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Even GSU vets get a fresh start

New for everyone

New for everyone

Georgia Southern wide receiver Mitche...

    For most college football teams, there are two kinds of players — freshmen and veterans.
    Not at Georgia Southern.
    There’s veterans, freshmen and transfers and they all have one thing in common — they’ve never played a college football game running the triple option.
    Well, all but one.
    Georgia Tech transfer quarterback Jaybo Shaw has seen first hand just how effective the option offense can be.
    “When you get in that rhythm and you make those long, 70-yard drives, it’s just fun,” Shaw said. “You see [the other team’s defense] out there not knowing what to do. They know we’re going to run the ball, but they’re still clueless on where it’s going.”
    There’s still some newness for Shaw, who for the first time is approaching a season as the starting quarterback.
    “I didn’t get that chance, that many opportunities at Tech,” he said. “There, I was still trying to prepare myself like I was the starter, but it’s definitely different being the starter and trying to get guys ready, trying to get yourself ready.”
    He’s also not sure what to expect from Paulson Stadium when the season kicks off Saturday at 6 p.m. against Savannah State. He’s been there for a game before, but it was back in the early 1990’s.
    “I went to one when I was real little,” he said, “and I don’t remember much. I watched (former Georgia Southern defensive back) Rob Stockton and them, because he’s a family friend. I don’t remember much, but I’ve heard it’s one of a kind.”
    There’s something unexpected waiting for everybody on the team Saturday when the season kicks off.

The veterans
Defensive tackle Brent Russell joined the Eagles in 2008, but when first-year coach Jeff Monken took over in the spring, it was almost like being a first-year guy.
    “You come in, you feel things out and you learn what [the coaches] expect, and then there’s a coaching change. It is like being a freshman again,” Russell said. “I’d be doing stuff like I did it last year and they’d be like, ‘No, we don’t want it done like that.’”
 The toughest fundamental for Russell to learn has been staying low. When he earned 2009 FCS Freshman of the Year honors, he liked aggressively coming over the top of the opposing offensive line. That’s had to change.
    “I like to punch over,” he said. “They say, ‘No. We don’t want you to punch over. You get too high in your stance when you do a punch over. You’ve got to do a rip.’ I miss it so much. But it is being like a freshman. You’ve got to find out how they want stuff done.”
 Senior cornerback Carson Hill, on the other hand, has taken the coaching change in stride. He’s seen it all before.
    “It’s all the same,” Hill said. “Putting on the jersey, riding the busses over and going over to Paulson on a Saturday afternoon. It all feels the same to me.”
    He said there will, however, be a treat in store for the freshmen on Saturday. He remembers his first game as an Eagle — a matchup against Central Connecticut State under Brian VanGorder in 2006.
    He said that was when he realized all the work he put in at fall camp actually meant something.
    “It all sunk in when we got on those busses and we were about to play a game,” said Hill. “That’s when I realized how important it was.”
    The biggest surprise for the freshman, says Hill, will be when the seniors sing the “Valley Song” on the busses to the stadium on gameday — the one tradition he missed last season when he was redshirted with ineligibility.
    “I’ll have the pleasure of singing it this year,” said Hill. “It’s been a long time. Now I get to lead it. My freshman year we were going to play Central Connecticut State, and it donned on me the importance. We got on the busses, and I didn’t know anything about any Valley Song. We’re halfway to the stadium and the Valley Song strikes up. I’m like, ‘Okay.’ Then we pull up and see the fans out there. It’s a great experience. There’s nothing like it.”

The freshmen
    It’s not just the new faces on the team and the new systems being installed by the first-year coaching staff. For the freshmen, it will be the about the crowd, and the biggest stage of their lives until this point.
    “Homecoming,” said true freshman fullback Robert Brown about the biggest crowd he played in front of at Westside, Macon.
    Still, the much-larger crowd at Paulson doesn’t intimidate him.
“I wasn’t expecting to play in front of all these people, but I’m doing something I enjoy doing. There won’t be any nervousness,” said Brown. “I’m going out there comfortable and calm to do what I have to do for the team.”

    Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.

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