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Help coming from unlikely places

Help coming from unlikely places

Help coming from unlikely places

Georgia Southern slotback Nico Hickey...

    Of Georgia Southern’s 379 rushing yards in Saturday’s 38-21 win over Elon, 218 of them came from three guys — Lee Banks, Tobi Akinniranye and Nico Hickey.
    All three were on the team in 2009 and none contributed much to the season, but that’s not the only thing they have in common.
    Originally, they all walked onto the team.
    Since the reinstatement of Georgia Southern football in 1982, the program has seen many walkons and non-scholarship athletes rise to the ranks of All-American status.
    One of the late Erk Russell’s slogans was, “Runts try harder,” and that mentality has continued through today.
    “I was a guy like that. I was a runt,” said first-year head coach Jeff Monken of his playing days as a wide receiver at Division-III Millikin. “We didn’t have scholarships where I went to college, but still, I was small and I was slow. I wasn’t very strong when I went there. I was just a little kid who wanted to play college football.”
    When Monken was at GSU as an assistant from 1997-2001, he remembers walkons like Anthony Williams, Scott Shelton and Corey Middlebrooks contributing to the team, and things aren’t any different in 2010.
    “We’ll play the guys that we think give us the best chance to win,” Monken said. “That’s our job. We’re obligated and we have a responsibility to this football team to give us the best chance to win, so we play the guys that give us the best chance to win.”
    Sometimes, like in senior starting safety Evan Mattingly’s case, those guys come from tryouts on the first day of class.
    “I was lucky enough to be selected, and ever since then, I’ve had a blast,” said Mattingly, who joined his friend Chris Covington the team after walking on in 2006. “This is where I want to be. This is where I always wanted to be, and I love the tradition here. I just wanted to be a part of it, really. Just wanted to work hard.”
    Hard work got him where it is, but Mattingly also thinks there are some other factors that earned him a scholarship under the previous coaching staff.
    “I really never got into any trouble,” he said. “I think that was a big part. I make fairly decent grades, and I do right.
    “It’s just like my father says, hard work pays off in the end. You’ve got to keep at it and never quit.”
    Senior offensive lineman Brett Moore didn’t even play football after graduating high school. He attended junior college before transferring to GSU to finish his degree, tried out in the spring of 2009, walked on, and became the backup longsnapper for the 2009 season.
    He now starts on the o-line.
    “You’ve just got to have the right mentality when you’re at the bottom,” Moore said. “You can’t give up, you can’t quit. Being a walkon, you’re not going to come in and have a lot of attention right away. By the love of the game I’ve gotten to do now the things that I’ve done, and I’ve been fortunate.”
    For all the guys on the team who once dreamed of playing time and scholarships, the road to getting there was the same.
    “I had no idea what my future would hold, so I just came out and tried to do my best every day. Whenever something was given to me, I took it. I just worked,” said Hickey. “Everyone earns everything they get out here. The scholarships, they come. I haven’t always been on one, and I’ve been taken off of them. You have to earn it.”

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

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