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GS Football players to return to campus
GS Football
Georgia Southern running back Wesley Kennedy III stretches across the goal line for a score in a scrimmage at Paulson Stadium on Thursday, March 12. - photo by By SCOTT BRYANT

For more than two months every fan discussion - and most of those in the media - about the Georgia Southern athletic universe has begun with one question; when can teams get back to business?

The answer rarely changed throughout March and April. No matter the phrasing of the question, the response was something along the lines of how no definite course had been set and that talks were ongoing with information changing from day to day.

But as of Wednesday night, there is officially a road back to action for Georgia Southern football.

Shortly after the NCAA announced that it would clear athletes to return to limited and controlled forms of workouts on June 8, Georgia Southern and athletic director Jared Benko released a statement laying out a course of action that will have the first football players back on the field and in the weight room by June 15.

“Using a phased-in approach with six stages, we intend to have all members of the team who want to return for voluntary workouts back by mid-June,” Benko said. “Upon arrival to Bulloch County, all student-athletes will undergo COVID-19 testing and will then be subject to a 14-day isolation period before being allowed to start voluntary workouts in small groups. The first group will arrive on June 1 and be allowed to start workouts on June 15 with new groups arriving every three to four days and following the same time frame and protocols.”

Speaking in a Zoom meeting with members of the media on Tuesday, members of the Georgia Southern football coaching staff were repeatedly asked about their thoughts and methods on how to prepare the team once practices resumed.

While the final procedures had not yet been announced, the staff’s opinions aligned with the protocol announced Wednesday in terms of stressing caution over a full leap back into action.

“We’ve spent a lot of time through meetings with players and coaches preparing for football when that does happen,” GS coach Chad Lunsford said. “When (the NCAA ruling) happened, there was some excitement. There was that glimmer of hope that it’s going to happen. But we also want to stress the safety and health of our guys. We want to make sure that we’re doing what’s best for us and not getting caught up in what anyone else is doing.”

Lunsford stressed that he and the Georgia Southern administration had been in constant contact with authorities at the University System of Georgia, the Sun Belt Conference and the NCAA in order to formulate a plan for a return to activities.

That was consistent with Benko’s announcement.

“We will implement a number of safety and cleaning procedures moving forward to maintain a safe and healthy environment for everyone based on the guidelines set forth by agencies such as the Georgia Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We look forward to an exciting year of Eagle Athletics as we resume competition this fall.”

Benko added that football was a priority in terms of getting the first athletes back on campus, but that the policy will extend to all returning athletes and that other GS fall sports will be scheduled to return to Statesboro in July.

As for preparing for the season, Lunsford and his coaching staff have had a plan in place for whenever their players would be able to get back to work. The program has been running team, coach and position meetings on an almost daily basis ever since spring practice was halted and players were sent back to their hometowns. Strength and conditioning coach Matt Greenhalgh has also been checking in with players and working with the means available to each player on an individual basis in order to map out training and dietary plans to help them stay in the best shape possible while on their own.

The announcement of a plan to get back to something close to normal has Lunsford happy — not just for the return of football, but for what his players will come back to.

"Us coaches go through the process of building up to a season and playing it over and over," Lunsford said. "These players have a very limited time to experience that. And none of it is guaranteed. There can be injury or, as we've seen, a global pandemic thrown in their way.  We've just stressed that they have got to have faith that they will get the most out of their experience while they're in it."