Eagles Haul in Another Solid Class
By Russell V.
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Georgia Southern once again reeled in one of the top recruiting classes in the SoCon this year.
Coach Jeff Monken has done an amazing job of rebuilding Georgia Southern into a national powerhouse, and his recruiting skills have been a large part of his success. Since he took over, his classes have routinely ranked amongst the best in the Southern Conference and 2013 is no exception.
Led by running backs Keshun Hill and Xavier Tobler and defensive linemen Jay Ellison and Larry Matthews, Monken’s class is one of the more balanced he has brought in: included in the class are seven running backs, six defensive backs and five defensive linemen. In fact, plenty of the players had been committed to Georgia Southern months before Signing Day. 17 players announced their intention to play for the Eagles in December, and several more declared back in September.
“We were just trying to address the needs we had," Monken told the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. “At the running back position, we’ve got some guys in the program like J.B. Byrant and Robert Brown, who will both be seniors; Dominique Swope who’s going to be a junior; William Banks, who’s been a backup role behind Dominique, he’s going to be a senior. Guys who are kind of up there in years and not as much depth as we’d liked to have. We really felt like we wanted to address that area.
“On the defensive line, very similar situation. We have Javon Mention, Josh Gebhardt, who will both be seniors, as well as Blake Riley, who’s been a great player for us. … (There’s) a need for some depth. You can never have enough guys you feel good about on the defensive line. So we got some good guys there.”
He also mentioned the loss of the top four safeties on the team’s depth chart, including J.J. Wilcox, who was invited to the NFL Combine.
“(The class was) Not intentionally balanced, but it just worked out that way,” he added.
Georgia Southern also did an excellent job of recruiting in-state, as 18 of the 23 newest Eagles hail from Georgia, something Monken takes great pride in.
“There’s some great players in this state,” he said. “All you have to do is pick up the roster of the SEC, ACC and see that there are probably as many players from the state of Georgia as there is any state on those rosters. Everybody in the nation is coming in to recruit this state and there are terrific players. Even though it is a state that is heavily recruited, this program and what Erk started here a couple of decades ago and what it’s become just speaks volumes for Georgia Southern. There are still enough kids in this state that are really good players that want to come here and be a part of this program.”
Coach Monken talked in length about Tobler, who has shown potential on both sides of the ball. As a junior, he was named to the All-State team at linebacker. His senior year, he made it back to the All-State team – as a running back. During his senior campaign, he had 1,760 rushing yards to go with 29 touchdowns. He has Eagle Nation drooling over the thought of seeing him lining up in the backfield.
“That kid is so impressive,” Monken said. “Everybody that we talked to that played against him just sang his praises. That guy was just something else. … He’s got a lot of respect from his opponents. Again, he’s a guy who committed to Georgia Southern in the summer of last year. He was the first commitment in this class. … We are so proud to have him here in this program.”
Coach Monken also commented on the way he sells the university to recruits, which is a big part of his success as a recruiter. Georgia Southern makes the job easy for him, providing potential athletes with a picture-perfect atmosphere at which to play.
“We do have just a great story to tell,” he said. “Number one, we have just a great university. Some just tremendous academic programs – some unique academic programs that are only found at Georgia Southern. So they have a special experience when they come on campus, and that’s fun to sell. A campus that’s as beautiful a campus as I’ve ever been on, a community that embraces Georgia Southern, and a football program whose history and tradition is second to none. What Erk Russell did and started here in 1981, we still benefit from it. Just a great thing we got here and we’re so proud to get kids here and tell them about it.”
Monken also added that he understands how things have changed for today’s athletes, thanks in part to the advent of social media and 24/7 news channels. As if the pressure of playing collegiate sports wasn’t enough, these have only add to the stress.
“There’s a lot on these guys,” he said. “They are such public figures now, even more so than ever with social media, with the opportunities to play on TV and be interviewed. There’s a lot to learn, but it’s an exciting process to see these guys grow and there’s nothing more satisfying than recruiting a kid, bringing him into your program, seeing him have a great career, earn a degree, graduate and move on and be able to do something for the rest of their lives.”