Georgia Southern Eagles

No ‘I’ In Team

By: Colin Lacy news services

What’s the Difference between a “Program” and a “Team”?

No matter what level sports, or what sport for that matter, the term “good program” gets thrown around as much as NIL.

The problem with this is just because a team is winning or performing well, doesn’t mean that it’s a good program.

Everybody knows what a good team looks like. Impressive stats, good players, and a lot of wins. But what does a good program look like? Is there a standard? Does it have something to do with Nick Saban’s “process”?

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that you stop hearing the term “program” past the college level. Nobody would say that the Atlanta Falcons are a good “program”. Good Team? So far. Good Organization? Yes. Good Franchise? Yes….most would say yes. It’s mainly college and high school sports entities that people talk about being a “program”.

To me, in order to be labeled as a “good program” it’s about development. Developing young men and women into great athletes, yes, but also developing the whole person.

Since sports fans are looking at how many NFL players that college programs produce, or how many recruiting “stars” come out of a high school program, it gets lost that MAYBE 5% of the teams will be making that jump to the next level. What happens to the other 95%?

That’s where a “good program” comes into play. There are so many programs and resources that are at the hands of the student-athletes now to prepare them for when that inevitable final pitch, last basket, or career ending snap is taken.

Most (not all) college athletic departments have put in incentives in place to prepare student-athletes after sports. One example of these is right here in our own back yard.

Georgia Southern Director of Athletics Jared Benko has put a great emphasis on the APEX program.  This is an outreach program that follows a curriculum through the career of the student-athlete that covers everything from financial literacy, teaching about taxes, job interview skills, and much more.

The student-athletes are also involved in community outreach, and sessions of needed skills that nobody thinks about like an emergency car care session to show athletes basic car maintenance, and emergency roadside tips.

This trickles down to the high school level too. Everybody wants to look at schools with a brand-new turf field, or a massive videoboard as good programs, and while that’s great, no discounting it at all, if you’re not invested in the people of your program, you’re just a good team…. if that.

Many times, at the high school level, some of these assets to the student athlete are open to all the students at the school and are spearheaded by coaches.

Take Southeast Bulloch for example. The last few years, Coaches Brent Osborne and Randy Lee have been building up the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) program at SEB that was dormant for over 20 years. Now up to about 65 members (many of them student-athletes for the Jackets), the FBLA hosts events for resume building, job interview skills, and other real-world experiences and skills that prepare the members and student-athletes in ways that many at other programs won’t have.

Don’t get me wrong, the “fancy” facilities don’t mean that a program is focusing more on the looks than the substance.

In addition to Randy Lee being RBs coach and Special teams coordinator for SEB Football, and Brent Osborne stepping away from on-field football coaching and moving to the broadcast booth this year, both Lee and Osborne are the Girls and Boys golf coaches for the Jackets and raised money to buy a state-of-the-art golf simulator for SEB golfers. Both can be done and are done well many places throughout the state.

So, what the heck does all this mean? It is just me going off on a soap box again? (maybe…) Just think next time you or you hear someone say, “man that’s a really good program”. Just think. Is it really a good program? Or is it just a good team?

The Return

By: JJ Lanier news services

When the NBA resumed their season, I heard Bomani Jones mention on a podcast that he didn’t realize how much he needed the return of basketball, until he watched the opening tip.

As someone who has been concerned with how the college football season was going to take place, while keeping everyone as safe as possible, I understood exactly where Bomani was coming from.

I paused my game of Red Dead Redemption 2 and took a break from binging The Big Bang Theory, to watch what was essentially the opening weekend of college football.

We all know this upcoming season is going to be something completely different than we’ve experienced before and if the first weekend is a taste of what the next few months hold, we’re in for a wild, unpredictable ride.

It didn’t take long for Covid to start wreaking havoc on the schedule with both Houston/Memphis and Virginia/Virginia Tech postponing their respective games.

There were also a few other games postponed, as well as some, Oklahoma/Missouri State come to mind, that were almost cancelled.

However, some of those cancellations brought on new games, (Houston replaced their game against Memphis with Baylor and Appalachian State’s game against UNC-Charlotte also took place because of previously cancelled games), so it was interesting to see teams adapt on the fly to that adversity.

Looks like you can add each team’s schedule to the list of things that will be fluid throughout the year.

There was also the news the Big Ten and possibly Pac-12 will vote to resume their seasons, with a start date sometime in October. If you thought the debates about who made the college playoffs in years past were contentious and heated, imagine what it will be like this year when two of the five conferences will have only played half the games.

As for the actual games, you had three Sun Belt teams (Louisiana, Arkansas State, Coastal Carolina) beating three Big-12 schools (Iowa State, Kansas State, Kansas) as well as Georgia Tech’s victory over Florida State.

I know upsets happen every year, and outside of Iowa State not much was expected from any of the losing teams, but with everything going it feels like a precursor of things to come.

A couple weeks ago I thought this might be the year a school from outside the power 5 would have a shot at the playoffs, and I’m still hanging onto that belief, if only by a thread.

Then you had the case of Georgia Southern, who squeaked out a win over Campbell, due in large part to 33 of their players not being eligible to play.

Not all their players sat out because of Covid, but many them did, even if the cause wasn’t directly related.

I realize this will only be a blip on the ticker at the bottom of your screen, but insert Georgia or Clemson in place of Georgia Southern and see how big a story it becomes.

The great 1980’s poet, Tom Keifer (Cinderella) once wrote “You Don’t Know What You’ve Got (Till It’s Gone)” and while I tend to agree with his sentiment, I would like to add a caveat to it.

In some cases, you know exactly what you’ve got, you just don’t realize how much you missed it until it comes back.

It was good to see you again, college football. Here’s hoping everyone can stay safe enough for you to stick around for a while.

Flight Path?

By: Mike Anthony news services

Coming off of his first full season as a head coach, in which he turned a 2-10 catastrophe into a 10-3 bowl-winning squad, it would be easy to envision that Georgia Southern’s Chad Lunsford is breezing through his summer.

Then again, he’s now an established FBS head coach, and those guys aren’t known for breezing through much of anything.

Less than a month after Georgia Southern’s Camellia Bowl victory last December, Lunsford found himself in the middle of a press conference reminding reporters and his team alike that – for all of the huge strides taken in 2018 – the Eagles had only finished third in their own division and that there was plenty more to strive for.

“One thing we’re talking a lot about this summer is embracing expectations,” Lunsford said. “Last year was a different deal because of what we were coming from. Now we’re back, and everyone needs to know exactly what the expectations are for the Georgia Southern football program.”

The Eagles surprised the entire college football world by sprinting out to a 6-1 mark last season, highlighted by a 34-14 drubbing of archrival and eventual Sun Belt champion Appalachian State just days after App had gained its first ever FBS top-25 ranking.

But losses to UL Monroe and Troy following that high-water mark kept the Eagles from participating in the first ever Sun Belt championship game.

“We had the opportunities to achieve our goals last season,” Lunsford said. “We didn’t do it. A lot of last year was about how we responded better to adversity, but we didn’t get it done in some games where it would have really helped us.

“When it was time for us to put ourselves in the driver’s seat, we didn’t. I think everyone understands now what it takes to go that next step and to deal with what we know is going to be an even tougher schedule this season.”

The 2019 Georgia Southern team was finally all together in one spot last week as incoming freshmen arrived on campus.

Full team workouts were still a few days away and fall camp won’t convene until early August, but Lunsford and his staff wasted no time in beginning the process of bringing together the 2019 squad as its own unique and special unit.

Following team activities throughout the week, players and their families all attended a huge cookout – complete with tons of food and even a huge water slide.

“College football is a business,” Lunsford said. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t make it a family business. We want everyone from players, to recruits, to all of their families to feel like we’re all invested in this together.”

As a longtime assistant within the Georgia Southern program, the culture and personality of Lunsford made him a clear favorite of players when an interim had to be named midway through the 2017 season. He kept the same personality in taking the Eagles from a spiraling mess to a conference contender in just one season.

Time will tell how the 2019 team will fare, but the team is sold on Lunsford and he is just as confident that he can use his established culture and newfound momentum to demand and expect even greater things for his team this fall.

Putting In The Werts

By: Mike Anthony news services

In 2017, Shai Werts was a redshirt freshman who was thrown into the fire as the quarterback of an inexperienced offense that ended up posting the worst record in Georgia Southern history.

Last season, Werts entered the year with plenty of question marks around his ability to run the offense and take control of games.

He answered the questions with plenty of big plays and bold statements as he fueled one of the best turnaround stories in college football history. Werts looked smooth in driving the Eagles’ option attack and didn’t turn the ball over once all season en route to a 10-3 record and a bowl victory.

Now entering 2019 as a grizzled veteran and unquestioned team leader, Werts is ready for the added expectations.

“I feel good,” Werts said as he relaxed on a couch at the Ted Smith Family Football Operations Center Monday afternoon. “We’re ready for a big year. We’ve got a lot of games that will make it tough to top last year’s record, but that’s what we’re setting out to do.”

Werts was cheery and casual with his answers, but he isn’t taking anything for granted. His demeanor was the same coming off of a 2-10 season where not much of anything went right for him.

The cheerfulness is part of his outward personality, but it only partially hides a more serious side under the surface. That focus and determination played a large part in getting the offense on track last season and is still burning even after the success of 2018.

“We took a lot of pride in what we accomplished last year,” Werts said. “I know some people are still picking us to finish behind Troy (and Appalachian State) again this year. They are really good teams, but we definitely take it to heart that some people don’t think we can beat them.”

For each of his first two seasons, Werts had the benefit of some senior leadership in the backfield with him.

There is still plenty of talent at the skill positions, but several offseason transfers and the graduation of running backs Wesley Fields and Monteo Garrett and tight end Ellis Richardson leave Werts with far more career snaps under his belt than anyone else who will line up in the backfield.

That can be an issue in the Eagles’ triple-option scheme. Even if running backs have all the vision and speed in the world, all of the timing between players has to sync up perfectly in order for reads, gives and pitches to work as designed.

That’s where Werts is stepping up as a leader. “We have a thing at least once a week called ‘Blue Collar’,” Werts said. “It’s player-led, with no coaches. We’re just going over plays individually. We’re getting on the same page right now. When fall camp starts, that’s when it will be time to execute in game situations and see who steps up.”

The 2019 Eagles are a complete unit, with all incoming true freshmen checked in for their first day on campus. Workouts, meetings and a few team bonding activities will fill up the calendar in the coming weeks, with fall camp slated to begin during the first week of August.

Georgia Southern kicks off the 2019 regular season on Aug. 31 with a trip to Baton Rouge to take on LSU.

Eagles Unlucky Feathers

By: Mike Anthony news services

To say that this season is “now-or-never” for the Georgia Southern men’s basketball team might be laying it on thick.

Sure, the Eagles have a trio of seniors in Tookie Brown, Ike Smith and Montae Glenn that have been the core of the team since forced into action as freshmen. It would be a shame for the group to rack up over a half-dozen All-Sun Belt nods between them without an NCAA tournament appearance to show for their effort.

But college basketball is as fickle a game as ever. A tough-luck loss here and an injury there can take even the best teams and leave them scrambling for a spot in March Madness.

There are still two full months of play remaining before the national tournament field is filled out, but Georgia Southern currently sits in that unenviable spot of being a team with a lot of potential that can’t seem to catch a break.

The season began with Iowa State transfer and expected frontcourt starter Simeon Carter sidelined for the first few weeks as he recovered from offseason surgery.

The concussion bug that bit Brown last season sank its teeth into two more Eagle reserves early in the season. That hurt the depth that head coach Mark Byington said would be key in the up-tempo transition game that the Eagles attempt to run throughout each game.

Soon after Carter got onto the floor, both Smith and Glenn went down with injuries. The Eagles were down two starters in their first two conference games and while Glenn was back in limited action.

Smith had to undergo surgery on his back. He hasn’t played since Dec. 14 against Brewton-Parker. Word from the team is that he will suit up soon, but no official return date has been announced.

Adding insult to the Eagles’ injury was a Saturday night showdown with Sun Belt power UL Lafayette. The Eagles and Ragin’ Cajuns have played plenty of exciting games at Hanner Fieldhouse since becoming conference rivals in the 2014-15 season.

Saturday was no exception as ULL controlled the action early before Georgia Southern attempted to win for a sixth time this season after trailing by at least 10 points in a game.

The Eagles looked to have pulled it off when Quan Jackson forced a steal and hit a layup for a one-point lead with 12 seconds to play, but a highly suspect traveling call took the points off the board and the Eagles went on to lose.

Georgia Southern is far from out of the running in what should be a very competitive Sun Belt race, but the bad breaks already suffered have to be wearing on the Eagles.

A blown lead at Texas State and Saturday’s controversial loss have the Eagles sitting at 2-2 in conference action. A quick look at the 14 remaining Sun Belt games also reveals that the Eagles’ toughest road games still lie ahead. Due to some unlucky scheduling, they will only have one game against some of the weaker Sun Belt teams as other front-runners have a pair of chances to fatten up.

None of this should be an excuse for the Eagles. They’re far from the only team dealing with injuries or ‘what-ifs’ of close games, but the first two months have been a stinging reminder that having a deep, talented and experienced roster on paper doesn’t win any games on the court.

The good news is that the Eagles are trending towards being healthier and still have plenty of time to work their way up the standings.

But the regular season will be over before long and a conference-wide letdown in early season play pretty much guaranteed that the Sun Belt will be just a one-bid league to the NCAA tournament.

So, it’s time for the Eagles to kick it into gear. They have the talent to get the job done, but it will take a good finish to the regular season and an even better showing for one final week in New Orleans in March.

Eagles Continue To Soar

By: Mike Anthony news services

Despite its early season success, there was plenty of reason to believe that Georgia Southern would struggle as it traveled to New Mexico on Saturday night.

The Eagles have a track record of underwhelming performances on long trips out west and — seemingly following the script — GS fell behind 14-3 early at New Mexico State.

And then the Eagles made their biggest statement of the 2018 season, so far.

Playing with a hobbled starting quarterback and without its leading running back and nearly a third of its usual starting defense, the Eagles absorbed some big shots from the Aggies (2-6) before rallying hard to take a halftime lead and putting the game out of reach by the time the fourth quarter rolled around.

When the dust settled, the Eagles were on their way out of town with a 48-31 victory and – with their sixth win of the season – bowl eligibility for the postseason.

Logan Wright rushed for 136 yards and a pair of touchdowns, Wesley Kennedy III went for another 99 yards and two more scores and Monteo Garrett and Shai Werts rushed for 78 yards each as the Aggies were bowled over time and time again by a relentless Eagle attack.

New Mexico State and its fast-paced spread offense made way early on. Christian Gibson opened the scoring with a 5-yard run and Jason Huntley’s 9-yard run midway through the first quarter gave NMSU a 14-3 advantage, but that’s when the Eagles took over.

Nursing sore ribs and avoiding the amount of contact that is normal for an option quarterback, Werts was able to contribute 155 total yards. Georgia Southern scored touchdowns on its final three drives of the first half and led by as much as 45-17 midway through the third quarter before both squads quickly transitioned to emptying their benches.

Josh Adkins (25-38, 295 yards) padded stats and kept the game moving over the final quarter of action.

Jason Huntley rushed for two of his three touchdowns in the final quarter, but only after the Eagles had taken a stranglehold of the action.

Georgia Southern was able to come away with the win despite dealing with a host of injuries.

Werts was protecting his ribs throughout the game, and he never as able to turn the ball over to Wesley Fields.

On the defensive end, linebackers Rashad Byrd and Todd Bradley were out, along with safety Sean Freeman.

But, as the Eagles have done all season, they adapted and overcame. Saturday’s win was another chapter in what has become one of the biggest turnaround stories in the country.

The Eagles finished 2-10 in 2017, but Chad Lunsford, named interim head coach midway through 2017 and given the permanent title before the end of the 2017 campaign, has been on a war path to put the Eagles back on the national scope.

The Eagles have found the spotlight. Now, it’s just a matter of how well Georgia Southern can run with it.

Georgia Southern will get most of its celebrating over the NMSU win done as the Eagles catch a flight back to the Atlantic coast.

A short week awaits before arch-nemesis Appalachian State invades Paulson Stadium on Thursday night in front of a nationally televised audience.


High Flying Party

By: Mike Anthony news services

Celebrations were breaking out all around Statesboro on Saturday night and for good reason.

The Eagles’ bounce back season continued to gain steam as a dominating 48-13 victory over South Alabama put them at 4-1 on the season and kept them atop the Sun Belt Conference standings.

Aside from the win on the field it was also homecoming, giving Eagles young and old alike an excuse to have just a bit more fun than usual.

But for all of the frat get togethers and house parties that carried on well into Sunday morning, one of the best places to appreciate the Georgia Southern win didn’t even require fans to leave the proximity of Paulson Stadium.

Following Saturday’s game – just as the case has been after the first three home games – a huge postgame tailgate was hosted by Eagle supporter Bubba Hunt near the soccer field.

Plenty of RV’s remained in the main lot, with the glow of the late games on television hazed over by the smoke of grills preparing victory dinners, but Hunt’s party is an animal all of its own nature.

The food is professionally cooked. There’s plenty of variety and it’s impossible to walk away wanting more. Through Hunt’s generosity, the food is also served up free of charge to anyone wanting to swing by.

But the tailgate isn’t special because it’s big or free. It’s one-of-a-kind because of the guest list.

At a table underneath a tent by the main food spread, quarterbacks coach Juston Wood is picking apart some ribs and raving about how Shai Werts continues to grow as the leader of the Eagles’ offense.

Inside linebackers coach Travis Cunningham was guiding his wife and child through the buffet line while outside linebacker counterpart Jeremy Rowell was recounting Alvin Ward’s interception for a touchdown that had capped a big win less than an hour before.

And over by some golf carts, defensive line coach Vic Cabral was doling out chest bumps and hugs to anyone who wanted one.

Each week, the entire football coaching staff has cleared out the locker room and then headed to the tailgate to mingle with the fans and boosters that support them.

In a sport that tends to obsess over salaries that put coaches on a different level of existence and 20-hour workdays that paint coaches as anti-social football robots, the postgame tailgate couldn’t be farther from those stereotypes.

A week ago, offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse likely went over his game-winning reverse play call a dozen times as fans listened in while head coach Chad Lunsford was high-fiving kids up well past their bedtime and discussing the creative process he goes through with the wrestling moves he’s prone to show off for the camera.


It’s as unique a tradition as any in college football and the perfect embodiment of the heart and soul of Georgia Southern Football.

The Eagles reached the top of the mountain once before with coaches who worked out of trailers and held public court over coffee each morning.

Sure, there are more bells and whistles attached to the program nowadays – and that is necessary and for the better – but the only thing better than watching your team win on a Saturday is to share a victory toast of ribs and a sauce-filled smile right afterwards with the coaches that helped bring home the victory.

New Heights For Eagles?

By: Mike Anthony news services

Georgia Southern spent an entire offseason working towards the goal of erasing the memories of a disastrous 2017 campaign.

A pair of wins and some high points in a game at Clemson have shown that the Eagles are definitely on more solid ground this season, but this Saturday provides Southern with a chance to show that it is not only on the mend but a force to be reckoned with in the Sun Belt.

Every preseason poll made it clear that the prognosticators thought that Arkansas State, Troy and Appalachian State were the three teams with a chance to take home the Sun Belt title.

Georgia Southern can’t complain about the lack of attention after last season’s showing, but a defense that is taking to a new 3-4 scheme quicker than expected and an offense that is under the control of a much more confident looking Shai Werts leaves the Eagles looking much less vulnerable than they were for most of 2017.

The Eagles’ search for a revived option offense has shown signs of success, but is still a work in progress.

Head coach Chad Lunsford and offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse have been consistent in saying that the envisioned offense is much more dynamic than what has been seen so far, but that they want to see all of the building blocks of the scheme executed well before opening things up.

That leaves a lot on the Eagle defense, which has shifted seamlessly into a new 3-4 scheme.

Georgia Southern hopes that the third time will be the charm against Arkansas State. The Eagles have forced five turnovers from the Red Wolves in each of the last two meetings, but don’t have a win to show for it.

A loss on Saturday will be a bump in the road for the building momentum in Statesboro, while a win could put the Eagles’ rebuild a year ahead of schedule.

If history holds true, this week is the best chance for the Eagles to prove that they can compete in the Sun Belt.

Arkansas State has had sporadic overall records over the last decade, but the Red Wolves have been the most consistent power in Sun Belt play over that span.

The defending conference champs are riding high after notching their first back-to-back non-conference wins since moving up to FBS in 1992, giving the Wolves all the confidence in the world that another big conference run is around the corner.

Another stellar ASU defense is complemented by preseason Player of the Year Justice Hanson at quarterback for the Wolves, who is in turn surrounded by a bevy of talented skill position players.

Similarly talented Red Wolves teams have struggled to get through GS defenses over the last two years, but they still have a pair of wins to show for the effort.

For the Eagles, even a hard-fought loss would be a positive, but that’s not how they’ll be looking at Saturday’s game.

With well over 20,000 expected to pack into Paulson Stadium on Saturday night, the Eagles are riding a wave of momentum that wasn’t felt during the previous coaching administration.

If that leads to a win over Arkansas State, the thinking around Statesboro will quickly shift from wondering if the team is actually good to wondering just how good it can be.

Georgia Southern Eagles Preview

By: Alex Mathis news services

Tyson Summers had a really interesting 1st season at Georgia Southern.

He saw his team finish the season 5-7 and received a lot a backlash from fans. Tom Kleinlein, Georgia Sothern’s AD, even drafted a letter of support for Coach Summers.

There were a lot of changes at GSU last year. The Wing-T offense, that we were used to seeing at GSU, was put aside for more of a spread offense. That experiment didn’t last a year.

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