When Sean Savoy made the decision to transfer from Virginia Tech, football wasn’t on his mind. With his mother’s health declining, he just wanted to find somewhere to go to school close to home.
But the wide receiver ended up getting the opportunity to continue his football career at Maryland, officially announcing his transfer on Jan. 29, 2019. Less than a month later, the deal got sweeter: his Hokie teammate, quarterback Josh Jackson, was coming to College Park.
Savoy says Jackson is his “family for life.” The two have helped each other get through some of their toughest moments in life, and now they have each other to rely on as they adjust to a new life with Maryland football.
“It’s definitely been nice coming in,” Jackson said. “Even though I was able to visit a few times, it was nice to have one guy that I’d known for two years now, a guy that I’ve been through games with. It’s nice to have Sean, and we’re both looking forward to this new opportunity.”
A tragic loss
Savoy had just finished the best game of his collegiate career. Against Boston College on Oct. 7, 2017, he caught nine passes for 139 yards and a 53-yard touchdown, notching the most receiving yards for a Virginia Tech true freshman since 1987.
But he wouldn’t be able to soak it in long.
At around 3:50 a.m., just hours after the game, his brother, Omar Rogers, was found shot in a car outside of a southeast Washington, D.C., bar. Rogers, a 25-year-old singer, was pronounced dead at a hospital shortly thereafter.
Savoy’s sister, Mesha McBride-Savoy, said their family was planning to drive down to Blacksburg to tell him in person, but a friend broke the news over text. Savoy immediately returned home to be with his family, and his sister still remembers how emotional the loss was for him.
Yesterday I lost my number 1 fan my big brother he was shot 5 times and left 2 of his sons behind I promise they will be ok LLO❤️ pic.twitter.com/2BiuzeCCHl— Sean Savoy (@Allmet_Boogie) October 9, 2017
“He was devastated that our brother was killed that day,” McBride-Savoy said. “I think that he channeled my brother. … He used his relationship with Omar and Omar’s love for him, and his support for him, on the field.”
Savoy did just that in the Hokies’ first game following Rogers’ death, with the help of Jackson. The redshirt freshman quarterback threw a slant to the wide receiver on the opening play against North Carolina on Oct. 21, which Savoy caught for a 23-yard gain.
“It kind of helped a little bit, ease the pain,” Savoy told press after the game. “When I go out there and I don’t see him out there no more, it touched me. I know he’s with me, but I’m used to seeing him right there, right behind the bench, rooting me on.”
The loss of his brother has been tough for Savoy to deal with, but it’s also provided a unique common ground between him and his new coach, Mike Locklsey. Locksley’s son, Meiko, was fatally shot on Sept. 3, 2017 — also at age 25.
“From when I first got here, we talked about us having the same connection, us growing up in the same environment and what goes on in D.C.,” Savoy said.
Stuck on the sidelines
Old Dominion had just scored on Virginia Tech to tie the game at 28 early in the fourth quarter on Sept. 24, 2018, and Jackson was eager to make something happen on first down.
He bolted up the left side of the field past two defenders after faking a handoff to running back Steven Peoples. But as Jackson reached the Hokies’ 33-yard line, he was tackled by linebacker Demetrius Stitmon. The quarterback laid on the ground after the play, trying to push himself up off the turf without success, before being helped off the field by two trainers.
“Man, you gotta get back up,” Savoy told him on the sidelines. “You gotta go back in.”
Savoy remembers hearing Jackson scream in pain as soon as he tried to walk again. Still, he was determined to be there for his teammate.
“Come on, man. Let’s try to walk, I’m going to help you,” Savoy continued to tell him.
But it wasn’t something he could fix. “I can’t,” Jackson said before being carted off into the locker room. It was announced a few days later that he’d broken his leg and would be out indefinitely.
Jackson had led all Power 5 freshmen with 2,991 passing yards as a redshirt freshman the year prior, notching 20 passing touchdowns and adding six rushing scores. He was primed for another big season, but the injury put that to a halt.
“It’s definitely upsetting to go out with the injury, but it definitely makes you appreciate it,” Jackson said. “You get to learn a little bit about yourself really going through that.”
As Jackson adjusted to watching the game from the bench, so did Savoy. He started all 12 games as a freshman, but other receivers took his spot on the depth chart in the fall as he simultaneously continued to mourn the loss of his brother. The pair leaned on each other as they both grappled with new realities.
“There’s just like a connection that me and Josh had,” Savoy said. “It’s just love, man. It’s just like having a real brother, but we’re not really brothers. We’re just locked in and we’re family for life.”
‘You gained your wings’
For most of Savoy’s life, his mother dealt with a rare disease called Scleroderma. The condition affects the body’s connective tissue and forced Lashawn Savoy to have multiple fingers amputated on both hands.
When Savoy visited home last October, it became clear that his mother’s health was declining. He made the trip back to the district to see her as often as he could, but he was unhappy with being four hours away at such a dire time.
”It was a tough battle,” Savoy said. “Everything was going just downhill. … It was just a daily day thing where you didn’t know what to expect with her. So it was just getting real bad and getting worse to where I was like, ‘Man, I’m putting my dream to the side to be there by her side.’ So I wanted to come here, just [be] with her in her final stages.”
Though he didn’t transfer until late January, he was able to use Virginia Tech’s long winter break to spend time with his mother. Savoy remained strong, but it was a lot to handle given the recent loss of his brother.
While they weren’t physically together at the time, Savoy said Jackson continued to be there for him as the situation worsened. And Locksley, not even his coach at the time, reached out to say he would always be there for whatever he needed.
“As soon as he found out the news, he called me and he told me everything that he knew and what he what he went through,” Savoy said. “That was the first thing that we ever talked about.”
On Jan. 31, two days after Savoy’s transfer to Maryland was officially announced, his mother passed away.
“You gained your wings baby,” Savoy wrote in an Instagram post. “You fought your battle to the end.”
A duo reunited
As Savoy continued to cope with loss, he began to find a new community with the Terps. And soon, he would be reunited with his former teammate.
Once Jackson committed to Maryland, he knew exactly who he wanted to room with. Shortly after telling Savoy he would join him next season, Jackson asked him if he could move in with him. Now the pair live together in an apartment with Jackson’s dog, Simba.
Savoy was originally going to switch to defensive back, training with the defense in the spring. But once freshmen arrived over the summer and Maryland gained more depth on that side of the ball, the coaching staff decided to move Savoy back to his natural position, where they’ll utilize him in the slot.
“One of the hardest parts about playing in the interior slot position is that it’s a position that you have to play mentally on the run and on the move, whereas a lot of other positions on the field at the receiver, you get pre-snap keys and you’re working over your pre-snap keys,” offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery said. “We’re excited to see how he’s able to play, but I’m more excited to see how we can grow his football IQ.”
Now Jackson and Savoy won’t just be teammates again, but they’ll be playing on the same side of the ball, reigniting the chemistry they shared at Virginia Tech.
“I was very excited to hear he’s going to be playing receiver,” Jackson said. “I’m definitely looking forward to getting to work with him again.”
Locklsey and his staff haven’t yet decided who will start at quarterback for the Terps this season, but if it’s Jackson — he’s the presumed favorite — there’s a lot to look forward to with Savoy on the receiving end. The duo connected for 454 yards and four touchdowns in 2017, helping lead the Hokies to a 9-4 record and a Camping World Bowl appearance.
“He understands where I’m going to be at on the field and I understand how his balls are thrown,” Savoy said. “So it’s just a day-in, day-out process that we’re just going to get down pat even more and get better at.”
As both learn a new system and get to know new teammates, they know at the end of the day they can come home to something familiar.
“I appreciate the fact that [Sean] lives with Josh,” McBride-Savoy said. “When my brother passed, they had their own relationship. And just to see him build solid friendships that help him get through whatever he goes through is refreshing.”