One of the special things about the Georgia Southern football team is how close players stay to the program, even after they’ve moved on from the game. Some former players still partake in active rolls with bettering the team in the form of working with the athletic department and contributing to the Eagle Football Alumni Association.
Others have continued to give back to Statesboro as a whole, remaining in town as productive community members helping to grow both the university and the town. And even those who have moved far away are constantly chiming in on social media to voice their support for their old team.
Former Eagle receiver Raja Andrews was another proud member in that long line of support as he was at Paulson Stadium for Georgia Southern’s game against Appalachian State last week.
Unfortunately, that game was his last.
Early Saturday morning, Andrews passed away, the victim of an automobile accident that took his life at the age of 31. The accident was a cruel and tragic blow to the Andrews family as Raja was in Swainsboro to attend his father’s funeral just months after he had also lost his mother.
“When I was here in 2006, I was fortunate enough to coach Raja as a young guy,” Georgia Southern coach Tyson Summers said. “I got a chance to coach him (in special teams) and remember him as an impressive guy who lit up a room.
“He didn’t come here on a full scholarship, but he ended up as an all-conference guy. A lot of Eagles remember him, and you can see that in the outpouring of people talking about him over the last few days.”
Left in the wake of the multiple tragedies for the Andrews family are Raja’s brother Brandon — who also played football for the Eagles — and his sister, Asia.
During his time with the Eagles, Andrews embodied the concept of a team-first player.
Recruited out of Swainsboro in 2004 to be a cog in the Eagles’ option game, Andrews was redshirtted in his first year before seeing action in all 12 games in 2005. From there, Andrews was thrown a curveball as a new coaching regime and a shift from the option took him from his slotback position and placed him in a receiver role.
Andrews scored his first collegiate touchdown during the 2006 campaign and — enduring yet another coaching change in 2007 — broke out to come within one catch of tying the school record for receptions in a season.
Raja’s 2008 senior season was one that will have him in the Eagles’ record books for the foreseeable future.
Andrews smashed the receptions record, with his 64 topping the previous mark of 39. His 873 receiving yards in 2008 also tacked a full 200 yards onto the previous season record. Andrews’ 127 receptions easily makes him the career leader for Georgia Southern and his 1,538 receiving yards ranks second all-time for the Eagles.
“There’s no doubt that he left an impression on this program,” Summers said. “When you walk into our receivers meeting room, there are three pictures on the wall and Raja is one of them. He’s a great example for our current players to try and live up to.”
On a personal note, this reporter wasn’t very close with Andrews, but had a few memorable encounters with him.
As an employee with the Georgia Southern athletic marketing department during the latter half of Andrews’ playing career, I had a handful of opportunities to interact with him and was impressed with his poise, calmness and confidence as a team leader, even as the team was still searching for an identity and facing criticism for underwhelming performances on the field.
After he had graduated, I had another chance to meet him — this time far off the field.
Already way behind in a poker game, Andrews was still a smiling picture of quiet stoicism. He seemed as confident throwing the rest of his chips into the pot as he was with returning a punt or leaping for a pass lofted across the middle.
His bold move caused a couple of players to fold their hands, but one stayed in the game — albeit nervously — only to find that Andrews had gone all-in with absolutely nothing. Andrews smiled, shook hands with the table, and was off to the rest of his Friday night.
While not close enough to him to treat that brief moment as some sort of all-encompassing evaluation of the way Andrews was, it was certainly evident that the guy knew how to have fun. Raja Andrews charged into everything — on-field challenges and bad card draws alike — at full speed and with all the confidence in the world.
Without him, the Eagles’ nest is a bit emptier.