Some might have considered it a gamble to move a starting guard to center for the biggest game of the season.
However, it wasn’t much of a decision for Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken and offensive coordinator Brent Davis, who also is the Eagles’ offensive line coach.
The two knew the caliber of player and individual they were moving.
Collectively, the players who make up the Eagle offensive line are probably the most intelligent group on the team, and William Maxwell just may be the brightest of the bunch.
Maxwell, whom Monken considers to be the best offensive lineman in the Southern Conference, was performing well at right guard, and the Eagles were one of the top rushing teams in the nation.
However, after running for only 135 yards at Appalachian State, and 191 a week later against The Citadel, the Eagles coaches decided to tweak the offense going into the final two games of the season at Wofford and Alabama.
Dominique Swope was moved into the starter’s role at fullback, and Maxwell was moved to center, a position he said he had last played in middle school.
The moves have paid big dividends.
Swope, who did not have a rushing attempt against either App or the Bulldogs, blistered Wofford for 165 yards in the SoCon title -clinching game, and then had 153 against the Crimson Tide, including a stunning 82-yard touchdown run.
Georgia Southern’s 302 yards rushing was the most Alabama had allowed since 2004, and 161 more than LSU gained two weeks earlier.
The Maxwell move, however, may have been the most significant. Both the Terriers and Tide play a 3-4 defense, and Monken believed Maxwell would do a better job when it came to blocking the nose man.
"Willie is our best base blocker," Monken said. "Their defense (Wofford, Alabama) has a man over center. A stat we can correlate with having a good day is knockdowns, and Willie had 17 against Wofford. He led our team in double-digit knockdown games.
"He had never played center in his high school or college career," Monken said. "But, we didn’t have a center-quarterback exchange problem, or on snaps in the gun."
Things could change, however, when the No. 3 Eagles (9-2) face No. 10 Old Dominion (10-2) at 1 p.m. on today at Paulson Stadium in the second round of the FCS playoffs.
The high-powered Monarchs employ a four- man defensive front, and when asked if Maxwell would be at center Monken said, "We’ll have to see."
The one thing that will be a certainty though is that Maxwell, who was a first- team All-SoCon pick by the media and second-team by the coaches, will be in the starting lineup.
"Why he didn’t win the Jacobs Award is beyond me," Monken said. "I nominated him. There are a lot of good offensive linemen in our league and the kid at Wofford is a good one, but I think Willie is the best in the league."
The Jacobs Award goes annually to the best offensive lineman in the conference. The last GSU player to win it was center Charles Clarke in 2002.
Maxwell, a psychology major who plans to be a psychiatrist, did not consider the move to center to be a big deal.
"Everyone’s job is equally hard," Maxwell said. "We all work hard every day, and every position is difficult to learn. Center, guard, tackle...it all works about the same. It’s just different technique."
A 6-foot-1, 283-pound senior who played at Brooks County High School in Quitman, Maxwell understands it all starts with him.
"The important thing is to get the ball to the quarterback," Maxwell said. "You have to focus on that. You have to snap and step. At guard you just have to go on the snap.
"If there’s a problem with the exchange it’s almost always the center’s fault," Maxwell said. "You have to do a good job, especially with the option. You have to get the ball up or there’s going to be a problem."
And, there’s also the additional responsibility of making all the line calls.
"That’s really not as complex as it seems," Maxwell said. "The quarterback helps you out with a lot of those calls. You can see, and he’s standing. It all works hand-in-hand. It just becomes second nature.
"You have to have good communication with your quarterback, too. Jaybo and I talk after every snap. He gives me great feedback."