When the 2012 season began, Ezayi Youyoute was the starting quarterback for the Georgia Southern Eagles.
On a rainy Saturday last September, Jerick McKinnon emerged as the team’s quarterback, as he entered the game in the second quarter against Samford and led GSU to a 35-16 win.
Youyoute, who played in 10 games in 2012 and put up good rushing numbers — 74 carries for 454 yards (6.1 average per carry) and five touchdowns — moved to slotback before fall camp started last week.
“We just didn’t feel like (Youyoute) was getting in a rhythm,” GSU coach Jeff Monken said after the Samford win on Sept. 29, 2012. “He was struggling. He had a couple of passes that just sailed above (the receiver’s) head. He wasn’t getting in the groove in the run game, and we really just put Jerick in there to settle things down and give him an opportunity to carry the ball some. As he started to have some production, we just left him in there.”
Youyoute has been a quarterback for three years, but with McKinnon being the clear-cut starter, he had to find another role.
The coaching staff thought about a move to safety after the 2012 success of J.J. Wilcox, who played the position as a senior after converting from slotback.
“We talked about moving (Youyoute) to safety, and had we done that in the spring and he practiced during the spring, it would probably be a different story. But without being able to come in and learn that position, we weren’t sure he was going to be able to do it,” Monken said. “J.J. did it, but we told him in early June and he went out there all summer with the guys, (worked on coverage) with them and kind of half learned the position. Probably (Youyoute’s) best chance to play and help us is at an offensive position.”
Youyoute is accustomed to making decisions with the ball in his hands. To him, taking a pitch from a quarterback and then trying to make a move has been the biggest adjustment.
“I’m not sure if I’ll be streaking down the sideline like I did at quarterback, you know, I’m not that fast,” Youyoute said. “It’s a new deal I’ve got to adjust to — catching pitches, looking and making a move, rather than starting with the ball in my hands.”
On the other hand, Youyoute has a chance to fulfill a childhood dream. He always wanted to be a wide receiver, and playing A-back allows him to run routes and line up as a slot receiver when the Eagles are in shotgun.
“When I was a young boy, I always wanted to be a wide receiver. I’m learning how to run routes. It’s not just going out there and running this arrow, you know? There’s certain things you have to do to get open, and I’m still getting used to it,” he said.
Youyoute has a bit of an edge on the learning curve, knowing the playbook inside and out from his years at QB.
“It just takes time,” Monken said. “Having played quarterback, it helps. He knows the offense. ”
When it comes to blocking — perhaps the most important aspect of the slotback position — you can’t learn by reading the playbook. You have to learn by doing.
“You’ve got to be a little tougher,” Youyoute said. “You’re going to be hitting linebackers, and you don’t do that when you’re playing quarterback. It’s a transition I’m getting used to, but I think I’m doing pretty well with it so far. Overall, it’s been good. It’s been good for me, and I’m excited about it.”
Youyoute is excited about the 2013 offense, and he should be. Key starters like Garrett Frye and Manrey Saint-Amour return to the offensive line, and every starter but slotback Darreion Robinson return to the offensive skill positions.
McKinnon, B-back Dominique Swope and slotback Johnathan Bryant come in with a combined 3,594 rushing yards and 38 rushing touchdowns in 2012. Add to the mix the return of top receivers Kentrellis Showers and Zach Walker, and it’s easy to imagine the possibilities.
“You have no choice but to think about it,” Youyoute said. “We have a lot of pieces in place, and I’m excited to see what this season has in store for us. We have depth where we need it.”
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.