Photo courtesy the Buffalo Bills
Former Lovejoy star, Tashard Choice, carries the ball for the Buffalo Bills, his third team this season after being waived by the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins.
Wildcat Nation stretches beyond the borders of Clayton County — at least as far as San Diego, where anxious fingers will type for updates on what could be a historic night for Lovejoy football.
While the No. 6-ranked Wildcats are tussling with No. 1 Tucker for a Class AAAA championship at the Georgia Dome, one of their best-known graduates will be following the game via Twitter, GHSA.tv, or wherever the connection’s best.
No words of professional advice are needed, Buffalo Bills running back Tashard Choice said.
“They know what to do,” he said of the players who carry the Lovejoy legacy to the final frontier tonight.
He’d be there with them if he could, but he’s out of eligibility, and anyway, the Bills are traveling across country for a game against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday. Given the season Choice has had, staying close to the team’s hotel California seems in order.
His parents will represent him in the Georgia Dome, he said, likely donning some of the same Lovejoy apparel he once wore. Choice is confident that the Wildcats will bring home the title that eluded him.
“They just have to go out and play Lovejoy Wildcat football,” he said.
Choice played Lovejoy Wildcat football, too — a proud member of the Class of 2003 — but never for more than 12 games in a season. The Wildcats’ path forever seemed blocked by Lowndes or Westside-Macon.
But, what he learned as a Wildcat, sticks with him today and has helped him in this, the most difficult of his four NFL seasons.
He started the season with the Dallas Cowboys, the team that drafted him out of Georgia Tech in 2008. But after hamstring and knee injuries limited him to 75 yards on 28 carries in six games, they waived him.
The Washington Redskins picked him up, only to cut him three weeks, one game, six carries and seven yards later. Looking for a back who could replace the injured Fred Jackson, the Bills immediately signed him the next day, reuniting Choice with his Tech coach, Chan Gailey.
He perseveres, because that’s what Lovejoy Coach Al Hughes — with whom he remains in weekly contact — taught him.
“Mental toughness,” Choice said. “While other people were telling me how good I was, he’d always tell me I wasn’t that good. He kept me humble.”
Without those Lovejoy lessons, this season might have humbled Choice, 27, more than it has. But that experience has gotten him through, and he hopes that the Wildcats will draw on similar lessons should the going get rough against Tucker, because the rewards are forever.
“Once you’re a champion, nobody can take that away from you,” he said.
With all that has gone on this season, Choice hasn’t had the chance to see a Wildcats game in person. But don’t think for a second he doesn’t know what’s going on.
“They have a running back just like me,” he said, referring to Travis Custis, who has 1,805 yards, 30 touchdowns and a jersey number one digit off from the No. 2 Choice used to wear in Columbia blue and Navy blue.
In any case, Choice said he hopes the Wildcats realize the opportunity they have, and understand that they carry the hopes of Wildcats-past with them.
“They’re not playing just for themselves,” he said.