J.J. Wilcox was in motion running away from the play, and because his back was to the ball he had no idea of what happened.
“All I heard was ‘fumble’ and I turned around and the guy was running down the field,” Wilcox said. “I took off after him and fortunately I caught him.”
If there’s one play that stands out from Georgia Southern’s 2010 season it was that of Wilcox chasing down Furman’s Ryan Steed the length of the field after Steed picked up Robert Brown’s fumble.
Trailing, 21-17, late in the third quarter, the Eagles were at the Paladin 5 and poised to go ahead when Brown fumbled and Steed picked up the ball at the 3.
The Paladin cornerback had a head start, but that did not deter Wilcox, who finally horse-collared Steed 89 yards later at the Eagles’ 8. Furman scored three plays later to go up, 28-17, but Wilcox’s effort helped jump-start a comeback that led to a 32-28 win and a playoff bid.
“That play, I think, epitomized the heart this team had,” coach Jeff Monken said. “I think that team played that way all year — tooth and nail for everything, and that play was indicative of the way they played. These kids decided to play that way. The coaches don’t have anything to do with that. That comes from within.”
That play, along with a touchdown he scored last Saturday against Chattanooga, illustrate why Wilcox is so important to the unbeaten Eagles (6-0, 4-0) who will be out to keep their No. 1 ranking and unbeaten record intact when they meet Furman (3-2, 2-1) at 3 p.m. Saturday at Paulson Stadium.
The touchdown against the Mocs shows up on the line score simply as a 20-yard pass from Jaybo Shaw, but it was the result of an outstanding individual effort from Wilcox.
“He broke five tackles on that play,” offensive coordinator Brent Davis said. “He plays with reckless abandon, runs hard and attacks people with the football. He’s a great example of the aggressiveness we want. He’s strong and physical. He’s one of the most physical slots we’ve had here. He’ll block, too.”
Wilcox tries to deflect attention away from himself and toward his coaches and teammates.
“I owe everything to coach Monken,” Wilcox said. “He stays on me hard, but he’s brought me a long way. He keeps me humble and teaches me to be unselfish and play under control.”
As to the play at Furman, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Cairo junior didn’t think it was that big of a deal.
“Anyone on the team would have done it,” Wilcox said. “I didn’t want to let my teammates down, and if he scored then I wanted him to earn it. I was determined to get him down.”
It was the same with the touchdown.
“Any time I get the ball in my hands, I want to score,” Wilcox said. “If they trust me enough to get the ball to me then I owe it to them to score.
“Coach Davis made a great call and Jaybo got the ball to me. I owed it to them to score.”
As a freshman, Wilcox played in eight games but did not touch the ball. He’s been busy making up for it since.
The player, who sometimes is referred to as Big Play J.J., is averaging 10.7 yards per play for his career.
This season Wilcox has 292 yards rushing on 28 attempts and has caught four passes for 116 yards, a whopping 29 yards per reception.
Last year he was the team’s second-leading rusher with 484 yards on 85 attempts while catching 22 passes for 551 yards, an average of 25 yards per catch. That totals a combined 1,622 yards on 155 touches.
“He’s a talented receiver,” Davis said. “He would have been a good receiver in the other offense, too. If he keeps working on it mentally he can be one of the best we’ve ever had.”