Just about everybody from the 2010 semifinal Georgia Southern football team is back for another crack at this thing, so I thought I’d offer my thoughts on the five most important pieces of the puzzle returning to the team.
Lists like these are tough, and everybody will have their own opinion, but if nobody can agree on the five most important players on the team, that means there are a lot of important players, and that’s a pretty good problem to have.
In fact, for this list, I left off a guy who tied one GSU record and broke two more in 2010 (Laron Scott), an All-American (Brett Moore) and perhaps GSU’s best NFL prospect (Charlie Edwards).
But, here’s how I see it.
5. J.J. Wilcox, SB
Talk about the whole package.
Junior slotback J.J. Wilcox does a little bit of everything. In 2010, he blocked hard, he ran hard and he was the team’s leading receiver, too. No surprise there, considering he’d never played running back before converting from wide receiver the previous spring.
All throughout his sophomore campaign, Wilcox proved that when the ball gets into his hands good things happen, and when the slotback on the other side gets the ball, well, good things happen there, too.
4. Lavelle Westbrooks, CB
Like I said, Laron Scott isn’t on the list. Sure, he’s the GSU record holder for kickoff returns in a season (44) and return yards (1,161), and he tied the record for interceptions in a season (6), but with him you know what you’re getting.
What’s better than having a cornerback who can all but shut down half of a field? Having two cornerbacks who can all but shut down half of a field.
Lavelle Westbrooks got called into early action as a freshman. He was a part-time starter and was basically thrown into the fire last season, and if he can do it full time in 2011, GSU will once again be able to hang its hat on defense.
3. Jaybo Shaw, QB
This one was a tossup as to whether it would be No. 3 or No. 1.
Quarterback Jaybo Shaw transferred into the program and immediately put his stamp on the team. He was more important in 2010 — he was the only player on the offense who had run GSU’s version of the option offense before — than he is this year, simply because everyone else actually knows what they’re doing, but he still makes everything go.
Shaw isn’t the fastest, strongest or most athletic guy on the team, but he may be the toughest.
The kid is a flat-out gamer, and to put it simply he likes to win and he knows how to win.
2. Brent Russell, DT
If this was a list of the best flat-out football players at Georgia Southern, Brent Russell would be No. 1, and it wouldn’t even be close.
The Eagles played 15 games against 14 different teams last season, including one against a team in a higher subdivision, and Brent Russell was the best player on the field in all of them. Period.
Simply put, when he’s on the field, the opposing offense only has 10 players on the field. He’ll occupy two offensive linemen every time the ball is snapped, and he’ll still get his licks on the quarterbacks and running backs of the opposition.
1. Robert Brown, FB
Anybody familiar with Georgia Southern’s triple-option offense knows that a dominant fullback — think Adrian Peterson and Jermaine Austin — really opens up everything for everybody else.
Robert Brown had a good year as a true freshman in 2010. In fact he was the program’s first 1,000-yard rusher since a guy named Jayson Foster.
But Brown wasn’t the focal point. He needs to do two things better this season. One — hold onto the football. Two — hit the hole faster. If he does those two things, he’s capable of making an opposing defense focus on him and forget about all the other talent on the field, and that’s when GSU starts putting up those mind-numbing offensive numbers.
Brown complimented the quarterback, slotbacks and receivers well in 2010. But if he can completely take the focus off of them this season, look out.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.