Back Chad Lunsford Ties Past to Present

Chad Lunsford Ties Past to Present

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Erk Russell bottled up a jug of creek water to prove his point; Chad Lunsford has opened up a can.

Lunsford is a true Eagle. He has a passion for GSU and for the game of football that is undeniable.
~Jayson Foster

Georgia Southern removed the "interim" tag from Chad Lunsford's title on Monday, making the temporary leader of the Eagles the program's tenth full-time head coach. Lunsford previously paid his dues in close to a decade of service as an assistant, developing his brand at a place where attitude have never needed an introduction. In less than a month, Lunsford's authentic blend of perseverance and pride has captivated players and fans alike. Erk Russell bottled up a jug of creek water to prove his point; Lunsford has opened up a can.  

Lunsford's approach has, for lack of a better phrase, stirred the echoes. From marching into his first team meeting full of fire to elbow-dropping folding chairs in celebration, Lunsford has awoken a sleeping swagger in Statesboro. There is an authenticity to Lunsford's edge, along with a deep reverence for both where he is and what he does. Ahead of his formal introduction as Georgia Southern's new head coach, there was a groundswell of support that was clear to see. 

Literally and figuratively, Lunsford has history's approval.

"I think it is a great hire, he has been there now a number of years," College Football Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson acknowledged. "Just the resurgence of our offense, within the last couple of weeks, has been awesome."

The team has responded to Lunsford's story. In the last two games, the Eagles first two wins of the season, Georgia Southern outscored South Alabama and Louisiana by a combined score of 86-24. A 52-0 victory over the Jaguars on Senior Day stood as the program's inaugural shutout of an FBS opponent. Most recently, the Eagles rushed for a season-high 389 yards on the road against the Ragin' Cajuns. A three-game winning streak, for a team that entered November winless, is within reach Saturday at Coastal Carolina.

Even in short period of time, Lunsford's Georgia Southern already looks more like the Georgia Southern of old, an era he knows all about.      

"It doesn't always hold true, but it's hard to lead when you haven't been. When you have somebody who has been a part of a winning program, I think that's an easier pitch to the young men," explained former two-time national champion lineman Fred Stokes.

Lunsford has been on multiple staffs in Statesboro, working in various roles. Long before any poignant pressers, his love for the Eagles has been on clear display. Prior to getting a chance to lead his current program, Lunsford helped build it. There is very real sweat equity in this opportunity for the Georgia-native, a spotlight that is truly full-circle.     

"For a guy to have opportunities in previous years to leave and actually stay and be a part of the program, for myself and other fans, that shows commitment," Peterson continued. "He had other opportunities to leave, but stuck around and it's paid off."

A bond between Georgia Southern's past and future, Lunsford was an assistant during the Eagles' stint in the FCS in addition to the team's recent run in the FBS. He has, at different points, coached H-backs, slot backs, tight ends and wide receivers, also coordinating special teams and recruiting. In 2016, Lunsford was a Broyles Award nominee. Prior to the start of this fall, he was named an assistant head coach at Georgia Southern. 

What Lunsford promotes is who he is, a sentiment that comes straight from the sidelines.

"He won't have to sell Georgia Southern. He can just talk about his own experiences, the past history, the culture and the experience of being in that atmosphere," Stokes added.

Passion is the driving force behind all that Lunsford does. That mantra is one that motivates. The excitement around the program has more than just rallied the current players, it has also appealed to potential future ones. Lunsford, with a number of his viral videos, has become a trending topic. His spirit has become inspiring.

"It's energy," Peterson continued. "If you can bring energy, you have a chance. He has done an amazing job of channeling that energy and putting it on the field on Saturday."

The confidence stemming from one of college football's truly unique stories is coming back.

"We had a hiccup this year, but that's not who we are, Georgia Southern is about winning," Stokes smiled. 'When people ask me what university I went to, I say 'I went to Georgia Southern University baby, school of champions'."

The challenge, now, for Lunsford will be building upon the foundation he already has in place. Three years ago, with Lunsford on staff, the Eagles won the Sun Belt Conference championship, a standard Georgia Southern plans to get back to. The following season, the program made history with a 58-27 GoDaddy Bowl victory. Simply put, Georgia Southern has never been down for long. 

As Lunsford knows, the expectations here are unwavering.

"Win," Peterson nodded. "It's never going to change. My years at Georgia Southern, the one thing that I remember is winning. Previous years, it was winning; moving forward, it's winning. That is what we are looking forward to."

On the field and in the community, momentum is firmly in place. Current Eagles voiced their approval of Lunsford throughout the hiring process and a number of program legends share a similar level of anticipation. Lunsford's Georgia Southern gusto is powering the program ahead, all with the support of Eagle Nation falling in-line. Though there remains plenty of work to do, the tone is one that resonates.

The hiring of Lunsford is about more than just the past couple of weeks. Though also well-known for a successful stint at Auburn, one where he helped the Tigers win a BCS National Championship, Lunsford had already committed to a career at Georgia Southern; his role has just continued to evolve. His recent wins with the Eagles were not his first.

Georgia Southern went on a coaching search and, ultimately, went back to its roots.

"Lunsford is a true Eagle. He has a passion for GSU and for the game of football that is undeniable. You can see his affection rub off on the players and staff. The Eagles play as of late shows their desire to compete and willingness to work for what they deserve," shared Jayson Foster, the 2007 Walter Payton Award winner. "I believe this is a great move for the future of Georgia Southern football."

One final game remains before the Eagles transition towards the winter and spring. While another win would obviously help, a statement has already been made: Georgia Southern, per its new head coach, is going to show up and show out. The Eagles will have a man they know well leading that charge.    

"It's important, especially how this season has gone. I'm pretty sure it's been nerve-racking enough, from the end of the season last year to hearing that your head coach may not be there, starting out the season 0-fer, then your head coach gets fired and then you have an interim coach," Peterson concluded. "Leading into the off-season, I'm sure the guys are a lot more at ease now.

Lunsford's message is one that can be found all around Paulson Stadium. It's framed on the walls, waving in the air and, from a stream of hopeful beginnings, it's in the ground. 

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports