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Southern University captains Austin Howard (7), Southern Aaron Tiller (94) and Danny Johnson (1) shake hands with Alabama State's captains, after the coin toss before their game at A.W. Mumford Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017.

ADVOCATE STAFF PHOTO BY TRAVIS SPRADLING

Some time shortly after Southern’s 2016 season ended with a 52-30 loss to Grambling, a collection of cell phones lit up with a message from Aaron Tiller.

The only recipients were Southern players just thrust into the first moments of their senior season.

“The one thing I remember is, ‘I don’t want to feel this feeling anymore,’” recalled senior quarterback Austin Howard. “… Everybody that was in that group message was like, ‘We’re with you; we’re riding with you.’”

Saturday against Prairie View A&M, Southern will honor its 17 seniors just before their final game at A.W. Mumford Stadium. They need a win to keep themselves within striking distance in the Southwestern Athletic Conference West division race.

This is a familiar position for these seniors. They have played meaningful games in the regular season’s final month in each of the past three years.

“They put us in position again in November,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “That’s the goal. When you look at your schedule, you try to make sure you can get to November in contention, and really, it’s up to the senior class.”

It started with that message from Tiller, meant to unify everyone behind the cause of playing meaningful games after November came to a close.

“There was a discussion that had to be had,” Tiller said. “We can’t keep feeling this feeling after working so hard to get here, then you get here and it’s over just like that.”

It was a group text message, sent out at first only to Southern’s senior class. It has since expanded to encompass the entire roster, Tiller said.

The group message has stayed active since that first notification popped up from Tiller on Thanksgiving weekend last year, and it has been especially active during the season.

It is a shared space to incubate notions about leadership, or to dissect a day’s work.

“We tell each other about how we felt about the practice at the end of the day, if we need to pick it up or just send encouraging messages to the seniors to say, ‘Hey, we’ve got this, this is our last year, we’re going to be all right,’” said senior running back Herb Edwards.

The group message also serves as a kind of players-only meeting that is constantly in their pockets.

“If you’ve got something to get off your chest or you’re feeling some type of way, you just say it in the group message, and we can handle that,” Tiller said. “That’s why I feel like we’re tighter as a team now. We say a lot of things, and a lot of stuff gets handled amongst us.”

Southern’s senior class has reached this crucial stage of the season in contention in each of its three years. Twice, Southern reached the last week of the regular season needing a win to advance to the postseason.

A win Saturday, on their day, would put the seniors on track to be in that position again. The hope is, for the first time in their career, they can end the season with a victory.

“With this senior class, they’re the best collective group of leaders that we’ve had,” Odums said. “… It’s probably the group that has had the most success as seniors.

“This group has never had a losing season. This group has been in contention three out of their four years. Now it’s all about seizing the moment, and if they do that, they’ll leave a legacy worth reading about in years to come.”

Follow Luke Johnson on Twitter, @ByLukeJohnson.