When it comes to how good Georgia Southern’s football team is going to be before a new season approaches, nobody knows better than Tom Melton.
The GSU director of strength and conditioning has a bird’s eye view of everybody’s progress when it comes to size, strength and speed, and it’s gotten to the point where when he makes a prediction, people listen.
“It’s funny,” Melton said. “Every year, I’ll make a prediction and tell the coaches, ‘This is what we’re going to be this year.’ That first year (when head coach Jeff Monken took over the program), the 2010 season, I said, ‘We’re going to go 8-3 and make it to the playoffs.’ They thought I was crazy. They said, ‘There’s no way,’ because everybody saw spring ball and where we were then. Well, we went 7-4, made the playoffs and made a good run from there.”
Melton also had a pretty good idea of where the team was in 2011 and 2012 before nearly identical semifinal runs.
“The last two years, we were close,” he said. “Last year I said we were going to win it all after the summer, and we could have, and we made it to the semifinals again.”
Melton doesn't just look at the measurables. He sees the way the players interact with one another, too.
“It’s not just about the weight room and how they’re running,” he said. “It’s about how they’ve bonded as a team.”
Summer workouts are voluntary, but Melton never has to worry about players showing up. Even walk-ons and scout-team players who won’t dress for fall camp show up to participate.
“You have 105 guys now, with moving up (to the Football Bowl Subdivision) who can come to camp, and you have 130 guys here in the summer,” Melton said. “You look at how many guys who aren’t even going to be here for camp who show up over the summer and work hard just to be a part of what everyone else is doing. It’s amazing.
“You can’t take attendance and you can’t punish someone for not being here, but those guys keep after each other.”
Over the last three years, the Eagles have made it to the semifinals of the Football Championship Subdivision three times and finished 10-5, 11-3 and 10-4.
The 2013 season — Georgia Southern’s last as a member of the Southern Conference and the FCS before joining the Sun Belt Conference — will mark the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.
That means there won’t be a playoff run in November and December, because GSU is in transition, and to many that means the Eagles won’t be motivated.
Melton’s not yet ready to offer a prediction on exactly the how Eagles will finish the 2013 season, but he’s sure of one thing — motivation won’t be a problem.
“A lot of people say, ‘Well, they don’t have anything to play for.’ These guys have a lot to play for,” Melton said. “They have a mission in mind and they come in every day to work for that.”
Fall camp begins next month, and the 2013 season begins on Saturday, Aug. 31, at Paulson Stadium, against Savannah State at 6 p.m.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.