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Eagles thriving on adversity
GSU football
Georgia Southern head football coach Clay Helton gives running back Jalen White some pointers during the first day of fall practice at Paulson Stadium on Wednesday, August 3.

The Georgia Southern Eagles continue trying to get in as much work as they can before classes begin and their time with the players decreases. This year’s staff is already hard on work not only fine tuning their new offense and defense but trying to work on things that were major issues for the Eagles in their struggles last year. 


The Eagles were one of the lowest ranked teams in terms of creating turnovers, and turnover margin. Georgia Southern only won the turnover battle in their three victories. In their nine losses the Eagles turnover margin was a whopping 16-3.  


This year coach Clay Helton has put a major influence on both ball security on offense, and creating turnovers on the defensive side of the ball. 


“Turnover margin is obviously a big part of the game,” said Helton. “We have really put an emphasis on working on those areas and work it every day. If you look at a game the number one category everyone looks at is who won the turnover battle. About 80 percent of the time that will tell you who won the game. You only get so many opportunities, and with our tempo on offense if we turn the ball over and put the defense out there quickly that will wear down a defense.” 


Speaking of the pace and tempo of the offense, the Eagles actually open practice with a speed drill designed to create a quick tempo from the start of practice. 


“When we came out of the summer, we felt our biggest area of growth was the tempo we had achieved,” said Helton. “In our offense the system is one in which you have to start fast. The start fast period to open things up forces them to get their brain triggered right from play one. They have to know how to communicate and line up and know their assignments. It will help them so that when they get into that first game, they are ready and that first play they will be prepared.” 


Another thing Helton is doing to help the team prepare from a mental aspect is actually calling out math equations the players have to answer while they are preparing to catch a pass. 


“I have always believed in making practices hard and creating adversity,” said Helton. “Physically we create adversity by beating on them with a bag before and after they catch or run the ball. From a mental standpoint making them think about something like a math equation while they are trying to track a ball is another thing we do. These adverse situations we put them in during practice are set up so that in a game it becomes easy and routine.” 


While many coaches would prefer to have a little cooler temperature to start the first week of practice Helton actually got the players together to say thanks for the extreme heat and humidity of the first week. 


“I told the boys today that I wanted them to look up and thank coach Erk Russell for giving us something that not many people are getting right now and that is extreme Statesboro heat,” said Helton. “This is another way to give adversity to our team. We are asking them to embrace hardship and shared suffering because that will make the game easier. 25 practices in this type of heat, and then it turns to game day which will make Saturdays easier.” 


Throughout practice the Eagles take plenty of water breaks, but as soon as they get back on the field they are expected to go at a fast pace. 


“There is only one speed at which we practice at and that is all out, relentless effort,” said Helton. “We maintain that effort from the start of practice until the end. If you do that you don’t have to do the extra conditioning many teams do. We are also two spotting, which is running two groups at a time which allows more reps for everybody, and in turn allows more conditioning for everybody.” 


The Eagles open the 2022 season Sept. 4 at Paulson Stadium at 6:00 against Morgan State.