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Eagles get big haul on signing day
Georgia Southern head football coach Tyson Summers introduces the recruiting class of 2017 during National Signing Day Wednesday.

    Standing tall in the Ted Smith Family Football Center Wednesday afternoon, a large billboard proudly displayed the names of the 22 newest Eagles to join the Georgia Southern football team. Final evaluations from various recruiting services will continue to trickle in throughout the week, but the Eagles figure to have pulled down one of the top-3 recruiting classes in the Sun Belt for 2017.
    “Over the last two years, I think we have put out the best recruiting in the conference,” GS coach Tyson Summers said. “We have brought in guys who we are looking forward to coaching and seeing us continue to grow and succeed.”
    For the second consecutive season, the two-month recruiting sprint from the end of the regular season to National Signing Day was a tricky path to navigate for the Eagles. Last winter, Summers was new in town and had to hang on to players who had committed to the former coaching regime while hiring a staff. This time around, a huge shakeup on the offensive side of the coaching staff left the Eagles in a similar predicament.
    With a shift in style and a recommitment to Georgia Southern’s option roots, some changes were made to the preferred attributes of desired recruits. Similarly, some recruits who still fit the mold were separated from the coach who had been spearheading their recruitment and had to be reassured that Georgia Southern was still the right choice to make on signing day.
    “Just looking at the offense, there are five or six guys who are new based on when we brought in our new coaches,” Summers said. “I think we did a good job of identifying and addressing needs. The fact that we we able to find these guys and get them in speaks to the hard work and the great job that all of our coaches have done.”
    One of the biggest questions heading into 2017 is at the quarterback position - hardly a place where a team can afford to be uncertain. The dual-senior tandem of Kevin Ellison and Favian Upshaw will be gone after three seasons of immense productivity, leaving behind just two remaining quarterbacks on scholarship before Wednesday.
    That problem saw the beginning of a solution as junior college transfer Kado Brown and Liberty County’s Jaalon Frazier will add to the quarterback depth when fall camp opens.
    A similar depth and experience issue was addressed at linebacker as Tomarcio Reese transfers in from Northwest Mississippi Community College and local product Chris Harris Jr. from Benedictine in Savannah will be on the hunt for ball carriers and receivers alike.
    “We feel like we have done a lot to help ourselves where we need it,” Summers said. “We got guys in where we needed to build depth. We were also able to find guys with experience at the college level that we feel can plug in and contribute right away.”
    With the assumed shift to an offense that closer resembles the Eagles’ former flexbone and spread option ways, the team also went in search of more running backs. Plenty of talent at the position will return from last year’s squad, but if an additional running back position - and more overall running plays - are to be the new normal, the Eagles needed their Wednesday haul of running backs Logan Wright, Matthew LaRoche, and all-purpose back Wesley Kennedy (also out of Benedictine).
    Three offensive linemen and a half-dozen defensive linemen also signed up for the Eagles on Wednesday. The shift to more option play created a need for smaller and more agile offensive linemen while the second year of Summers’ and defensive coordinator Lorenzo Costantini’s defensive plans included the addition of taller and quicker players along the defensive front.
    “We made it a point to target guys who are athletic and who can possibly play multiple positions,” Summers said. “In an option scheme, that’s a benefit. There are positions you need on both sides of the ball that call for the same build of player.
    “You’ve got running backs who can possibly be a linebacker. Quarterbacks who can be running backs. Guys who can play on either side of the line. In the places where we recruit, most of our guys are used to playing both ways and are able to contribute in different positions.”
    Most of Wednesday’s signees won’t suit up for the Eagles until fall practice, but Georgia Southern fans won’t have to wait much longer to see how the new coaches and philosophies could shape the 2017 team. The Eagles will soon hold spring sessions - culminated with the annual Blue-White game on April 1 - before settling in for the summer and early preparations for the 2017 schedule.
    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.