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GS Win Example of Football’s Good, Weird in 2020

By Southern Pigskin Staff
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The game in Statesboro on Saturday was the perfect spread to prepare us for what the season promises to be.

By Christian Goeckel

In any other season Georgia Southern’s Chad Lunsford would be less than pleased with a 27-26 season-opening win over FCS Campbell. But as the third year coach of the Eagles “entered” his Zoom postgame presser, a small smile creased his face.

“To be able to come out here and get a win, be with the guys, holy smokes. Let’s be grateful.”

Grateful is surely what we all are as we absorb the first Saturday of what promises to be a weird and challenging season. I’ll be honest, I had significant doubts we would see a college snap prior to the fall of 2021. But here we are, facing an uncertain season, but also basking in the quirkiness of our beloved college football.

The game in Statesboro on Saturday was the perfect spread to prepare us for what the season promises to be. Like the tutorial level in a video game, it allowed us to clunk around and feel out what challenges and obstacles the season will face.

To start with, Georgia Southern was down 33 players, some key, before the game even started. When asked, Lunsford would not go into detail, opting to call it “Coach’s discretion”. Listening further, it appears as if some players had been out due to Covid-19 or contact tracing and simply didn’t have the physical conditioning after 14 days of quarantine to compete. Again, the exact reason for each of the 33 players remains unknown, but surely most programs will face the same challenges on some scale.

We also saw what the gameday environment will be for 2020. A few thousand Georgia Southern faithful made as much noise as they could inside of a sun-swept Paulson Stadium. When asked about the atmosphere Georgia Southern senior defensive lineman Raymond Johnson, who opted to forgo the draft to return to school, gave credit to the fans who showed up. “That’s the power of Paulson.” Johnson said, “We have the best fans in the country.”

Georgia Southern running back J.D. King, meanwhile, gave credit to the artillery the school’s ROTC crew shoots off after every Eagle scores, “The cannon was damn sure loud enough.”.

Then the game itself. Campbell, and head coach Mike Minter, gave the Eagles everything they could handle. Campbell held a 20-6 lead late into the 3rd quarter. Georgia Southern had to turn to fourth-year starting quarterback Shai Werts to put the team on his back. “I never lost faith in those boys.” Werts said after the game. The emotional leader of the team was able to lead his teammates back to a stunning fourth quarter comeback, which is pretty onbrand for him.

Werts, alongside Chad Lunsford, has been leading the program through another reality that 2020 has forced us to face, social justice. A victim of racial profiling by police in 2019, Werts, like many other players, has real world experience with what millions of people around the world continue to protest.

That is what makes what we saw so incredible. Through an offseason of uncertainty, a pandemic, a social justice awakening, and countless other thankless acts that no college student should have to go through, these players answered every challenge with one message in mind: Let us play.

So as we continue into this season, keep the sacrifices these players are making inmind. “Usually it’s ‘It’s great to be an Eagle on Saturday night.’” Lunsford said when I asked him what his message is to his players after a win in 2020. “Now it’s go home, go to sleep.”.