With the storybook 2018 season firmly in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to look ahead at year two of the Chad Lunsford era. It’s one thing to have one great season, it’s another thing entirely to be able to sustain success with the target on your back. Georgia Southern won’t sneak up on anybody in 2019. They will no doubt be among the favorites to win the conference heading into next season. But the schedule gets a lot more difficult, with road trips to LSU, Minnesota, Arkansas State, App State, and Troy on the docket.
The Eagles will have to learn to play better on the road if they expect to win the Sun Belt in 2019, something they struggled at times last season (see Texas State and ULM). They will also have to replace several key starters like Wesley Fields, Monteo Garrett, Logan Hunt, Tomarcio Reese, Curtis Rainey, Ellis Richardson, Joshua Moon, and Sean Freeman. This is where the coaching staff’s recruiting, and development chops will be put to the test. Speaking of recruiting, let’s take a look at what Georgia Southern was able to accomplish during the Early Signing Period.
What a difference a year makes. During the 2017 Early Signing Period, Georgia Southern was only able to haul in 8 signees. It was the first year the NCAA had implemented the rule change and Chad Lunsford was in the middle of assembling a staff following a 2-10 season. It was all about performing triage and creating some sort of foundation for February.
Fast forward to December 2018 and the result is completely different. 17 high school-based players signed a letter of intent. The bulk of the 2019 class has already been secured. Most of the hard work is done, there are only 5-6 spots left for the February signing day.
So how did Georgia Southern do? Currently the Eagles sit at 6th in the Sun Belt in the 247Sports composite rankings. Depending on how much stock you put into these rankings, it’s probably not what Eagle Nation wants to see. I hate to be the guy that makes excuses, but there is a pretty good reason for the low ranking. This class is offensive line-heavy with 5 signees already on board and possibly 2 more on the way. The type of offensive linemen that Georgia Southern (and other option teams) target are lighter and more athletic and those linemen aren’t valued highly by recruiting websites.
Here’s a breakdown.
*-indicates star level according to 247Sports
Javonte McGriff, OL, 6-1, 270, Thomasville, Ga., Thomasville ***
Gerald Green, RB, 5-9, 185, Columbus, Ga., East Coweta **
Derrick Canteen, CB, 5-11, 175, Evans, Ga., Evans **
Treun Pace, S, 6-0, 180, Pelham, Ga., Pelham **
Four signees will participate in spring practice for the Eagles. Javonte McGriff and Gerald Green are the headliners. Once Matt Greenhalgh gets a hold of McGriff he will provide immediate depth on the interior of the offensive line. Green put up gigantic numbers at East Coweta, running for 1,500 yards his senior year and 1,100 yards his junior year. His highlight reel has Eagle fans salivating and is rated as the 21st all-purpose back in the country by 247.
Jaden Jenkins, QB, 6-3 195, Bartow, Ga., Jefferson County ***
Emil Smith, WR, 6-1 170, Attalla, Ala., Etowah ***
Aaron Pyron, OL, 6-4 310, Stone Mountain, Ga., Arabia Mountain **
Jordan Wiggins, OL, 6-4 265, Tallahassee, Fla., Godby **
Verneal Henshaw Jr., OL, 6-4 250, Palm Coast, Fla., Flagler Palm Coast
Griffin Carder, OL, 6-4 300, Leesburg, Ga., Lee County
David Spaulding, DB, 6-2 185, Hinesville, Ga., Bradwell Institute ***
Java’n Singletary, S, 6-0 185, Bonaire, Ga., Veterans ***
AJ Watkins, DL, 6-2 270, Fairburn, Ga., Langston Hughes **
Caree Collier, ILB, 6-0 190, North Augusta, S.C., North Augusta **
Tremaine Osborne, S, 6-0 180, Montgomery, Ala., Park Crossing **
Amaru Herring, DL, 6-1 260, Beulaville, N.C., East Duplin **
Anthony Wilson, CB/S, 5-10 185, Columbia, S.C., Spring Valley **
QB Jaden Jenkins has been the talk of the class since he committed in July. It’s rare that Georgia Southern brings in a 3-star quarterback who is 6-3 200 lbs. While the option offense usually requires shorter, speedier QBs; it’s hard not to dream about the size and power Jenkins might bring to the position after Shai Werts moves on.
On the defensive side of the ball, David Spaulding and Java’n Singletary are the highest rated recruits. At 6-2 185, Spaulding is a lengthy corner, the 7th highest ranked recruit Georgia Southern has ever signed according to 247, right after Monquavion Brinson. He has the potential to play anywhere in the secondary. Singletary, listed as an athlete by 247, played RB, WR, and S at Hawkinsville HS. While he is currently listed as a safety, he has the potential to play on offense, defense, or special teams, sort of like Najee Thompson.
Hard Commits, possible February signees
Milton Jackson, WR, 6-1 180, Douglas, Ga., Coffee ***
Caelen Williams, OT, 6-7 300, Dublin, Ga., Trinity Christian **
Daniel King, OL, 6-5 270 Cairo, Ga., Cairo **
J.D. King, RB, 5-11, 210, Fitzgerald Ga., Fitzgerald, Oklahoma State
Justin Ellis, DE, 6-2, 245, Roswell, Ga., Roswell, Syracuse
Reynard Ellis, ILB, 6-1, 220, Birmingham, Ala., Shades Valley, Furman
Oklahoma State RB J.D. King announced that he will transfer to Georgia Southern last month. The Fitzgerald, GA product was OK State’s 2nd leading rusher during the 2017 season, he will sit out the 2019 season. Justin Ellis sat out last season after transferring in from Syracuse. He was a 3-star recruit coming out of Roswell HS and will be an immediate factor on the defensive line. Reynard Ellis comes from Furman where he had 92 tackles his freshman year, he will compete for the vacancy created by the Tomarcio Reese’s departure.
Troy and App State Go Through Coaching Changes
Luckily, Georgia Southern has caught a couple breaks so far this offseason. The Eagles’ two most significant obstacles in the SBC East, App State, and Troy are going through coaching changes. App State’s Scott Satterfield left to take over Louisville, and they replaced him with NC State offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz. Drinkwitz led an explosive Wolfpack offense that was top 25 in yards per game, points per game, and plays per game. App State will undoubtedly run a more up-tempo offense next season. The Mountaineers averaged 66 plays per game last season, while NC State averaged 76.
Drinkwitz is expected to bring in Ted Roof to be defensive coordinator. Roof is a veteran defensive mind with a long resume that includes stops at Penn State, Auburn, and Georgia Tech. But after his defense gave up 52 points and 500 yards to Texas A&M in the Gator Bowl, the move has been met with mixed reviews among the Mountaineer fan base.
Ted Roof runs a 4-3 system, expect him to shift away from the 3-4 defense that has proven successful in Boone the past several seasons. Whatever system Roof runs, he will have to do it without all-conference CB Clifton Duck who declared for the NFL Draft.
Meanwhile Troy’s head coach Neal Brown is expected to take the West Virginia job vacated by Dana Holgorsen. Expect an announcement soon.
Vildor Stays, Rogers and Bargnare leave
After Pro Football Focus named Kindle Vildor to its All-American team speculation started to bubble up that he might go pro. Well Vildor put that speculation to rest on Monday.
Meanwhile, a pair of freshmen wide receivers Davarius Bargnare and Marcus Rogers announced they are transferring. Both Bargnare and Rogers played in more than four games as freshmen and are ineligible for a redshirt. Playing WR at Georgia Southern is not a glamorous gig. It requires a lot of blocking, a lot of patience, and very few touches. It isn’t for everybody. While I don’t expect it to affect wins-losses in 2019, expect Lunsford to target a couple wide-outs before the February signing day.