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GSU freshmen get time in the spotlight
Georgia Southern quarterback Alfred "LA" Ramsby pitches to running back Matt Breida during the first day of fall football practice at Georgia Southern Thursday. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

GSU Practice Update
    Five transfers joined the Eagles for the first time on the practice field Thursday: Torrence Hunt (RB, East Carolina), Favian Upshaw (QB, Florida International), Zander Yost (S, Navy). Darius Safford (CB, Lafayette College), and Spencer Stephens (TE, Mt. San Antonio College).

    GSU will resume practice today. The freshmen will practice at 9 a.m., and the veterans will practice at 11:15 a.m.

    Quotable: 'There’s a little bit of a different vibe with this being my last go-around. It’s just great to come over that bridge and be out here. We didn’t have a hot practice, it was cool this morning, and it feels really good seeing everybody out here flying around and making plays.'
    — Jerick McKinnon, senior GSU quarterback, on the beginning of his final camp as an Eagle

    There’s nothing really new for Jerick McKinnon. In fact, he might be the most experienced football player ever to wear a Georgia Southern uniform.
    McKinnon has started for the Eagles at quarterback, slotback, fullback, wide receiver and cornerback, so Thursday at Beautiful Eagle Creek when fall camp began for GSU, McKinnon was much more concerned with the rookies than he was with himself.
    “I was thinking about when I first came in,” said the senior, who took over as the starting quarterback midway through the 2012 season. “It was very difficult getting acclimated and everything, transitioning from high school to college.”
    For the first time under head coach Jeff Monken, the Eagles split fall practice into two separate sessions. The freshmen practiced at 9 a.m., and the veterans took the field a few hours later.
    “It’s really for the rookies who have never been through practice before,” Monken said. We can slow it down a little bit. We get fewer reps with them than we do with the older guys, in an identical amount of time. Hopefully it’s going to be beneficial when we really get it going, we’re in full gear and we’re in a scrimmage-type situation, the rookies won’t be so far behind and will be able to compete.”
    Monken didn’t spend to much time on analyzing talent. He was more concerned with setting the pace for practice.
    “Today isn’t a make-or-break day for anybody,” he said. “It’s just a learning day.”

HITS for the future
    In 2011, Georgia Southern University received a $385,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to study concussions. As a part of the grant, 40 GSU football helmets have imbedded technology called the Helmet Impact Telemetry System to record every hit to the head during practice and games.
    The data collected from the technology aims, in part, to help research safer equipment for the game.
    “This is a great game because it’s competitive and it’s high speed and it’s physical and fast,” Monken said. “It’s a great team game, and I don’t want anything to deter from the enjoyment for these kids and for fans. Certainly the head injuries have brought attention to the fact that it’s a physical game, and kids get hurt playing this game. We try to take every precaution we can. I don’t want our kids to get hurt. Hopefully this can benefit the game.”
    GSU is the only school in the state using the technology.

Preseason hype
    For the first time since 2007, Georgia Southern has a player on the preseason Walter Payton Award watchlist. Jerick McKinnon, who rushed for 1,817 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2012, is one of the candidates for 2013.
    The award, which is given to the best offensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision, was last won by a GSU player in 2007 by quarterback Jayson Foster.
    McKinnon shies away from comparisons to Foster, who passed GSU Hall of Famer Tracy Ham with 3,047 yards of total offense in 2007.
     “I don’t think I can replace a player like that. He’s Jayson Foster,” McKinnon said. “He’s a legend around here. All I can do is just be me.”
    Fullback Adrian Peterson was the other Eagle to win the Walter Payton Award. He was given the honor in 1999, when the Eagles won their fifth national championship.

    Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.