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Shai Werts Leading Georgia Southern

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Shai Werts, fresh off 25 total touchdowns and a hint of history, is ready for even more.

Going from two wins to ten, Georgia Southern made one of the great turnarounds in college football history a season ago. Quarterback Shai Werts, emerging as a dynamic quarterback nationally as a sophomore, was one leading the charge. After showing accountability, grit and toughness in a trying freshman year, his playmaking and poise was on display in season two. A face of the franchise, in some respects, Werts simply willed the Eagles forward at times. His latest performance, a milestone showcase for he and his team, came with Camellia Bowl MVP honors. 

The end result was a year for the record books and, big picture, the start of something even more special.

What Werts accomplished in 2018 really is stunning; full-scope, one of the most impressive single-seasons by a quarterback, at any level, in recent memory. In addition to pacing Georgia Southern to a one-year improvement the likes of which just three other FBS teams have accomplished, Werts helped the Eagles become the first team in history to not throw a single interception and set a new NCAA record with just five turnovers all season. He, with a late 29-yard scramble to set up Tyler Bass' game-winning kick, made key plays down the stretch as Georgia Southern claimed ten wins at college football's highest level for the first time ever.

For point of reference, Werts had a higher passer rating than national championship winning Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and rushed for more touchdowns than Oklahoma Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray. All that while taking care of the football like noone else ever has. 

Werts' recent run truly was one-of-a-kind. Proficiency to production, the South Carolina-native helped, in addition to the numbers, set a new standard on multiple fronts. Already, Werts has changed the Statesboro status quo. Moving forward, that mission continues. Summer punditry has come with more of a national spotlight for Werts, suddenly entering his third season as starter. Expectations are high for he and Georgia Southern alike, their successes, not surprisingly, directly intertwined.  

Beyond just talent and ability, experience is now a major asset for Werts. His next start, notably, will be his 25th. That wisdom is perspective that Werts has earned. In the lineup two years ago, Werts stayed the course through struggles, strife and a prolonged losing streak. He remained optimistic, working diligently for each and every opportunity. Teammates very much took notice. Being the offensive catalyst aside, the role Werts has in the Georgia Southern locker room is a critically-important one.

A respected team voice, Werts has worked tirelessly for his current position. Some of the steps were deliberate, but each and every one was determined. He, from a modest jog to an all-out sprint, recently set the tone for an offense that averaged over 30 points per game and scored multiple touchdowns in its last seven games. Now long ago, there was an uncertainly around Georgia Southern's offensive identity; today, Werts has proven to be the perfect fit. 

Looking ahead, Werts should only continue to improve.

An extension of head coach Chad Lunsford on the field and in the huddle, Werts is the centerpiece of a top Sun Belt favorite and an FBS contender that is clearly here to stay. He, as both an academic standout and an athletic star, is a great ambassador for a proud program that has many. Furthermore, he is the continuation of a storied lineage. Werts, with two years left to go, is already adding to the tradition of one of college football's greatest tales.

"Shai has the potential to be one of the best quarterbacks to come through Georgia Southern," explained Jayson Foster, 2007 Walter Payton Award winner for the Eagles. "His growth from year one to year two is phenomenal. It not only showed in his individual stats, it also showed in his teammates' body language. The team, the fans, as well as opposing teams know that when a big time play is needed, that Shai is the catalyst. I think we are in for an amazing year."

There is a powerful momentum around Georgia Southern and the return and rise of Werts is a big reason why. The Eagles enter 2019 on a three-game winning streak, the dramatic Camellia Bowl triumph included. Lunsford's latest team is one ready for the next step, an ascension they hope will include in an appearance in the Sun Belt Conference Championship Game. The progression of Werts continues to underline all that Lunsford and his staff has done. 

Werts, fresh off 25 total touchdowns and a hint of history, is ready for even more.

The story of all that Werts has done is an inspiring one. That said, this is just the beginning. For a player known for the example he sets, such leadership is growing into a legacy.

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