For the first time since Georgia Southern was promoted to FBS, there is a sense of consistency around the football program. Chad Lunsford is entering his third full season as head coach, Shai Werts will be under center for the fourth year and the Eagles return 100% of their rushing yards from 2019.
Werts starting another season at quarterback in offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse’s offense has Lunsford confident in his offense’s potential. Add senior running backs JD King and Wes Kennedy III, senior receivers Darion Anderson and Malik Murray and linemen Aaron Dowdell and Drew Wilson and Lunsford is ecstatic.
In his first season with the Eagles after transferring from Oklahoma State, King rushed for 804 yards and eight touchdowns to earn All-Sun Belt honorable mention honors. Kennedy III will look to improve upon his team-leading 824 rushing yards, 11 rushing touchdowns that he had in the 2019 season.
The Eagles don’t pass too often in the famed option offense, but when they do, Anderson and Murray are there. The two combined for five of the nine passing touchdowns in 2019.
Offensive line was an area that GS struggled with in 2019, with injuries across the line. Now, they return the majority from injury and add transfers Logan Langemeir and Teva Reynolds to improve the depth.
“A guy that had a good spring that came in mid-year is Justin Harris from Peach County,” Lunsford said. “He’s a guy that could maybe help us as a true freshman.”
There's more holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball, especially in the backfield. Replacing cornerback Kindle Vildor, who is now on the Chicago Bears, safety Donald Rutlegde Jr., who is now with the Indianapolis Colts, and Monquavion Brinson, a three-year All-Sun Belt team member, isn’t an easy task.
Defensive coordinator Scot Sloan isn’t starting from zero, as he will be looking to FBS grad transfers to step up. Cornerbacks Javon Jackson, from Duke, and Ephraim Kitchen, from Louisiana Tech, will join Darrell Baker Jr. and Justin Birdsong at defensive back.
Arguably the strongest area on the GS team is the defensive line. Between Justin Ellis, Raymond Johnson III and C.J. Wright, there is so much depth and talent coming off the line.
Lunsford also expects Dillon Springer and A.J. Watkins to improve this offseason and have an impact.
This offseason, GS lost placekicker Tyler Bass to the Buffalo Bills.
“We have some talented kids,” Lunsford said. “We just can’t put them in a position that might break their confidence.”
Bryce Christensen, Dylan Lewis and Alex Raynor have been partaking in a kicking competition. None of three have seen the field in any capacity.
In his first two seasons, Lunsford has had the highs and lows, from a 10-win, bowl winning 2018 to a 7-6, adversity riddled 2019.
“I feel like our guys have knocked on the door of winning a Sun Belt championship the last two years and we haven’t done it,” Lunsford said. “The mindset is we need to kick the door down.”
In conference play, the Eagles have been their own worst enemy. They’ve beaten Appalachian State back to back years. The Mountaineers went on to win the Sun Belt championship the past two years. Last season, GS spoiled their rival’s New Year’s Six bid.
The past two years, GS has followed up their upset performance with an underwhelming loss the next week. In 2019, that came at Troy and in 2018 it was at Louisiana-Monroe.
GS hosts two of the top four favorites to win the Sun Belt, playing favorite App State Oct. 14 and playing Troy Nov. 7.
That mindset that Lunsford has worked to maintain in his three-plus years will be put to the test to kick off the season at Boise State Sept. 5.
“We want to play every game like it’s our last one,” Lunsford said. “Our kids are hungry to do that. I don’t know what the win-loss record will look like, but I dang sure know they’re going to go out there and look to do what they want to accomplish.” n