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A BEAK NOT BLEAK: Tough season for JSU, but video star Lang says it never hurts too much to laugh

JSU EW celebration

Jacksonville State's Montrez Lang celebrates after JSU defeated Eastern Washington 49-45 in the last minute of the game. Photo by Stephen Gross / The Anniston Star

JACKSONVILLE — Montrez Lang still smiles over that viral Jacksonville State preseason football hype video, memes and “man boobs” be damned.

“Look at it now,” the senior defensive tackle said with a grin. “Laughing stock.”

Three months, four losses, so many ended streaks and more dashed hopes later, the Gamecocks need laughs. They could also use senior leadership, and who better than Lang to provide both?

JSU (6-4, 3-3 Ohio Valley Conference) goes to Tennessee Tech (5-4, 2-3) on Saturday knowing its string of five consecutive OVC titles and six consecutive playoff berths have gone the way of the shirt Lang ripped off in that preseason video.

A 36-game OVC winning streak ended last season.

A 32-game winning streak in regular-season home games ended this season.

Not ranked for the first time in 84 releases of the STATS-FCS poll, the Gamecocks go to Tech knowing they’re fighting to extend their one remaining streak … 16 consecutive winning seasons, the longest active streak in FCS football.

JSU goes with two regular-season games remaining, including their Nov. 23 finale at home against Eastern Kentucky. A victory in either game assures 17 consecutive winning seasons.

The 2019 senior class (35-12) stands where it will finish, however, as the fifth-winningest class in school history. The 2015 seniors (40-12) are fourth.

A young defensive line ranked among JSU’s biggest worries coming into this season, and the unit justified those worries through five games in August and September. The line and defense have improved noticeably after that, giving up no more than 24 points after surrendering 52 at Austin Peay on Sept. 28.

Improvement came, no small thanks to Lang’s leadership.

“He’s been through injuries here where he’s missed years,” JSU coach John Grass said. “He’s been the roll-in guy, but this spring, you go to the meeting room, and he looks around to his right and to his left, and he’s the only older guy in there. …

“I can attest to his leadership with that room. It’s been resilient. It’s been there from day one of spring training.”

Leadership comes with Lang’s personal touches. He describes it as “off the wall” comments, often derived from teammates’ attire choices.

“Guys will come to practice just wearing anything, and I’ll just say something about that, really,” Lang said.

Lang stepped out from departed senior Randy Robinson’s shadow this year, and did it spectacularly.

The JSU-produced hype video, touched with grotesque moments of red and white paint representing the blood of a JSU soul, climaxed with Lang’s part. He ripped off his shirt, revealing a less-than-buff chest. He thrashed about, showing his uncontrollable readiness to start the season.

Lang embodies the strength of a Division I defensive tackle. It’s required to survive on the line of scrimmage, where 300-pound young men like Lang push and hand-fight other 300-pounders.

They all bench press more than a fifth of a ton.

They all squat more than a quarter of a ton.

The physicality of line play exacts a physical cost. Lang has two dislocated thumbs. He’s battled a sprained medial collateral ligament. A high-ankle sprain, with slight ligament tears, forced him to miss the Tennessee State game.

Lang plays in a power pit, and power isn’t always pretty. Lang’s central casting derived more from his senior gravitas and force of personality, not a Malibu build.

“When I first seen what I had to do on the list for the video, I laughed at it,” he said. “I thought about it for a second, like, do I really want to go up here and rip my shirt off, knowing that I don’t have the chest that would be desired in a video.

“I didn’t really care what people had to say, but I said, ‘I’ll do it for laughs and giggles. I know somebody’s going to laugh at it.’”

The video drew statewide and national media coverage, arguably achieving its purpose, but not all coverage was kind. Lang’s chest became the subject of social-media memes, including a Family Guy-themed meme showing lead character Peter Griffin’s less-than-svelte upper torso.

“That’s probably the funniest one,” Lang said.

Lang took shots from all directions, including friendly fire from syndicated radio comedy hosts Rick Burgess & Bill “Bubba” Bussey, who often joke about being big.

Lang said he’d like to talk to them, and what would he say?

“Why they got to say all those mean things about me?” Lang said with a chuckle. “I thought we were JSU family. …

“I don’t care what anyone has to say, really, about it. That’s the same way I put into football. I don’t care what anybody else says. I’m just going to come in every day and put in the hard work I have to do.”

With two games left in a doomed season, by JSU standards, that’s the approach the Gamecocks must take. How fortunate they have a guy willing to rip his shirt off and laugh at himself.

Lang said he has the hype video saved on his cell phone and hopes to show it to his kids one day. A soon-to-be-workaday man with an eye toward coaching, he can bank a motivational ploy.

“I’m always just the guy who’s trying to uplift the room,” he said. “I mean, everything is sad right now. People still trying to figure out what’s going on, but I’m just trying to uplift all of the guys I can and keep a smile on everybody’s face.”

Sports Writer Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter: @jmedley_star.