Jim Gazzolo column: Stay true to your school

Published 9:00 am Thursday, November 24, 2022

Deonta McMahon stayed true to himself.

In a world of transfer portals and jumping ship at the first sign of water, the McNeese State running back became an anchor to a program that was circling the drain.

He rewarded the new coaching staff with a year to remember while running his way into the Cowboys’ history books.

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Despite coaching changes, hurricanes, a pandemic and numerous other challenges with the football program, McMahon was there to honor his commitment to McNeese and himself.

“I never thought about leaving,” McMahon said. “McNeese gave me a place to play when nobody else wanted me.”

Coming out of college the back received little attention despite being a junior college all-American. But McNeese wanted him.

“There were not a lot of options for me,” he said. “So once I got here I wasn’t going to leave until I was done.”

McMahon was rewarded for his loyalty Wednesday when he was named the Southland Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year. This despite finishing on a team that had but four victories and was at the bottom of the league in offensive output overall.

That news came on the heals of being named one of 30 finalists for the Walter Payton Award, the Heisman Trophy of the Football Championship Subdivision.

McMahon had a season to remember, carrying the Cowboys offensively, especially down the stretch.

Despite seeing defenses put nine and 10 in the box, McMahon ran around, over — and at times — through, opponents. He even fired a touchdown pass.

“That was the most fun,” he said.

Along the way McMahon became the first Cowboy to win the SLC rushing title since 2008, finishing with 1,408 yards. His 7.4 yards a carry was good for fourth in the nation.

He was even better at the end, finishing the season averaging 216 yards over the final three games, all McNeese victories. This despite being the Cowboys’ only real offensive option.

But those are only numbers and tell little of the real story.

McMahon, as a senior going through a rebuilding season in an Air Raid passing scheme, helped will his way to the finish line. He did so because he wanted to leave a mark on a program that meant so much to him.

“The seniors want to set a standard at McNeese,” McMahon said. “We want to be a part of when this program gets back to winning championships. We want to be a part of that.”

That is a completely different attitude from before as players scurried out of the program at the first sign of trouble.

Instead, McMahon was a throwback, giving his all until the very end.

He can take pride in knowing if or when McNeese does turn the corner, he helped set the standard.

There will be those who exit the program this offseason, as is the case throughout the country. Some may even find glory in new places, though numbers indicate most don’t.

But it is the ones who stay through the hard times, who make the most of their opportunities and who finish the fight that earn the status of program changer.

This fall nobody helped change the direction of McNeese football more than Deonta McMahon.

Jim Gazzolo is a freelance writer who covers McNeese State athletics for the American Press. Email him at jimgazzolo@yahoo.com