The list of people eagerly anticipating the Georgia Southern season opener Saturday against Morgan State is even longer than the line of people waiting to shop at the new Statesboro Publix.
From the players, to the coaches, to the fans that make up Eagle Nation and even the Eagle opponents out there, the long-awaited day will see a kickoff Saturday at 6:00.
For the players it’s a chance to put the disappointment of the 2021 season behind them and start to build on what they feel could be a special season.
“There is a lot of emotion, but mainly it’s just excitement,” said Eagle junior running back Jalen White. “We know nobody is thinking much about us this year but we want to prove the world wrong. There is a lot of excitement around the team.”
With the loss of J.D. King and Logan Wright, White and fellow junior running back Gerald Green are expected to carry the load this year which is something he feels they are ready for. White also knows people are expecting the Eagles to throw a lot more, but he is quick to caution them not to forget about the running game.
“We are bringing in an air raid assault but the running backs are as important as ever,” said White. “This is still Georgia Southern and we take pride in our running backs and we think we are the best in the conference. We have been sitting behind some pretty talented guys the past few years and I think we learned from them and it will benefit us.”
Sixth-year senior defensive lineman Justin Ellis is also eager to put away the past and build on the new.
“I think everyone has a pretty bad taste in their mouths from the way last season went,” said Ellis. “We want to put something new on the field this year and Saturday is the first opportunity to show that we are a much different team.’
Ellis feels the defensive unit is much improved and thinks it all starts with the new scheme and amount of pressure they will be applying on opposing offenses.
“What excites me is how aggressive this defense is,” said Ellis. “We are going to lighting up the quarterback this year and I really like what we have on the back end. The leadership, the energy, the juice and guys like Wylan Free (6-2 cornerback from Fresno State). We have a lot of exotic stuff and I think it’ll be fun to watch.”
For head coach Clay Helton Saturday is something he has thought about for quite a while, including earlier this week as he sat down on the field at Paulson Stadium to reflect on the past 10 months.
“I just looked around the stadium and thought how nice it was to be here,” said Helton. “I just took it all in. I thought about all the work that has gone in the past 10 months. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to be at such a great place. I am most happy for the kids who have had a chip on their shoulders since the season ended in December. We are looking forward to them playing with that chip on their shoulder after all the hard work they have put in to get that awful taste out of their mouths.”
The opponent Saturday is the Morgan State Bears who are coming off a 2-9 season and have an entirely new staff headed up by head coach Damon Wilson who comes to Morgan State after 13 seasons as the head coach at Bowie State.
“I really think our preparation has been more about us,” said Helton. “Coach Wilson has come on so late and while he is a great coach in his own right, he had to put his staff together from all around the country so late. They are all coming together for the first time and you really don’t know what to expect. What I have preached to our team is we have to be good at what we do. Let’s concentrate on us and our fundamentals and our execution and keep it simple and play fast.”
The speed at which the Eagles play is something Helton stressed on a number of occasions, particularly early in the game.
“It’s important that we start fast and build confidence,” said Helton. “Any time you come off a season like we had last year and you have 50 newcomers it’s important that you start fast. To start fast you really have to live in the moment. We are concentrating on a 1-0 mentality and we are going to throw out the kitchen sink and do all we can to win this game Saturday.”
The Eagles and Bears are set for a 6:00 start at Paulson Stadium