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Big shoes to fill: O-line wants to exceed expectations
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Georgia Southern center Blake DeBartola, middle, gets out on a block after snapping the ball during practice Tuesday. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

    As seniors last season, Brett Moore, William Maxwell and Brandavious Mann raised the expectation bar awfully high for Georgia Southern’s offensive line.
    Garrett Frye and Raymond Klugey are competing at right tackle to replace Moore, an All-American.
    Blake DeBartola, who played at left guard last season, and Manrey Saint-Amour are competing at center to replace Maxwell, an All-American.
    Also competing for starting jobs on an offensive line that helped GSU average 323.5 yards rushing per game last season are Dorian Byrd, Trevor McBurnett, Logan Daves and Zach Lonas.
    “They set the bar high,” DeBartola said of Moore, Maxwell and Mann. “Even before them, there’s been tons of All-American linemen here. So the bar has been high and it’s always going to be high. But it’s personal now when you know those guys. You don’t want to let them down, so you’ve got to come out and work hard. Those three guys we lost, they knew their stuff and they knew what to do. They were well-versed in this offense.
    “We’ve got to bring in a new group, but we’ve still got players that played. Dorian (Byrd) has played just as much as me. Trevor (McBurnett), Zach Lonas. Garrett Frye got playing time last year, and Manrey Saint-Amour. People know what to do. It’s just a matter of really sharpening it up so you don’t have to hesitate when you go to make a block.”
    DeBartola, a 6-foot, 271-pound rising senior from Fayetteville’s Starr’s Mill, said the offensive line’s goal remains the same: to help the Eagles gain at least 300 yards rushing each game, including at least 100 yards rushing per game for the B-backs.
    “We feel like if we can meet those goals then it will give us a great opportunity to win,” DeBartola said. “We just want to win a national championship. We’ve been stuck in the semifinals two years in a row. We’ve got a monkey on our back we’re trying to get off, and win a national championship.”
    GSU head coach Jeff Monken said he, too, is not satisfied with advancing to the Football Championship Subdivision in each of the past two seasons.
    “I’m not happy with just getting to the Final Four,” Monken said. “If our expectations were to be getting to the Final Four, we would have accomplished that all we wanted to the last two years. But I hope we can get to the Final Four again. That’s hard to do. That’s not easy. And if we can get there, I hope we will find a way to win and give ourselves a chance to play one more game."
    GSU’s offensive line worked last season in front of quarterback Jaybo Shaw, who was a senior. This season, Ezayi “Izzy” Youyout and Jerick McKinnon are competing for the starting job at quarterback.
    “It’s a little different. It’s not much,” DeBartola said. “We’re still running the same offense. Jaybo was an awesome player here … Izzy and Jerick are doing great things right now. It’s going to be a great competition. I’m excited to see how it finishes out.”
    Amid speculation that GSU will add more passing to its offensive attack, Monken said the offense will remain the same.
    “I don’t know that we’re going to do anything different than we did a year ago,” Monken said. “I think both of those quarterbacks, the older guys, Izzy and Jerick, are both very athletic. They’re good runners. We didn’t recruit them to throw the ball 50 times a game. We recruited them to run. So that’s where we’ll base our offense, and we’ll do whatever we need to under the sun, or from the shotgun, to give us a chance to win.
    “There will be a mix of both. Last year, we were more under center than we were shotgun. I don’t see that changing. It’s at the core of what we do. We line up in our spread formation and run the triple-option. That’s our play. We run plenty of that in practice, and the other stuff is just to complement, to help that play succeed.”
    Monken said Moore, Maxwell and Mann will be difficult to replace.
    “Brett, he got several accolades as an All-American, and Willie did as well,” Monken said. “Both were all-conference players. A lot of starts between those three kids. But more so than know, it’s the leadership. Moore, for our whole team, and Maxwell and Mann.
    “Brandavious, he’s the president of the student-athlete advisory board. He’s seen as a leader in our athletic department. Those three guys are difficult to replace for a lot of reasons. And it takes time to develop new leadership in that group. We’ve got some capable players, some good, young kids, but it’s hard to beat game experience. And leadership takes time, and that’s developed through hard work and dedication.”
    Notes: Bobby Lamb, the former Furman football head coach who is now Mercer’s head coach, visited GSU’s practice Tuesday to observe. The Bears reinstated football last November after a 70-year hiatus. The Bears will begin play in 2013 as a Division I non-scholarship program.
    “We recruited 71 young men this past recruiting season, and those guys will come in in August, and we’ll have what we call a developmental year, a practice year, where we just practice,” Lamb said. “Then we’ll sign another class next year, and they’ll come together and play in 2013.”
    What brought Lamb out to Beautiful Eagle Creek?
    “Just getting thirsty for some football,” he said. “I’ve been knowing Jeff (Monken) awhile and they do an outstanding job here. I just wanted to look at some organizational things, plus look at their offense and defense because you’re always trying to steal a few things from here or there. They’ve certainly got an impressive football team this spring.” … GSU’s Pro Day for NFL scouts Thursday will begin at 9 a.m. in the weight room before shifting to Paulson Stadium at 10 a.m.
    Noell Barnidge can be reached at (912) 489-9408.