STATESBORO, Ga. - At one time, Justin Callaway was a Buccaneer at Briarwood Academy and later a Bulldog at Thomson High School. Today, Callaway is an Eagle, playing college football at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro.
And he's soaring high these days, like many of his teammates, because of the turnaround of the football program at GSU this season under first year Head Coach Chris Hatcher. The Eagles once were one of the top NCAA Division II football programs in the country and captured six national championships. The Eagles play in the Southern Conference and are now on top of the standings - thanks to a big win this past weekend.
The team's latest win came last Saturday when the Eagles staged a second half come-from-behind 21-17 victory over the Citadel Bulldogs during the annual homecoming at Paulson Stadium.
Callaway was especially jubilant following the victory over the Citadel.
"We got behind early, but we fought back," said Callaway. "We just never gave up."
The Eagles' touchdown came on a dazzling 80-yard run by senior quarterback Jayson Foster with 7:28 to play in the game.
"It was one of those situations where I knew I had to make something happen," said Foster during an interview following the game.
"That was a great run by Jayson," added Callaway.
And the win could spark the rest of the Eagles' season.
"I really believe we can have a great season and get into the playoffs." said Callaway, noting the victory over the Citadel was a "confidence builder."
Callaway plays on special teams for the Eagles.
"It's great being a football player at Georgia Southern University," said Callaway. "I've loved every moment of it."
Though he's a senior in the classroom, Callaway still has another year of football eligibility. But the second team middle linebacker and special teams player still hasn't made up his mind whether he will play football next season or go into the finance marketing field, which is what he is majoring in at the university.
If he chooses the career path, the 2004 Thomson High grad knows he'll miss the camaraderie of the team.
"I'm having a great time," said Callaway, the son of Donnie Callaway and Pam Capps and stepson of Jim Capps, all of Thomson. "This team is all about being supportive of one another. We're all Eagles."
Callaway earned much respect from teammates and Eagle fans earlier this season when he was called upon to start the game as linebacker in place of starter Quentin Taylor, who was injured prior to the Chattanooga game. Against the Mocs, Callaway recorded seven tackles. Prior to that performance, he had made only three tackles in nine games.
"I was fortunate to have had a great game against Chattanooga," said Callaway.
While at Thomson High School his senior year, Callaway played that same position under Defensive Coordinator John Barnett.
Callaway is one of four recent former Bulldog linebackers who have excelled at the college level.
The other three include Danny Verdun-Wheeler, who played at the University of Georgia four years and Jasper and Casper Brinkley, who are now seniors at the University of South Carolina.
"Coach Barnett and I have talked several times over the telephone," said Callaway. "He's had some good words of wisdom for me and I appreciated them."
Thomson High Head Coach Luther Welsh also fondly remembers Callaway.
"He only played for us a year, but he did an outstanding job for us," Coach Welsh said. "He was tough. He was a good kid to coach and a great addition to our defensive team the year he played for us."