Deion Stanley has started 23 games for Georgia Southern the last two seasons, but he remains somewhat of an unknown to many Eagle followers.
That, however, is about to change beginning at 6 p.m., on Saturday, when the Eagles open their season at Paulson Stadium against Savannah State.
Stanley, a 5-foot-9, 195-pound junior from Twiggs County, will start at strong safety against the Tigers, and he figures to get tested right out of the box against Savannah State’s Air Raid offense of first year coach Earnest Wilson III.
While Stanley may be an unknown to the casual fan he is no stranger to his coaches and teammates.
Stanley’s problem is that after leading the Eagles in tackles with 88 two years ago as a redshirt freshman he toiled last year as a nickel back playing in the shadows of J.J. Wilcox and Darius Eubanks both of whom wound up in NFL camps.
Wilcox was a third-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys while Eubanks got a shot as a free agent with the Minnesota Vikings. Stanley also played with Leron Scott who was in camp with the New York Giants this summer.
While everyone’s attention was riveted on those three players the last two years Stanley was quietly going about his business, earning the respect of his coaches and teammates in the process.
Eagles Coach Jeff Monken believes Stanley is one of the best defensive backs in the Southern Conference, and it disturbed him when Stanley was overlooked by the coaches in the balloting for this year’s pre-season All-Conference team.
“Deion Stanley…when you look at the all-conference team who is better,” Monken said after the team was announced at media day. “When he hits someone he puts them on the ground.”
Last year Stanley was moved to nickel back, and his tackle total dropped to 44, but that did nothing to lessen his value.
“I think he’s a terrific player,” Monken said. “He’s such a solid player…he’s a really good player. We have a lot of respect for him, and give him a lot of responsibility on defense.
“As a nickel guy you’re not going to get the big hits, and big interceptions,” Monken said. “It’s a position where you just have to do your job really well, and he did.”
Stanley now finds himself as a leader in a secondary which expects to get a stern test right off the bat.
“We moved him to safety because Deion is smart enough he can handle any of those positions on the back side,” Monken said. “That gives us a chance to work in some of our young kids at those other spots.”
The Tigers’ Wilson is a protégé of former Valdosta State coach Hal Mumme who many consider to be the founding father of today’s spread offenses which features throwing it from any place on the field at any time regardless of score, time and distance to a bevy of receivers.
For the past month Georgia Southern defenders have been facing a triple option offense daily, and it is difficult for scout team players to simulate an all-out passing attack such as what the Tigers say they are going to bring to Paulson.
“We’ve had a chance to see some film, but nothing is set in stone as to what they’re going to do,” Stanley said. “We’ve just got to come out and continue to work hard, play hard, and practice hard and then get in our film work every night to prepare for them.
“We have some good players in our secondary like Lavelle (Westbrook) and Valdon (Cooper) and some young guys have come in and played well in camp,” Stanley said. “We’re trying to help the young guys adjust, and when the game starts we veterans are going to have keep our heads.”
While the Tigers present the somewhat unknown Stanley believes the Eagles are up to any challenge Savannah State’s trigger happy offense may present.
“The key to playing good pass defense is having a great game plan and our coaches will have one for us,” Stanley said. “Then the players have to do their part by locking in on their keys and reads, and play technique.
“Our defensive line has looked good in practice, too,” Stanley said. “I’m comfortable that we’ve got guys who can step in and get the job done, and that’s also a big key for having a good pass defense.”
Stanley will be joined in the secondary by Westbrooks and Cooper at the cornerback positions, converted quarterback Matt Dobson at free safety, and sophomore Tay Hicklin at the nickel back.