The Georgia Southern Eagles spent last football season showing Eagle Nation that they were back to doing what they do best- winning games, and Head Coach Chad Lunsford is already preparing for another successful season.
Many people recognized that the Eagles looked and performed differently as soon as Lunsford stepped into the position as head coach.
What Redemption Felt Like
The team was hearing new phrases and practicing in ways that they never had before. This refreshing system of work was the catalyst for taking a 2-10 season and making it a 10-3 season.
Football in Statesboro is not something that has ever been taken lightly and that 10-3 record restored a since of hope in the hearts of the school, the community and even the people behind the scenes of the whole operation.
“I think the best way to put it is it was special,” Lunsford said. “Our kids believed, our coaching staff believed, I believed and we were all on the same page. So much credit goes to our players, so much credit goes to our staff because they bought into what our plan to win was and they bought into the ‘Georgia Southern man’.”
It was all about a mental game for the Eagles. Once everyone was on the same page, it seemed to go as smooth as ever. Yes, there were still a few bumps in the road during the season, however, it was clear to see that the Eagles were in it to win.
Even though GS got to enjoy the Camellia Bowl win in December, it was immediately back to the grind for the boys of fall and the offseason has been extremely important for them.
“I think having a consistent coaching staff, in that same offense, same defense, same special teams, same way of doing the things that we did to get us in that position last year,” Lunsford said. “I think that’s important, the continuity piece.”
There is no harm in consistency. People can’t deny that the Eagles performed will last season and there is nothing wrong with keeping some things the same because they worked, but at the same time Lunsford isn’t letting things get complacent.
“...and then when I say same,” Lunsford said. “We also are able to learn from the things last year that we could make better. I see a team that is comfortable in that they have the same offense and defense, which I think is a good thing, but I also see a team that wants more.”
With that being said, the conversation then shifted to what the Eagles can improve on in the upcoming season in order to grow.
Even though the jump from the 2017 season to the 2018 season was a huge one, the Eagles didn’t play perfect football every time that they hit the gridiron and while perfection is hard to reach, GS will strive to get there.
“Now when you come off a ten win season and you improve, it’s going to be like that [small] and it may not be as noticeable,” Lunsford said. “But, I think you’ll see the same blue collar, the discipline, the tough. I think you’ll see that same mindset and then guys just wanting it and going ‘I’m not satisfied’.”
There is so much hunger in the eyes of the Eagles. The improvement of last season was easy for fans to see, but now the players can’t focus on being noticed. GS football is back, but now the Eagles are striving for a spotless record for the 2019 season.
Who to Watch for Next Season
With that in mind, there are a few players that will step up into leadership roles now that seniors are graduating and leaving the field for the last time.
On offense, Lunsford mentioned players like rising redshirt-junior Shai Werts, who had an awesome season last year, but will step up as a leader and continue to improve in his role as quarterback.
As an offensive line unit, rising redshirt-senior Jake Cooper and rising sixth year Jake Edwards are name that fans are sure to see more of along with rising redshirt-sophomore Logan Wright at running back and rising redshirt-senior Colby Ransom at receiver.
“On defense I think you got to look at Kindle Vildor,” Lunsford said. “a very good football player, but will have control of that secondary. At linebacker, Rashad Byrd, he’s a guy that’s played a lot of football for us, takes it to heart, he’s going to be that for us.”
More players that Lunsford mentioned were rising senior Ty Phillips, and at outside linebacker, rising redshirt-senior Lane Ecton and rising redshirt-senior Jay Bowdry. There is so much potential for leadership among the Eagles and with their focus on the team as a whole, that will be their key to success.
The Big Game
When looking into the next season for the team, the first game on the schedule is one that fans are already anxious to see take place.
The GS Eagles are set to travel to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to take on the Louisiana State University Tigers. This match-up might seem crazy to some, but the Eagles will play how they do against any opponent.
It’s easy for people to ask about how the Eagles are going to change things up going into a game against an opponent out of the SEC, however, Lunsford shared how the Eagles will really prepare.
“When it comes down to it, if you start making games different and not preparing the same way, I think you get in trouble,” Lunsford said. “I think it’s important that our guys understand that you’re going to make mistakes in a football game, but you gotta be able to respond to them.”
Every player will have to be ready for anything that is thrown their way and the coaching staff at GS has been trying to teach players just that during this off-season.
No team is perfect, everyone has their flaws, everyone has their good days and bad days, but going into next season, the Eagles are playing to have way more good days than bad.
“When you’re playing a team like LSU, you better be very minimal in your mistakes,” Lunsford said. “It’s all about the attention to detail, the effort and the finished piece.”
At the end of the day, the Eagles plan on making next season significantly better than their last and all of Eagle nation knows that last season was monumental.
Part of being an Eagle is knowing that the football program does what it takes to win and make GS proud, always. The next season for the Eagles will be nothing short of that and striving to be great athletes and examples on and off the field.
“We’ll prepare like we always prepare,” Lunsford said. “And we prepare to win football games.”
Bethany-Grace Bowers, The George-Anne Assistant Sports Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org