With the open of fall camp last week, Georgia Southern football players have been excited to strap up the pads and get back on the field.
For some Eagles, the wait has been longer than just the offseason.
On a team with just six scholarship seniors currently on the roster, experience is coming at a premium. So the coaching staff and players alike are glad to see Tommy Boynton back on the offensive line while Todd Bradley returns to the linebacking corps.
Boynton is a redshirt junior whose talent forced the coaching staff’s hand during his true freshman season. Boynton saw action in seven games during the 2014 season. In 2015, Boynton grew into an anchor as the Eagles led the nation in rushing.
But mounting injuries incurred during spring practice last season saw Boynton sit out the entire 2016 season. Now back in the game, it’s obvious that he’s ready to regain his place on the line.
“We’re going live,” Boynton said. “We’re cutting and flying around. Everyone is going 100 percent.
“Last season, the toughest part was just not being out there with my brothers. It was hard to have to sit there and watch guys practicing and playing and even in the weight room. I’m glad everything cleared up and now I’m just hitting the ground running.”
The fact that Bradley was able to break into the Eagles’ linebacker rotation despite that group featuring a pair of players currently in NFL camps speaks for his potential. Bradley began proving himself as an impact player on several special teams units and saw 65 defensive snaps while racking up 11 tackles. But just as he was battling his way up the depth chart, a torn ACL suffered prior to the Arkansas State game ended his season after just four games.
“Right now, it’s just about getting comfortable,” Bradley said. “My knee feels good and it’s fun to be back to running and going on a pass rush. Last year was tough. (The injury) wasn’t depressing, but it was disappointing. But it’s part of God’s plan and now I’m back to work.”
For many collegiate athletes, a severe injury like that is the first time that players are ever faced with an extended period of time off the field. Plenty of players struggle with the mental strain of not being able to participate, but Bradley has already faced down something far scarier than any knee injury.
Already a star heading into his senior season at Valdosta High School, Bradley was diagnosed with cancer in his shoulder and needed eight months to recover - missing a large portion of his final prep season in the process.
“Mentally, I knew I could overcome my knee injury,” Bradley said. “You see guys come back from knee injuries all the time. With the cancer, you’re not sure if that’s something you come back from. There were hard days with both, but you just keep on pushing through it.”
The Eagles will hold another practice this morning before holding a Friday evening scrimmage in conjunction with the Eagle Fan Fest.
Georgia Southern kicks off its 2017 regular season Sept. 2 with a trip to Auburn.