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Ellis looks to lead Eagle defense to turnaround season
Justin Ellis
Georgia Southern defensive lineman Justin Ellis records a sack during the Eagles' win over Louisiana Tech in the 2020 New Orleans Bowl. - photo by Associated Press

It’s been well documented hunger in America is a real and serious problem.

That hunger concerns food. There’s other types of hunger, too, as the Georgia Southern football team will attest.

Since last December the Eagles have been living with the aftertaste of a 3-9 season in their mouths. No amount of mouthwash has been able to eliminate it.

Saturday the Eagles open what they hope to be a season of redemption when they open their season against Morgan State, an FCS member of the MEAC, at 6 p.m. at Paulson Stadium.

“We’re a hungry group of guys,” defensive lineman Justin Ellis said. “I think everyone has a bad taste in their mouth still from the way last season went.

“We want to put something new on the field. This game is our first opportunity to show we’re a much different team. I think everyone’s really excited. We’ve put in a ton of work since January.”

In addition to those returning players from last year’s team who want to redeem themselves the opener with the Bears will also mark a rebirth of sorts, too, for Coach Clay Helton who was unceremoniously dumped by Southern Call two games into the season last year despite a 46-24 overall record that included a Rose Bowl win.

Ellis, one of 11 sixth-year seniors on the roster, has his degree in economics and could easily have gone on to his life’s work. However, pride runs deep and 3-9 in your last season as a player is a memory which lasts a lifetime.

“Last year could have been my last year,” Ellis said. “But it was so bad. I mean I had to come back. You can’t walk away being 3-9 your last year. I want to leave my legacy here as a Sun Belt champion.”

In high school Ellis played on Roswell teams that went 28-2 his junior and senior seasons, losing in the Class 7A state championship game both years.

Ellis signed with Syracuse and played in two games as a true freshman before transferring to Georgia Southern. Prior to last season the Eagles had gone to a bowl game each of his three years in the program so needless to say it was a real downer.

“I fee like we left a lot on the table last year,” Ellis said. “Things just didn’t go well for us. I think we all feel we have a lot to prove this season.”

The Eagle defense was hit hard with injuries last year especially in the secondary with the most glaring being the loss of Derrick Canteen who played only two games after being first team All-SBC as a redshirt freshman.

Ellis and Canteen were the only Georgia Southern position players recognized on the pre-season All-Sun Belt team as each were second team picks. Punter Anthony Beck and all-purpose Amare Jones were second team selections as specialists.

As a team the Eagles were picked to finish fifth in the seven-team East Division and Ellis believes that’s another log on the simmering fire.

“The people outside only know last year’s team,” Ellis said. “They don’t know this year’s team. There’s a freshness to this team and I think we’re looking forward to showing that.”