What a difference a year can make.
Just under 12 months ago, the Georgia Southern football team hit the field for spring practice looking to shake off the sting of a 2-10 season that accounted for the worst record in program history while bringing about a coaching change.
When the Eagles began their 2019 spring campaign on Wednesday afternoon, they were returning to the field as defending Camellia Bowl champions and - after putting up a 10-3 mark last fall - the owners of one of the best turnaround seasons in college football history. Positivity and optimism for what can come this fall is a welcome change from the anxiety that dominated the last offseason, but spring is a time for building and improving, and a solid season hasn’t changed that mentality for Georgia Southern.
“Obviously, we’re very happy with what we were able to accomplish last season,” GS coach Chad Lunsford said. “But we’re also quick to remind our guys that we finished third in the Sun Belt East last year. Going 10-3 was good, but we’ve adopted a new motto this season. We need to go from good to great.”
The next step in Lunsford’s process began Wednesday as players were on the field for the first time since Tyler Bass’ field goal split the uprights as time expired to give the Eagles their second bowl game victory in as many tries.
The holidays and the rise of winter sports might make that seem like a distant memory for Eagle fans, but the Camellia Bowl wrapped up just 61 days ago. That’s a pretty quick turnaround considering the last two GS offseasons began at the end of November and spring practices didn’t begin until the calendar neared April.
As with everything else (coaches, practice structure, etc.) that has been shaken up over the last year, plenty of thought went into the earlier start date for spring practice.
“I’ve thought a lot about it, even back when I was an assistant coach,” Lunsford said. “Not only does (an earlier start to the practice schedule) get guys right back on the field, it also lets them get a full spring and summer with our strength and conditioning program.”
Lunsford also hopes for a quick start and plenty of progress to come from the spring session due to some continuity on the coaching staff. Total overhauls had preceded the 2016 and 2018 spring camps, with plenty of shuffling in 2017 as well. All but one member of last fall’s staff returns this season, allowing the players to pick up where they left off in the bowl game.
And while Lunsford preaches that every position is open for competition, the Eagles also enjoy the luxury of returning plenty of key contributors from last season's two-deep. That returning experience, combined with a wealth of freshmen who redshirtted last season while getting quality reps in practice, have expectations growing quickly ahead of the 2019 campaign.
As spring camp continues, the Herald will look at newcomers to the 2019 Eagles, as well as progress on both the offensive and defensive units.