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The Foster question

Fans and opponents wonder where the most dangerous man in the SoCon has gone

Georgia Southern’s best opponent yet, No. 11 North Dakota State, will visit Statesboro this weekend, and Eagle fans are hoping one of GSU’s best players — Jayson Foster — will finally get more touches.
    Foster, Georgia Southern’s Reggie Bush, is one of the most dynamic and explosive players in the Southern Conference, but Eagle coaches have used him sparingly this season. The 2004 league freshman of the year accounted for more than 41 percent of the team’s total offense as the starting quarterback a year ago. He directed Georgia Southern’s famed triple option attack to near perfection as a sophomore.
    But, like most things involving Georgia Southern football, this season is a different story.
    Foster currently lines up at wide receiver where the 5-foot-9, 164-pound Canton native is better suited in the Eagles’ new multiple offense. After gaining more than 2,300 yards of total offense in 2005, the valuable weapon is now on the sidelines for approximately 2/3 of Georgia Southern’s offensive plays. He has played in all four games despite being slowed by a shoulder injury in the season opener. Foster has carried the ball seven times for 68 yards and two touchdowns and caught six passes for 56 yards and one score.
    Seeing Foster spend the majority of the game on the bench is a relief for defenders around the SoCon.
    “When you have a guy that’s as explosive as he is, you’d rather him have it three or four times versus 65 times,” Wofford coach Mike Ayers said. “Every time he had the ball in his hands, he was a guy that could potentially take it the distance – that was our mindset.”
    Offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw, who has lined Foster up at quarterback on several occasions this year, said he’s working to find additional ways to include Foster.
    “We do need to get the ball in his hands more,” Hinshaw said. “We have ways to get him the ball, and we’ve got to continue to do that better. He was a little banged up after Week 1. He’s had to overcome that and he has. He’s full go and ready to go.”
    While fans and media have questioned Foster’s limited playing time, the junior has quietly adjusted to his new, lower-profile position. He’s just happy the offense is producing.
    “When the stat sheet says we have over 400 yards, there’s not much you can talk about,” Foster said. “Overall, we move the ball fairly well most games, so there’s not too much to complain about. The game plan is working, so you’ve just got to go with the flow.”
    His all-for-the-team demeanor is one reason Foster’s teammates continue to look up to him.
    “Jayson, without a doubt, is a leader for us,” Hinshaw said. “His effort in practice and everything that he does puts him in a class by himself. He does a very good job, and we’ve got to continue to get the ball in his hands.”

‘He made our
guys look silly’
    Jayson Foster came to Georgia Southern for one very specific reason — to run the triple option. He signed with the Eagles in February 2003 and redshirted that fall before quickly grabbing the attention of Georgia Southern fans – and the entire Southern Conference.
    In 2004, former Eagle coach Mike Sewak lined Foster up all over the field, and the ubiquitous redshirt freshman capitalized on nearly every opportunity, accounting for a touchdown five different ways: rushing, passing, receiving, returning a punt and returning a kick. He is the only player in Georgia Southern history to accomplish that feat. League coaches took notice and named Foster the SoCon freshman of the year.
    Foster’s success continued during his sophomore season in 2005 when he won the starting job at quarterback, replacing departed three-year starter Chaz Williams. Former Eagle coaches said that decision was an easy one – they wanted the elusive athlete to touch the ball on every play. And when the ball was in Foster’s hands, good things usually happened.
    In his first season at the helm, Foster led the team to eight wins and a playoff appearance while compiling 2,323 yards of total offense – more than 41 percent of the team’s 5,637 total yards. He was the only player in Division I-AA to rush for a touchdown in all 12 games, a new league record. Foster ran for 21 touchdowns and 1,481 yards in 2005, the third-most rushing yards by a quarterback in I-AA history.
    He was so dynamic, Furman coach Bobby Lamb said his players were “scared” of Foster when the then top-ranked Paladins visited Statesboro last November.
    “When the ball is in his hands, he is probably the most dangerous player in the conference,” said Lamb who, along with Wofford, Air Force and Navy, offered Foster a scholarship out of high school. “We were very scared of him last year. He ran their offense to perfection, and he made our guys look silly trying to tackle him. We sure wish we had him now.”
    Ayers compared Foster to former Terrier signal caller Shawn Graves, college football's all-time leading rushing quarterback with 5,128 yards and 72 touchdowns.
    “With the ball in (Foster’s) hands, he is one of the most explosive players I’ve seen since Shawn Graves,” Ayers said. “He’s a player I’d like to see running our offense. He’s a tremendous player. He was one of those guys, that even if he misread it, he was still able to get out of it and have a positive play. He was one of the best.”

A proven performer
    One of Foster’s best assets is his speed. He runs a 40-yard dash in 4.40 seconds.
    “His acceleration, explosiveness and ability to change direction without losing speed are among the best I’ve ever seen,” said strength and conditioning coach Tom Melton, who has coached at Clemson, South Carolina and Colorado State. “He has the best overall speed of anyone on the team.”
    Eagle fans know that speed well, which is why the energy at Paulson Stadium immediately intensifies the moment Foster lines up behind center. That enthusiasm was more of a panic on the opponent’s sideline during the second game of the season when Coastal Carolina coach David Bennett was frantically trying to call a timeout after Foster slid over to quarterback.
    “It’s not necessarily expectations, you just know something big is going to happen,” Georgia Southern fan Joseph Alford said. “It’s not whether or not something will or won’t happen — it’s going to and everybody knows that. He’s a proven performer. He’s got lots of history leading the team, so we know he can do it.”
    Foster, who also sees time as a holder, turned a near disaster into a touchdown against Coastal Carolina when he reeled in a high snap on a field-goal attempt, zigzagged through Chanticleer defenders and dove into the end zone to put Georgia Southern on the board first. Without Foster’s innate ability to save the botched play, the Eagles wouldn’t have scored – a momentum crusher after Chris Covington opened the game with a 75-yard run.
    Foster helped the Eagles to another strong start the following week when he moved 34 yards on a reverse on the game’s first play from scrimmage.
    But even when Foster isn’t touching the ball, he’s helping the team, Hinshaw said.
    “The good thing is (defenders) are really (keying on) him, which helps the run game in a lot of ways,” he said. “So we are using him every play, it’s just sometimes he doesn’t have the ball in his hand.”

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