Georgia State started the season with four healthy captains, all seniors.
Georgia State finished its season Tuesday with a 38-17 loss to Wyoming in the Arizona Bowl in Tucson, Ariz., with just one of those captains mostly healthy. Linebacker Ed Curney and safety Remy Lazarus went down earlier in the year with season-ending knee injuries. Quarterback Dan Ellington played through an ACL injury in the final four games. Only offensive tackle Hunter Atkinson survived unscathed.
Still, those seniors have a legacy, established a culture for the younger players, and helped the team post seven wins that coach Shawn Elliott said will one day lead to that elusive eighth win and consistent bowl appearances.
“We had a really program-changing season,” Elliott said. “You might see a record of 7-6 (and say), ‘How can that be program changing?’
“I saw grit, toughness, fight, leadership. I saw a program starting to blossom.”
Elliott pointed to the lack of luck his team had, particularly the injuries.
Ellington suffered his injury Nov. 9 in the first half against Louisiana-Monroe. The Panthers were 6-2 including a stunning season-opening victory over Tennessee. Wins against Furman, Arkansas State, Coastal Carolina, Army and Troy followed before the game against the Warhawks. The team lost four of its next five after Ellington's injury. It set school records for total offense, points, touchdowns, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns.
The seniors experienced a lot, from practicing at the facility on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to moving to Turner Field. There was a coaching change from Trent Miles to Elliott. There was the first bowl win in its second attempt.
Elliott said he could write books about each player’s toughness. He praised Ellington, who took another hit on his knee in the second quarter Tuesday. Elliott said he and Ellington have the type of relationship that if Ellington didn’t think he could continue, he need only say so. Elliott would never question his toughness.
Ellington did continue. He said he felt good in practices before the bowl game. He joked that the coaches wondered is his knee was even injured. He finished Tuesday leading the team in rushing yards (70), with a touchdown, while also passing for 156 yards with a touchdown and interception.
For the season, he finished with 2,447 yards passing with 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He rushed for 668 yards and six touchdowns. He will be remembered alongside the two other great quarterbacks in the team’s 10-year history: Nick Arbuckle and Conner Manning.
“I hope I left a good legacy,” Ellington said. “I’m glad coach Elliott gave me the opportunity.”
Ellington said his knee is scheduled to be repaired Jan. 10, after he participates in a college all-star game in Fort Worth, Texas. He will compete as a quarterback in the game.
“Me and the other seniors left it in good hands,” he said. “We worked our butts off in the offseason and summer. Those guys in the locker room are going to work their butts off to get back to this position.”
Competing to replace Ellington will be incoming signee Mikele Colasurdo from Inman, S.C., and three freshmen from this season: Cornelious Brown; Jamil Muhammad, a transfer from Vanderbilt; and Kierston Harvey.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes in the spring,” Ellington said.
As it did with its victory over Tennessee, Georgia State will get several chances for another defining victory in 2020. It will play at Alabama, at Charlotte and will host East Carolina.
The majority of its starters on defense will return, as will most of the starters on offense and a signing class that includes several offensive linemen.
It just won’t have its four captains.
“They did everything in their power to be successful,” Elliott said. “We will never forget what they did for us.”