One might hear the phrase, “Play for something more than just yourself.” One Buford junior did exactly that. Jackson Favors, #71 on the varsity football team’s offensive line, chose his jersey number with a purpose. He wanted to honor a former teammate whom he had looked up to over the years.
That former teammate is Austin Blake, BHS Class of 2018, a fellow offensive lineman who went on to play for Campbell University. Blake found out after spring break last year that he had a rare autoimmune disease called Guillain-Barre syndrome. This disease is where one’s immune system attacks the nervous system, more specifically the myelin. The myelin is essentially the skin or shell of a nerve protecting it. When this becomes damaged it can block the signals from the brain to the damaged nerves, which can cause weakness, numbness and even paralysis.
Blake had undergone shoulder surgery in February 2020 and shortly thereafter, he began to experience numbness in his toes. Days later he fell going into the Campbell University football field house and the next day he said his legs “felt as if every day was leg day.” Team trainers took him to various doctors and a hospital to check for blood clots because of his recent surgery. Nothing was found, but problems continued to persist for Blake. His professors were noticing he just didn’t seem himself.
Jump to the day before Campbell’s spring break, Blake’s mother picked him up to bring him back to Georgia as he still could not drive with his shoulder in a sling. On the way home Blake wasn’t feeling well, so they made the decision to stop at a doctor in South Carolina. Again finding nothing wrong, Blake made his way home where his parents had to help him get into the house. That night he slept on the couch and when he woke up on Saturday morning, Blake said he could not walk as he was experiencing paralysis from the belly button area down.
The decision was made to take him to the hospital in Braselton. Blake underwent hours of MRIs and feeling he should be under the care of neurologists was transferred to Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville. The neurologists there were able to correctly diagnose him with Guillain-Barre, which a spinal tap later confirmed.
This started Blake on a long road to recovery and a relapse in July was another setback. Blake said he went through a wide range of emotions. He was confused, sad, angry and depressed. Blake was accustomed to running wide open as a collegiate athlete who started in 20 out of 22 games for Campbell University football as a true freshman and sophomore.
Favors learned about Blake being diagnosed with Guillain-Barre from family of Blake’s and it made a big impact on Favors.
“I was shocked by the news,” Favors said. “I had been keeping up with him and how his playing career was while he was at college. When I found out he got the disease, I wondered like all how someone that is such a light and positive force in life could have this happen to them.”
Blake made a big impact on Favors over the years. He was a person Favors could turn to for advice, and Favors said Blake was a positive light to everyone. So when the chance came to give a little back to a person who had given him so much, Favors jumped at it.
“All the time our coaches talk about honoring those that have come before and built our program. The chance to do that and honor someone that I was good friends with made the experience even more of an honor,” Favors said. “I asked for his permission to honor him and wear his number. When he told me he was excited to have me honor him, it gave me a rush of joy and a determination to do my best…”
Favors would write AB on his right wrist before every game this past season. He said he would look down at the initials every time he got tired and seeing them, he was reminded of all that Blake was overcoming and those thoughts would push him to work harder.
Upon learning that Favors intended to honor him, Blake said he felt truly honored. Having known Favors for a long time, it was very special. He was humbled and in awe that he had made such an impact on someone’s life.
“That’s the beauty of the Buford football way, we’re a F.A.M.I.L.Y. Meaning, forget about me I love you,” Blake said. “It’s about being there for the people of the past and present because we all wore that green and gold and it means something to be a Buford Wolf.”
Blake is continuing to work hard to overcome the autoimmune disease that derailed his plans. It’s been through the support of his family, friends, teammates and the Buford community that has kept his spirits up. He is determined to get back to playing football.
“I want to prove to myself and to others that you can achieve anything you put your mind to. I want to be back on the football field with my brothers,” Blake said.
All that Blake has gone through over the past year has made him change his major to health care management. He wants to help others going through life-changing illnesses or injuries.
Favors will return as a senior and a leader for the Buford offensive line. Blake will go back to Campbell’s offensive line. The bond that these two share will last a lifetime.