Many college football players wrestled with the question of whether to play the sport they love during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Citadel's Willie Eubanks III was not one of them.
"It really was not a hard decision for me," said Eubanks, the Bulldogs' FCS All-American linebacker. "I told my parents I wanted to play, my coaches, everybody around me. It wasn't too much of a decision to think about.
"It's my senior year and I didn't want to look back on that and think about not playing, about my last game being against Wofford my junior year. I wanted to do what it takes, as a leader of the defense, to lead my team the best I could. I couldn't do that if I was not playing."
There's a little extra at stake for Citadel seniors such as Eubanks and all-Southern Conference receiver Raleigh Webb, Bulldogs who might have a shot at a professional career.
Eubanks, 6-2 and 230 pounds, and the speedy Webb (6-2, 213) are at least on NFL radar screens. A season wiped out by COVID-19 would have robbed them of valuable game film for review by scouts.
Instead, the Bulldogs' four-game fall slate gives them a chance to showcase themselves against three FBS squads: South Florida, No. 1 Clemson on Saturday, and at Army West Point on Oct. 10.
"It's always exciting to play against these great players," Eubanks said. "We don't usually get to play that many FBS opponents and now we're playing three in one year."
A game against Clemson was an important showcase for one of The Citadel's most successful NFL players, Pro Bowl punt returner Andre Roberts of the Buffalo Bills. Roberts is now in his 11th NFL season.
“A lot of our guys believe they could be playing at that level,” Roberts said before the Bulldogs played Clemson in 2008. “But opportunities here or there didn’t go their way, and they wound up at a smaller school like The Citadel.
“But one reason we come to The Citadel is the chance to play bigger teams and prove to those big teams that we can play at that level. There’s team motivation, but also personal motivation, to prove that we can play with the talent that they have.”
Roberts caught seven passes for 149 yards and a TD in the first half that day, forcing Clemson to roll its coverage toward him in the second half. He finished with nine catches for 153 yards in a 45-17 loss — and with valuable tape against top-quality opposition for NFL scouts.
Eubanks already has faced off against top FBS competition, with four tackles as a sophomore against Alabama and Heisman Trophy candidate Tua Tagovailoa. He had three tackles (one for loss) in last season's 27-24 upset of Georgia Tech. And in a 27-6 loss at South Florida last week, Eubanks led the Bulldogs with 12 tackles, including three for loss and a sack.
"I've gotten to face Alabama when they were No. 1, Clemson when they were No. 2 (in 2016) and Clemson again when they are No. 1," Eubanks said. "Not many guys get that experience, so that's pretty special."
But Eubanks doesn't view Saturday's game as an individual showcase.
"I really don't look at it like that," he said. "I just look at it like, I've got to do what it takes for us to get a victory."
For his part, Webb attracted attention with a remarkable 20.6 yards-per-catch average on 30 receptions in The Citadel's run-heavy offense last season, with 10 of his catches going for touchdowns.
In the win over Georgia Tech, Webb caught just one pass, but it went for a 30-yard TD and an early 7-0 lead against the Yellow Jackets.
Citadel seniors such as Eubanks and Webb could face another decision if the SoCon comes up with a plan for spring football. The 2021 NFL Draft is set for April 29-May 1, with free-agent tryouts and signings coming soon after.
"My main focus is taking care of business this fall," Eubanks said. "I just want to do my best each and every week from August to Oct. 10. When that time comes, that's when I'll think about it."
• Citadel defensive back Torian Spencer announced on Twitter that he will enter the NCAA transfer portal.
Spencer, who opted out of the 2020 season, is a 5-11, 172-pound redshirt freshman from Union City, Ga., who appeared in one game last season.