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Who will be QB?
Youyoute, McKinnon competing
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Georgia Southern quarterback Ezayi Youyoute airs it out during the first day of football spring practice Thursday. Youyoute is competing with Jerick McKinnon for the starting job at quarterback. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff


    The most-asked question in Statesboro, perhaps, is: “Who is going to be Georgia Southern’s quarterback?”
    The journey toward learning that answer began Thursday afternoon when GSU’s football team conducted its first spring practice. The Eagles went through drills for approximately two hours while wearing shorts and helmets, which they will wear at today’s 3:45 p.m. practice. GSU will practice in full pads at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.
    Competing for the starting job at quarterback is rising sophomore Ezayi “Izzy” Youyoute and rising junior Jerick McKinnon. They are friends off the field, but each wants to beat out the other and lead GSU’s triple-option attack.
    “Us being competitors, that’s our nature,” Youyoute said. “We come out here and as soon as we step on the field we’re competing with each other. There’s no hard feelings, and we both know how it is with competing. That’s what the coaches want. They want us to compete, and that’s what we’re going to give them, and may the best man win.”
    When Youyoute was asked why he should be GSU’s starting quarterback he said, “Why should I be the starting quarterback? Obviously, athletic ability. I’ve got a strong arm, but that’s for the coaches to decide. We both bring a lot to the table. Jerick, he’s a great player. He plays A-back. He plays quarterback. He’s a receiver. He plays defense. He brings a lot to the table. I think that’s the coaches’ decision. Whatever they decide, it’s their decision.”
    When McKinnon was asked why he should start at QB he said, “Really, there is no difference between me and Izzy. We’re very similar, but I feel like Coach (Jeff Monken) is going to pick the best fit for the team. And me and him both know that. So if he gets the job, I’m going to support him. If I get the job, he’s going to support me. I think that’s the best thing. We’re both unselfish guys, just like everybody else on the team. They’ll pick the best fit and I’m sure the other guy will get on the field somehow with his athletic ability.”
    Youyoute played in eight games last season. He was 4-of-6 passing for 35 yards. He ran 26 times for 310 yards and three touchdowns.
    “Izzy’s got quick feet and a strong arm,” Monken said. “He’s got really good ball-handling skills and he’s just got to do a better job of grasping the offense. And it’s a lot. We’re doing so much more than we did two years ago. It’s a lot for him. So, if he’ll do that, if he’ll master the offense, I think he’s got a chance to be a dynamite player.”
    McKinnon played in 13 games last season. He was 3-of-6 passing for 37 yards and a touchdown. McKinnon ran 80 times for 537 yards and seven touchdowns.
    “Jerick is very dynamic with the football in his hands,” Monken said. “We played him at slot and in the backfield when we were in the split gun last year, where he made a bunch of plays at running back for us. He’s got to throw the ball better. He’s exciting to watch when he’s playing full-speed and he’s got the football in his hands. That, a lot of time, will trump the troubles he might have as a thrower.”
    Prince McJunkins, a rising sophomore, is competing for the backup quarterback job with rising senior Russell DeMasi (Savannah Christian) and rising sophomore Aaron Griffin (Effingham County). The Eagles must replace Jaybo Shaw, who as a senior led GSU to an 11-3 record last season. The Eagles advanced to the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals for a second consecutive season. They also won their first Southern Conference championship outright since 2002, and their first league title since 2004, when they shared with Furman.
    “Jerick’s got game experience, and Izzy’s got game experience,” Monken said. “They’re going to be hard to beat out just because they’ve got game experience. But Prince McJunkins is a very talented kid, and he’s certainly going to be in the mix. Whichever guy is the starting quarterback, he’ll probably lose a couple of those guys that are his (quarterback) teammates out of that (meeting) room to another position. Jerick and Izzy and Prince are all talented athletes, and we could use them at another position, be it receiver or slot or in the secondary.”
    Youyoute said the knowledge he gained from Shaw last season was priceless. Shaw attended Thursday’s practice.
    “It affected my ability tremendously,” Youyoute said. “Just being under him, being under his wing and picking up his study habits, being in the film room and just how to be a leader, how he handles himself on and off the field. It was just great for him to be here, and I picked up a lot from him being here. He’s just a great guy.”
    McKinnon said he, too, learned a lot from Shaw.
    “Jaybo is a great teacher of the game,” McKinnon said. “He brings so much to the table, knowledge-wise, and when you’re around a guy like Jaybo he teaches you so much, mentally, and on the field as well. He’s pretty much like a coach himself at the same time he’s playing the game. That was the really unique part about hanging out with him and getting to learn under him.”
    Although McKinnon is trying to be the starting quarterback, he said he would embrace playing at the slot or cornerback positions, which he did last season.
    “I really don’t have a preference where I play,” McKinnon said. “Whatever I can do to help out the team. I’m glad to be out here with all these guys. Everybody was flying around and the practice had a good feel. I feel like we’re headed in the right direction for the upcoming season.”
    GSU’s practice Thursday was the first of 15, including scrimmages, allowed by the NCAA. The Eagles’ Blue & White Game will be at 1 p.m. April 14 at Paulson Stadium. The season opener is Sept. 1 against Jacksonville University at Paulson Stadium at a time yet to be determined.
    Monken said he was pleased with his team’s effort during Thursday’s drills, which included everything from passing and catching to blocking and footwork coming out of a three-point stance.
    “It takes some time to get back in the groove but I thought the competition was good,” Monken said. “The enthusiasm was good, which you hope for on the first day. I think our guys are excited to be back out here. We certainly are as a staff.
    “It’s so hard to evaluate when they’re just in shorts and helmets. Our goal is just to get them to line up right. We’ve got some young guys that we’ve got to bring along. Some will be starters and some will just have to provide depth.”
    Note: Rising senior Mitch Williford has moved from wide receiver to free safety. Williford started in six of the 14 games in which he played last season. He caught two passes for 20 yards.

    Noell Barnidge can be reached at (912) 489-9408.