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ETSU photo by Dakota Hamilton / East Tennessee State running back Jacob Saylors, left, tries to get past a Vanderbilt player during his team's 23-3 win on Sept. 4 in Nashville.

The Snack Shack in Jasper, Tennessee, is typically closed on Saturdays. It certainly won't be opening this one.

The small restaurant known for its Hawaiian Shaved Ice and banana splits is owned by Joyce Bolton Payne, grandmother of Jacob Saylors, the East Tennessee State University running back who was a high school star for the Marion County Warriors.

ETSU (6-0, 3-0 Southern Conference) — the Buccaneers are No. 10 in the Football Championship Subdivision national rankings — will visit the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (2-3, 1-1) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Finley Stadium. It will be Saylors' only chance to play in the stadium 30 minutes away from his hometown. He missed the 2019 game, which the Mocs won 16-13.

A four-year starter from 2014-17 at Marion County, Saylor was asked this week if the entire town of Jasper would shut down for the game.

"I wouldn't doubt it," he said. "I know how Marion County and our community is a tight-knit city."

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Staff photo / Marion County's Jacob Saylors (8) is tripped up by Tyner's Martavius Royals during a TSSAA Class 2A quarterfinal on Nov. 17, 2017.

The 5-foot-11, 195-pounder is one of three Chattanooga-area players on the ETSU roster — freshman quarterback Haynes Eller (East Hamilton) and redshirt junior fullback Jawan Martin (Meigs County) are the others — and Saturday's game will provide Saylors another opportunity to continue to quietly work his way up the lists in the Bucs' record books.

His 1,296 career rushing yards rank 10th in Bucs history (his backfield partner, junior Quay Holmes, has 3,460 yards and 37 touchdowns in his career, hence the word quietly), and Saylors' rushing average of 6.3 yards per carry is No. 1. He also has 59 career catches for 590 yards, has returned 33 kicks for a 24.2-yard average and has 16 touchdowns (14 rushing, two receiving).

"Athletically, he has a lot of versatility," ETSU coach Randy Sanders said. "He has the ability to do a lot of different things, but just from an attitude standpoint, he's willing to do a lot of things and wants to learn and wants to contribute in any way possible, so you get a guy with that kind of ability and that kind of attitude, and it's a big lift for the team."

Of course, it shouldn't be much of a surprise. Saylors rushed for more than 4,100 yards and had 74 touchdowns at Marion County, with nearly half of those scores (36) coming his senior season. He also grabbed 18 interceptions in his time with the Warriors, so it's not as though his versatility hadn't been on display.

And yet Saylors didn't have a college football home until the newly hired Sanders and his staff swooped in and made him an offer, with Saylors committing the day before national signing day in February 2018 and making it official a day later.

He helped the Bucs earn a share of the 2018 SoCon title, and he contributed 37 yards of total offense in a 23-3 win at Vanderbilt in September as they opened the season by beating a Southeastern Conference program.

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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / UTC defensive back Kareem Orr (2) tackles ETSU running back Jacob Saylors on Sept. 29, 2018, in Johnson City, Tenn.

Still, he admitted finding his time as a recruit frustrating before connecting with the Bucs, and it was then that he leaned on his family — namely his mom, Jeanetta Brophy.

"That's a tough process for anybody that believes they're talented enough to make it," he said. "A lot of kids from our area, smaller schools, have to go through it, but it's the reality of things and I'm so fortunate that my mom was that rock for me. She was a very strong woman, definitely my hero."

With time to reflect on that process, he called it "God's plan."

"The success that me and the team are having has been a blessing," he said. "I couldn't ask for anything else; it's extraordinary. I really don't even understand how I got lucky and took advantage of this opportunity, but anything that has ever crossed my path, I just want to make the most of it, and I think that's really helped me align with what God has in store for me.

"I think that helped me reach where I am today."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.

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