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Eagles discuss Wiggins' death

The Georgia Southern football team was shaken on Monday night as word circulated that freshman offensive lineman Jordan Wiggins had passed away.

Things only got more difficult to handle as more time passed and the news worked its way into the open that Wiggins’ death was ruled to be suicide.

The world of college football is hectic, and even that’s an understatement. Those who take part in a collegiate football program have their lives almost entirely dedicated to the goal of preparing for the next opponent and winning games from September through December.

The high-stakes nature of the game is readily recognized by any fan throughout the nation, but all of that came to a halt for Georgia Southern.

“Monday was a trying night,” GS coach Chad Lunsford said. “We didn’t practice on Tuesday and we had a team meal where we tried to process everything. I’ve expressed thoughts about my faith in public and I don’t back away from that. That’s what gets me through and I do that because I have to be there for everyone else.”

Wiggins was pronounced dead Monday evening following a welfare check at his residence on the Georgia Southern campus. Responding officers entered Wiggins’ apartment and found the 18-year old unresponsive. He later passed away at East Georgia Regional Hospital. 

Georgia Southern resumed its normal practice schedule on Wednesday in preparation for Saturday’s Homecoming contest against New Mexico State. But while the itinerary shows that it’s business as usual, there’s no denying that thoughts and emotions are lingering far away from the practice and game fields.

“People talk about blocking bad things out,” Lunsford said. “This is something you don’t suppress or block out. This Saturday isn’t the most important thing. The most important thing is that everyone gets the help they need in order to move forward.”

On several occasions during Wednesday’s press conference, Lunsford repeated a phrase that rings true throughout all walks of life when it comes to dealing with suicide or reaching out to anyone who might be stuggling with tough personal issues.

“It’s ok to not be ok,” Lunsford said. “We talk about being tough, but tough can go different ways. Everyone wants to be tough on the field and paint a perfect picture of themselves on social media, but that’s not always what’s going on. It’s ok to not be ok.”

Following Tuesday’s canceled practice, Lunsford met with his player-led competition committee. The gravity of the situation was hanging heavy with players and administration alike, but the unanimous decision was that this week’s game carry on as planned - so that has become the new rallying point for a team that has endured much more than should be expected from a bunch of kids who are still just playing a game they love.

“I don’t have the answer,” Lunsofrd said. “There’s no plan to win in this situation. You just want to create a family atmosphere and lead on everyone.”

Georgia Southern will kick off against New Mexico State at 3 p.m. on Saturday. The Eagles are coming off of consecutive overtime victories and have evened their season record. Georgia Southern still controls its own destiny in the Sun Belt East division and needs three more wins to qualify for a bowl game this season.

The nature of college football demands that the Eagles' schedule carries on. And that's what the team will do on the field.

But the love and camraderie of a team mourning one of its own while trying to band together for strength and support is going to be an element of the 2019 Eagles that carries far beyond the record books.