St. Francis (PA) (0-0) at Ga. Southern (1-0)
Saturday, 6 p.m.
Who is Kevin Ellison, and is he as good as he looked in Georgia Southern’s 77-9 win over Savannah State on Saturday?
Ellison is the Eagles’ backup quarterback, a redshirt freshman from Habersham Central, and yes, his performance against the Tigers was no fluke.
One of three quarterbacks in his recruiting class — the others were Vegas Harley and Matt Dobson — Ellison came in with outstanding high school credentials, but for whatever reason on signing day Harley and Dobson created more buzz.
Dobson started against the Tigers, but at free safety. Harley scored a touchdown on a 30-yard run the first time he touched the ball in a college game, and had 71 yards rushing, but this was after Ellison had made his presence felt.
After a strong battle with Harley, who was also redshirted last year, it was Ellison who came out of the spring as Jerick McKinnon’s backup.
And, he didn’t take long to introduce himself to Georgia Southern fans.
On the Eagles’ second possession, he was inserted into the game in a 3rd-and-11 situation at the Savannah State 30. On the first play of his career he hit Kentrellis Showers with a perfectly thrown pass for a 14-yard gain.
The drive ended with Connor Tierney’s 27-yard field goal attempt blocked, but Ellison had more fireworks in store.
After Georgia Southern scored on the third play of the second quarter to go up 14-0, Ellison came in on the next series and played the remainder of the quarter, leading the Eagles to two touchdowns for a 28-0 halftime lead.
Ellison did not complete either of his two passing attempts in the quarter, but he gained 42 yards on five carries with a long of 25.
He finished the game with 78 yards rushing including a 12-yard touchdown run, and he was 4 for 7 for 65 yards passing.
“He played like I thought he would play, he really did,” associate head coach and quarterbacks coach Mitch Ware said. “He’s a good football player, and on his first college snap he goes in there on third down and completes a pass and keeps a drive alive for us. We knew he would have the opportunity to do that. He’s tough, and runs hard. At times he gets ahead of himself, playing a little too fast. He made his share of mistakes, but he also moved the football.”
At Habersham Central the 6-foot, 180-pound Ellison ran for 5,100 yards and 83 touchdowns while throwing for 1,412 yards and 15 touchdowns. He ranks 10th on the all-time Georgia high school list for touchdowns scored.
“I thought it was a great opportunity to go out there and make plays,” Ellison said of his debut. “Vegas and I got a lot of reps this spring, and we got a lot of help and support from Jerick (who sat out spring practice due to injury). That helped us both a lot.
“I get a lot of motivation from my coaches and teammates. We all know we have to come out each and every day to be prepared and play hard. You have to concentrate on what you’re doing, and motivate your teammates.”
While it’s never easy to enter a game cold, and then to throw what looked to be a perfect pass, Ellison was quick to give credit to others.
“The offensive line did a great job on protection, and Kentrellis ran a great route,” Ellison said. “All I had to do was focus on the throw. Coach Ware tells us all the time to make sure we’re ready, that it (the call) could come at any time. That was my given time. What I’ve got to do is keep working hard each day to get better.”
“I look for him to really improve,” Ware said. “He’s going to make mistakes, but he played the offense in high school, and he’s got quick hands…he played point guard on the basketball team. He’s just what we thought he would be when we recruited him.”