Back Georgia Southern’s Spring Growth

Georgia Southern’s Spring Growth

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Even before Saturday's scrimmage, spring, for Georgia Southern, has been a time of growth and a sign of things to come.

Our Motto is W-I-N, it's an acronym for What's Important Now. That's very key for this team right now, making them understand what's the most important thing in the moment.
~Chad Lunsford

After taking over Georgia Southern in an interim role the second-half of last year, Chad Lunsford's spring focus, for the Eagles, has been on their foundation. Though his team found some momentum last November, winning consecutive games down the home stretch, Lunsford's program is now coming together in his image. Georgia Southern is one of college football's most-remarkable stories, with expectations don't that change. The approach, this off-season, has been on the basics, laying the groundwork for future flags in the sky.

In honoring and continuing what was, Lunsford and his staff are making sure that the current crop of Eagles are in-tune with what is. Right now, there is a fixed frame of reference in Statesboro, one of getting better each day.  

"Our Motto is W-I-N, it's an acronym for What's Important Now," Lunsford nodded. "We talk about the GATA process and what that means is we are going to learn from our past, we are going to work for our future, we are going to live in the moment, we are going to win. It has been about keeping our guys focused because, going through a 2-10 season, they kind of hung onto the bad stuff. Instead of learning from it, they lived in it. That's very key for this team right now, making them understand what's the most important thing in the moment."

Though Lunsford has been a Georgia Southern fixture, on staff from 2003-2005 and from 2013 on, there has been a transition in his role from assistant to interim to head coach. Turnover and staff additions have come with some new concepts and schemes, but the approach, this spring, has been quite deliberate. Fittingly, the basics have been the beginning.

Instead of rushing into a dramatic overhaul, Lunsford has made sure the Eagles have a firm footing in place; from there, a sprint forward can get off to a better start.

"We've actually taken our time with things. We wanted to make sure we got back to the fundamentals, make sure we are blocking and tackling and securing the football and taking the football away, just doing the little things that help you win ball games," Lunsford detailed. "Also putting in a new offensive scheme, so we've taken it a little bit slow on that side just to make sure we were getting everything right."

Within spring workouts, points of emphasis have obviously emerged. Competition has been the most consistent revelation. Given the fluid depth chart, chances at playing time later this year are very much up grabs; across the board, players have responded. Opportunity has been the ultimate motivator.  

Lunsford has seen improvement at the line of scrimmage and in the defensive backfield, while also keeping a close eye on his talented group of signal callers. 

"The offensive line has really come around. We've got about ten to eleven guys competing for those fives spots so I think that's been really good, they have stepped up. Our defensive line has done a good job, also our secondary going into spring has been really good for us and that has continued," Lunsford added. "I think that there is a huge competition going on a quarterback right now and I'm looking forward to guys stepping up and taking that thing and running with it."

Practice has been a spring mix of education and excitement as, underlying everything Lunsford does, an upbeat optimism has been Georgia Southern's push forward. While skills are being honed, an attitude is being developed and a culture is being established. The Eagles aren't just learning and listening, they are, as importantly, believing. Lunsford's message continues to resonate.

After a chaotic season, the off-season now comes with stability. There has been a meaningful intensity throughout workouts and drills, efforts that provide traction ahead of all that lies ahead. Consistency in the spring can oftentimes result in consistency in the fall. So far, the right tone is being set, current persistence that may play a very real role in later production.

From Lunsford to his coordinators and assistants and the rest of the staff, the Georgia Southern message has been constant and clear. That positive reinforcement has been echoed all throughout the facility, creating a program-wide emphasis on success. More is the measure for each and every player. Already, Lunsford is seeing the benefit, results he attributes to coaches on the field and off.    

"It starts from the top, but, man, our strength coach Matt Greenhalgh has done a tremendous job with our guys in the off-season, getting them ready for spring ball. The guys came out with the juice and our coaching staff has done a good job of keeping them and helping them sustain that energy level. There's a real positive vibe between our players, between our coaches and I think that is important going into the fall.

Furthermore, the team has benefited greatly from the addition of program legend Adrian Peterson, a College Football Hall of Famer and eight-year NFL veteran, hired as Georgia Southern football's Director of Student-Athlete Development in February. Peterson is the all-time leading rusher in NCAA Division I history, was a four-time All-American, won the 1999 Walter Payton Award and two national championships. He has also become a published author, renowned speaker and an advocate through his tireless philanthropic work.

"That is a huge plus for us. He is able to lend a lot of experience to our guys, he is able to mentor them, he is able to work with them in a lot of ways that some of us can't just because of the things he's accomplished here," Lunsford shared. "He has instant credibility and what is awesome about AP, he has attacked this job like he did when he ran the football, I mean he's all-out with it. He's not a guy that's passive, he jumped right in and took the bull by the horns and has done a great job for our guys."

What has been a promising spring session will close with Saturday afternoon's intra-squad game at Paulson Stadium. Given the circumstances, Lunsford is opting for more of a scripted scrimmage. The plan is for more direct and specific observation, all with the goal of identifying strengths and weaknesses in a controlled environment. Georgia Southern coaches will be quick to take notes.

This weekend, the Eagles' concentration and efficiency are set to be tested in a variety of different scenarios: goaline to two-minute and all else in-between. The plan is to present players with more than just situations that may come up in an average individual game, but potentially others that may not as well.    

"A lot of times you actually draft teams, I don't think that is what's right for us this year. We're going to use this opportunity so we can get more evaluation on guys, so we will see an offensive vs defense type of game instead of a blue team vs a white team," Lunsford explained.

Even before Saturday's scrimmage, spring, for Georgia Southern, has been a time of growth and a sign of things to come. The commitment to a cause has been real; correspondingly, so, too, has the progress. 

"You know, it's been a good spring," Lunsford acknowledged. "I've felt like the guys have kept the good energy and come to work everyday and I don't really feel like we've been on a roller coaster. I feel like we've been climbing each time we've been out there."

Georgia Southern's season starts on September 1st. The schedule, however, is long underway.

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