In 2010, true freshman Robert Brown was the first 1,000-yard rusher Georgia Southern had seen since Jayson Foster in 2007.
But it was the primary backups — Tobi Akinniranye and Lee Banks — who brought the consistency to the B-back position that made it a key part of GSU’s offensive success.
Banks and Akinniranye have since graduated, taking with them any experienced depth behind Brown.
“We’re down to one guy who has experience with this offense in a game,” said GSU coach Jeff Monken.
Together, Banks and Akinniranye combined for 92 carries for 488 yards (5.3 yards per carry) and took the brunt of the load during a mid-season injury to Brown.
One of Brown’s 2011 backups is recovering from a knee injury that kept him off the field for the entirety of 2010, and the other two are true freshman.
Zeke Rozier, who played his first season as an Eagle in 2007, has since had surgery on both knees for separate injuries, and saw only limited playing time in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
He chose to return for his senior season.
“He’s humbled himself to put the team first,” said quarterbacks/fullbacks coach Mitch Ware about Rozier. “He came out here and busted his butt, did a good job in summer school, has done a good job out here so far and he’s a senior. We need his leadership. He knows the offense a little bit because he was with us in the spring. That’s huge.”
“I feel comfortable out there,” added Rozier. “I feel like everything is going the way it’s supposed to go.”
Also practicing at B-back are true freshmen Dominique Swope, a 6-foot, 200-pounder from Buford, and Xavier Sharp, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound back from Griffin. Sharp was moved to wide receiver after fall camp began, but moved back to B-back Monday after true freshman Tre’Shard Burdette left the team for personal reasons.
Swope has taken most of the snaps at B-back with the third string.
“He’s making the typical freshman mistakes — going the wrong way occasionally and so forth — but he’s working hard,” said Ware about Swope. “We’d like to get him in the mix.”
Freshman recruit Seon Jones came to camp as a B-back, but has since moved to the A-back position with fellow freshman slotback DaVonte Lewis and six returning players.
Brown is confident that all the B-backs will be able to learn the position he was new to just a year ago, just like everyone else on the offense.
“When everything’s clicking, it’s a great day for the Eagles,” Brown said. “Regardless of what the play is, as a team we work hard together.”
Taking on a new role
Mitch Ware, in addition to coaching the quarterbacks as he did in 2011, has also taken over as the B-backs coach.
Brett Gilliland, the B-backs coach in 2010, has joined offensive coordinator Brent Davis in coaching the offensive line.
“It just takes an awful lot of Brent to watch over all five of those guys and be able to do all the things an offensive coordinator does,” said Monken. “I want him to have the freedom to watch over more than just those five guys.”
In addition to assisting with the offensive line, Gilliland, who has coached the option offense at Georgia Tech and GSU, will coach the newly-added tight end position.
In the past, the Eagles moved a wide receiver to the line in heavy sets. Now, there will be players focusing only on playing tight end. Wide receiver Tyler Sumner made the switch, and was joined by Willie Burden, who has played on both offensive and defensive lines for the Eagles.
A third tight end, Wilson Hudgins, was signed in the 2011 recruiting class.
A Sunday tradition
All of the GSU players and coaches attended a service at St. Matthew Catholic Church Sunday.
In a tradition dating back as far as Monken can remember, the Eagles went as a team to celebrate at First Baptist during fall camp, a tradition that continues today. Last season, the Eagles went to First Baptist and First Methodist together, and Monken continued the tradition this year.
“Hopefully each year we’ll have the opportunity to go to some new churches and meet some new people,” said Monken. “It gives the people in the community a chance to meet our kids and I think it’s a great opportunity for our young people to find places outside of the school where they feel welcome and can go if they choose to worship.”
Redshirt freshman Ezayi Youyoute is expected to rejoin the team at fall camp after missing the first five sessions.
Freshman B-back recruit Tre'Shard Burdette has left the team for personal reasons.
The Eagles practiced in full pads for the first time Monday morning. They will practice twice Tuesday at 9 a.m. and 4:33 p.m.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.