach this season, couldn’t agree more.
    “I take a lot of pride in it, and I played with great teammates,” Shaw said. “I love those guys. I’ll always stay in touch, and that’s something special. I think that’s why Georgia Southern is Georgia Southern. It’s a blessing just to be a part of it.”
    The Eagles (4-4, 2-4 Southern Conference) have only three games left in the FCS era. Though GSU has had its struggles on the field this season, Rowe is confident the program is much better now than it was when he arrived.
    “As the days wind down, you just go, ‘Dang, it’s really about to end.’ I was here for a 5-6 season. It was a totally different team,” Rowe said. “We had Chris Hatcher as the head coach, and things didn’t go our way. Coach Monken came in and we had a new attitude and a new face of the team.”
    Jerick McKinnon, who is in Georgia Southern’s top five all time for career rushing yards, is too busy thinking about the last three games to spend much time reflecting on the seniors’ legacy.
    “I think about it on and off. At the end of the season, it’ll really hit,” McKinnon said. “All the seniors, what we’ve been through and what we’ve meant to this university, stuff like that.”
    All he’s focused on now is putting on a show during his last game at Paulson Stadium.
    “As far as playing at home, it’s the end of a long journey for all the seniors,” McKinnon said. “We’ve been through a lot, all the success that we had and things like that, and we need to come out and leave on a good note. The fans are more than supportive. Supportive is a word that doesn't even describe them. They’re everything.”
    Saturday’s game won’t have an impact on the SoCon standings, and there aren’t any playoff implications, but it’s certainly a big deal for the Eagles.
    “I think it’s going to be a special day for Eagle Nation, but especially for these seniors,” Shaw said. “They went from their freshmen years, played in three-straight semifinal games, and now they’re going to play in the last FCS football game in Paulson. That’s pretty special.”
    The seniors aren’t done building their legacy quite yet.
    “You know, 30 years from now people might look back on Georgia Southern and they might say, ‘This team was the stepping stone to helping us get to the FBS level.’ This game means a lot to me,” Rowe said. “It’s not just my last football game in Paulson Stadium. It’s the last-ever FCS football game played here. We want to leave a mark. We want to please the fans, please the coaches, and mostly we want to please each other.”

    Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.

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