Home and Heart Leads Local Stars to Statesboro
By BJ Bennett
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The momentum around the Eagles comes right from their own backyard.
A quarter of the coastal empire's most accomplished football stars finalized their decisions to stay close to home on Wednesday, inking with nearby Georgia Southern on National Signing Day. Linebacker Chris Harris and John Wesley Kennedy of Benedictine, quarterback Jaalon Frazier of Liberty County and defensive lineman Brian Miller of Memorial Day chose the Eagles over a number of other offers, headlining the most heralded class in school history.
As many review the latest roster additions, names folks know stand out atop the list.
"Those guys are all guys that we identified early in the process. We knew what good players they were, obviously all coming out of good programs. We certainly want to make sure, anytime we get the opportunity to, that we are going to sign people, first of all, in our state, but certainly want to make sure that we are in the Savannah area."
The uniforms, for these four, will differ; the area code will not. For a handful of accomplished leaders accustomed to winning, the mindset won't change either.
"Georgia Southern, they love to win championships and that is all they preach. I'm trying to get up there and win some more championships for them," Miller, who has three state rings from high school, nodded.
At 6'1'', 225 pounds, Harris paced the Cadets with 134 tackles as a senior, compiling 250 total stops as an upperclassman. He set the tone for one of the Peach State's most dominant defenses, as Benedictine held ten different opponents to one score or less and allowed just two foes to top 13 points all season. Harris added four sacks for good measure.
Kennedy was the same team's top rusher and receiver this past fall as he ran 115 times for 1,236 yards and 18 scores and caught 42 passes for 895 and 15 more touchdowns, reaching the endzone four more times on special teams. The explosive Kennedy averaged 10.7 yards per run, 21.3 yards per catch and scored once every 4.7 times he touched the football from scrimmage. No skill position player in Georgia compiled more total touchdowns than Kennedy.
"I think that if you turn on his tape you realize that he is an electric player with the ball in his hands. The thing that you also see is what he is able to do when the ball is not necessarily in his hands, the type of overall team player that he is," Eagle head coach Tyson Summers explained. "We tried to look and sign players who know how to win championships and he is somebody who is able to do that, he and Chris Harris."
Together, Harris and Kennedy will enter the college ranks having gone an astounding 35-1 over their final two-and-a-half prep seasons, winning a pair of state championships with the Cadets.
"I am extremely excited for all of my guys that were fortunate enough to sign today. I do, however, have to admit I am even more emotional about Wes and Chris going to Georgia Southern," BC head coach Danny Britt, who played for the Eagles, stated. "It is a place that I love and will be glad to share another form of brotherhood with these two fine young men."
There simply weren't many signal callers more dynamic than Frazier a year ago, as he passed for 2,878 yards and 41 touchdowns and rushed for 1,250 yards and 15 scores. For point of reference, Frazier finished sixth in Georgia in total yards, with just 26 less than Trevor Lawrence in two fewer outings. He held the state's sixth-highest passer rating, to go along with a 4.48 forty yard dash time. Frazier led the Panthers to 41 points per game and the quarterfinals of the class AAA playoffs.
"A big piece was being able to sign Jaalon Frazier," Summers continued. "A guy that I thought had as good of a senior year in high school football as you could ask for in the state. A guy that comes from the Savannah area and close by here."
Miller picked Georgia Southern over Mississippi State, North Carolina State, Wake Forest and others on National Signing Day. Remarkably, The 6'2'', 275-pound defensive tackle helped the Blue Thunder win back-to-back-to-back GISA state titles from 2013-2015. Playing all four seasons, Miller compiled 331 career tackles.
"I just felt like it was a family-based school and the right place for me," Miller detailed of his call to head to Statesboro.
In order, Harris, then Kennedy, then Frazier, then Miller, all pledged to Georgia Southern, serving as the core of the Eagles' impressive haul. All four local headliners shared similar sentiments regarding their recent decisions. A genuine feel was part of the program's powerful pull.
"What helped me make my decision was how I bonded with the coaches and how they bonded with my family and spent their time with us," Kennedy added.
In addition to the proximity, there was a shared camaraderie, both individually and collectively, on official visits and within discussions.
"I loved the campus, the coaching staff, the players I met up there. The environment, the atmosphere of the whole campus, that was the right decision for me to go play at Georgia Southern. My family, relatives, coaching staff, friends, they can all come see me play."
For Harris, the sense of belonging at his new school is similar to his soon-to-be old one.
"The coaches bonded with everyone around me. When I stepped on campus the first time, it felt just like home. It felt like BC, me coming from the family I just came from," he reflected.
That familiarity will have a practical application for two long-time teammates in Harris and Kennedy. A duo with notable resumes, they are well-accustomed to making plays on the very same field; the linebacker was the AJC's AA defensive Player of the Year, while the running back was the classification Offensive Player of the Year.
"It's great to play with him again. We are best friends, like brothers," Harris smiled. "We are going to do our thing at Georgia Southern just like we did at BC."
Two to four and, soon, 85, Harris and Kennedy have a rapidly-growing inner-circle. The four low country signees have already built strong relationships, ties which will continue to bind at the next level.
"I have been in contact with the players from Benedictine, just talking to them and them influencing me to come to Georgia Southern," Frazier acknowledged. "South Georgia players meeting up at Southern to compete and try to win some championships."
Ready for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, there is a great optimism for the future amongst the group.
"It is great, guys that I know very well getting to play college ball with," Miller concluded.
The momentum around the Eagles comes right from their own backyard. From a couple of communities along the coast, the paths of Frazier, Harris, Kennedy and Miller are set to officially cross somewhere on I-16 West. Fittingly, a yellow school bus will be their charter in.