In his fifth season at Southern, linebacker Calvin Lunkins knows the drill as well as anyone.
No game is more important than any other, no matter who you play or when you play. Going 1-0 every week is the mantra.
This week’s game against Virginia University of Lynchburg at 4 p.m. Saturday is no exception,.
Except that it is.
It’s the last time Lunkins will play on the turf at A.W. Mumford Stadium. There’s an outside chance Southern could play host to the Southwest Athletic Conference championship game, but the team is celebrating Senior Night by honoring 15 departing seniors.
“I’m going out there like any other week to make some plays and be grateful I made it to this point,” said Lunkins, ever dutiful. “It’s kind of sad that it will be my last home game but I’m grateful to be in this position.
“It was a culture shock coming from New Orleans. Southern embraced me and I embraced them. I took advantage of my opportunity.”
Lunkins will be playing in his 43rd game as a Jaguar and has compiled 201 tackles, among them seven sacks, in that span. He leads the squad this season with 57 stops to go with five tackles for loss, including 1.5 sacks. He’s one of the main reason’s Southern has the top run defense in the conference and 18th nationally (115.7).
But Lunkins has brought much more to the table than tackles and sacks. He’s set the kind of example on the field, in the classroom and away from the school that coach Dawson Odums has preached.
Lunkins has been a Dean’s List honoree every semester and earned the right to wear the No. 1 jersey this season by compiling the team’s best grade point average. He wore No. 52 throughout his career until this season.
“We’re talking about a guy who has never caused trouble, always front and center, on time, works hard,” Odums said. “He’s a guy you root for. He’s given Southern a lot of his time, energy and dedication. As a head coach, you hate to see those guys leave.”
Odums said Lunkins' on-field ability and classroom dedication start with his parents, Trina and Calvin Lunkins, of New Orleans. Lunkins blossomed as a senior linebacker at Warren Easton in 2014. The Jaguars had to work hard to pry him away from a commitment to UL.
He started two games as a freshman but a knee injury ended his season. It was his junior year where he stepped into a leadership role and set an example as the consummate student-athlete.
“My parents always instilled in me to worry about school first,” Lunkins said. “I can’t play football without school. I took it serious because the next level is no guarantee. I like competing at all levels, school, football, whatever.
“(Teammate) Demetrius Carter mentored me, helped me with the plays, and showed me how to compete at a high level. My junior year was my time to step up. The 2014 seniors were gone. It was my time. I took to it right away. I was always a leader in high school.”
Said center Jaylon Brinson: “He’s one of the toughest defensive players I go against every day in practice. He’s also one of the players everyone on the team looks up to.”
Lunkins has already received his undergraduate degree in therapeutic recreation and is working on his masters degree in clinical rehabilitation. He wants a shot at football at the next level and when that phase of his life is done, he said he wants to move to Dallas with his girlfriend, Tawan Gradney, a speech and language pathologist, and work as a certified recreation therapist helping to rehab the disabled.
But Lunkins said he and his teammates have some unfinished business. He wants another shot at Alcorn State in the SWAC championship game and a chance to play in the Celebration Bowl. He wants it for himself and his teammates, especially his fellow seniors.
“We built a lot of memories together and have a great bond,” Lunkins said. “We’re trying to go out with a bang. We know what’s at stake. We know we have a chance to go back in December and try to win it.”