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GSU on the re-load
Eagles focusing on kicking, defense on National Signing Day
110312 GSU FOOTBALL 01
Georgia Southern kicker Alex Hanks, top, and placeholder Russell DeMasi hang their heads as Appalachian State fans celebrate GSU missing a 26-yard field goal during the second quarter at Paulson Stadium in this Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012 file photo. It was the first of three missed field goals for the Eagles, who lost 31-28. Hanks, along with kickers Ryan Nowicki and Cole Allison, and punter/kickoff specialist Luke Cherry, return for GSU in 2013. Head coach Jeff Monken said Saturday that the Eagles, which made only 8 of 22 field-goal tries in 2012, have been "really, really aggressive" in the recruiting of kickers during the offseason and expect to sign at least one to a scholarship today. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

National Signing Day
GSU will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. Wednesday to announce the 2013 football signing class
Visit www.StatesboroHerald.com throughout the day as recruits sign with the Eagles

    The day before the Super Bowl, Jeff Monken’s mind was where it always is between the end of the college football season and National Signing Day.
    In fact, don’t bother asking his thoughts on the “big game.”
    “What game?” Monken said on Saturday morning.
    Wednesday is National Signing Day, which for a coach, especially at the Football Championship Subdivision level, may be the most stressful part of the job.
    Monken still remembers his first signing day as a head coach, when he took over the Georgia Southern program in 2010 and learned one of his prized recruits had chosen another school in the 11th hour — literally.
    “We’re sitting here watching on the big screen on ESPN, and we see it roll across the bottom that he had signed with Auburn,” Monken said. “Well they’d called him at 11:30 on Tuesday night. We spoke to him at 10 o’clock that night. They called him at 11:30 and offered him. There may be guys like that in this class. I hope not, but that’s the agonizing part.”
    The 2013 recruits are well aware of the conversation surrounding a potential move by Georgia Southern to a Football Bowl Subdivision conference.
    “They ask about it. They ask if we’re going to move. They ask when it’s going to happen and where we think we’re going,” Monken said. “We tell them exactly where we’re at now. We want to have a football team that can challenge for (an FCS) national championship. That’s always been the goal of this program. … I think kids are excited about it, but I don’t think it’s changing a whole lot of their minds.”    
    There are plenty of areas GSU will address in this year’s class.

Special teams
    Georgia Southern’s most glaring deficiency in 2012 was field-goal kicking. The Eagles (10-4 in 2012) made only 8 of 22 attempts (36.3 percent). Four different kickers —including GSU soccer player Drew Ruggles — attempted at least one kick. In their three FCS losses, the Eagles missed a combined six field goals. The losses came by a combined eight points.
    “We’ll probably have at least one specialist on scholarship in this class,” Monken said. “We’ve been really, really aggressive. We’ve recruited nationwide.”
    Kickers Alex Hanks, Ryan Nowicki and Cole Allison remain in the mix, and senior Luke Cherry returns as the team’s punter and kickoff specialist.
     “I don’t feel like we’ve ever neglected trying to sign (kickers). We’ve offered some guys in the past and haven’t been able to land one we thought was a guy for us,” Monken said.

Defense
    The biggest names that will be missing on the 2013 roster are on the defensive side of the ball.
    Safety J.J. Wilcox has been speculated as a possible late, first-round pick in the NFL Draft, and Darius Eubanks, Boyd Sasser and A.J. McCray also depart from the defensive backfield.
    “That’s a pretty big hit for one year, losing four guys in the secondary,” Monken said. “We’ll probably move some guys on the team from other positions to safety in the spring. Hopefully we’ll sign the guys that we recruited for some more depth.”
    The Eagles also took a transfer in the offseason. Stephen Williams came to the program after spending two seasons at Pittsburgh. Williams, a safety, was recruited by Monken in 2010 while a running back at Calvary Day.
    Williams is the only transfer to join the program so far this year.
    The Eagles lose All-American defensive tackle Brent Russell and defensive end Dion DuBose from the trenches, but return six players with starting experience on the line.
    Monken is excited about the recruits on the line, too.
    “The guys we’ve got committed right now are really going to give us some good depth on the defensive line for years to come,” he said Saturday. “But four days is a long time. It’s like an eternity until Wednesday morning. We’ll see if we can hang on to them.”

Offense
    Georgia Southern is exactly where it wants to be in the quarterback position — at least one per class.
    Senior Jerick McKinnon, junior Ezayi Youyoute, sophomore Matt Dobson and freshmen Kevin Ellison and Vegas Harley round out the group, and Monken expects to add one more.
    “Really, if we can get one good one in each class from here on out and keep maybe five guys at the position,” Monken said, “one in each class, that’s really going to suit us.”
    Dominique Swope, James Dean, William Banks and Seon Jones return plenty of depth a B-back, and slotback Darreion Robinson is the only departing running back.
    Johnathan Bryant, Tray Butler and Robert Brown bring the most experience at slotback, but Brown is still questionable.
    “I hope that Robert Brown can play in the fall. We’re going to sit him out this spring as he recovers from (last season’s) concussions,” Monken said. “We’d love to get him back, and that would be big. It would be his senior year, and that’s hard to believe.”
    Still, being a team that ran it 850 times and threw it only 94 out of the option offense in 2012, the Eagles are always looking for running backs and offensive linemen.
    Georgia Southern will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. Wednesday to reveal the entire 2013 signing class.

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