CARROLLTON, Ga. - The 2017 football season for the University of West Georgia was one of peaks and valleys in the first year under head coach David Dean. But when the dust settled in November, the Wolves spent four months of the fall wading through one of the toughest schedules in the nation to a 9-4 record and the program’s third trip to the NCAA Division II Playoffs in the past four seasons.
The season began on a high note for the Wolves, as one of the biggest question marks for fans was answered quickly. The West Georgia defense lost eight starters from the 2016 season, including three who are now on NFL rosters.
But despite that loss, the 2017 Wolves started strong against Fort Valley State, allowing just 227 yards in a 34-9 season opening victory. To continue the elation from the West Georgia faithful, the offense rolled up more than 500 yards of offense, including 305 yards on the ground for a dominating win. That domination continued the following week with another nearly 500-yard performance in a 45-7 romp over Miles. The peaks soon turned into a valley with the first road game of the year, as the Wolves lost the Gulf South Conference opener 17-7 at Delta State.
That was followed with another peak, as West Georgia returned home for three-straight games, winning each by at least two touchdowns. That included victories over North Alabama and Valdosta State to bring the Wolves to 5-1 on the year and 2-1 against conference competition.
Another valley came in the next road trip, as the Wolves fell at West Alabama by another slim margin, losing 34-31 to the Tigers to fall to 2-2 in league play. The Wolves had a chance in the final minute of the contest, but an interception in the end zone sealed the win for UWA.
Three more weeks and the Wolves were back to winning, moving to 8-2 on the year with a trio of conference victories. Meanwhile, West Georgia moved into position to potentially host a playoff game, reaching the fourth spot in the Super Region 2 Rankings after a thrilling victory over Florida Tech in Game 10.
In that game, the Wolves trailed for 58 minutes, and in the final two minutes of the contest, caught the Panthers and then won the game on an interception return for a touchdown from junior cornerback Jakyron Young with 24 seconds left in the contest. All that remained was a Senior Day against the West Florida Argonauts between the Wolves and a home playoff game. But that would not come to fruition, as the Argos best UWG in that final regular season game, which potentially could knock the Wolves out of playoff contention.
On Selection Sunday, West Georgia was called as the seventh seed in Super Region 2, setting up a first-round date for the Wolves in Virginia, taking on the undefeated Virginia State Trojans. The CIAA champion Trojans were no match for the Wolves in the opening round of the playoffs, as David Dean won his first playoff game as the head coach at West Georgia, 35-9 in Ettrick, Va.
That set up a rematch for the Wolves, as West Florida bested third-seeded Wingate in the first round. West Georgia would host a playoff game for the third time in school history. But, this time, the season would close in the second round of the playoffs, as the Argos again pulled out the victory, this time 17-14 to close out the 2017 campaign.
Postseason awards rolled in for the Wolves, led by Devontae Jackson, who became the sixth West Georgia player ever to earn GSC Player of the Year honors, and is the first offensive player to claim the honor in nearly two decades. Quarterbacks Toby Strange (1997) and Jeremy Clements (1998) are the other two UWG standouts named the league’s top offensive player. The list of UWG players named league defensive player of the year includes Nate Coggins (2001), Kelvin Morris (2005), and Dylan Donahue, who won the honor a year ago.
Eight other West Georgia players were named All-Gulf South Conference, including Harley Vaughan and Desmond Harrison. The seniors made waves in 2017, as Vaughan set the school record for games started, finishing his career with 53 starts. Harrison became the first player in school history to receive an invitation to the Reese’s Senior Bowl, and will likely be the third player in the past three years to receive the opportunity to show his talents at the NFL Combine.