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GSU's Rozier out for season
Freshman Teal, junior Covington to fill void
Georgia Southern running back Chris Teal tries to gain some extra yardage during practice. With the Eagles’ running backs banged up, Teal could see plenty of snaps as a true freshman.
    Heading into the 2007 season, Georgia Southern had a lot to be optimistic about at running back where talent ran deep and young players looked promising. But two games into the year, the current outlook isn’t as bright for a group whose top three runners are banged up.
    In the latest injury news, precocious true freshman Zeke Rozier is out for the season after “tearing up his knee” in last week’s win at Coastal Carolina, Eagle coach Chris Hatcher said Wednesday afternoon. Further complicating the situation is the likely absence of senior Lamar Lewis and junior Mike Hamilton, who are both doubtful for Saturday’s 7 p.m. home game against Chattanooga, Hatcher added.
    Rozier, one of Hatcher’s top recruits, was injured on the first play of the game in Conway, S.C., but remained in the contest, rushing for 48 yards on nine carries in his first collegiate start to earn the Southern Conference’s freshman of the week award. In his GSU debut against West Georgia, the Bleckley County native ran for 53 yards and two scores, including a 41-yard touchdown on his first collegiate carry. Though Rozier played in both games, Hatcher feels there’s a good chance he’ll be able to redshirt and save a year of eligibility.
    “The best thing for him to do is to get that knee fixed and have four good years after that,” Hatcher said. “He’s very disappointed.”
    With Hamilton, Lewis and Rozier out, the Eagles (2-0) will look for big things from another promising true freshman, Chris Teal.
    Georgia Southern has also moved junior safety Chris Covington back to running back where he led the team in rushing a year ago. Covington worked with the first-team offense for the first time this year Wednesday. Hatcher said he’ll have to wait and see if Covington would be used on offense in an emergency situation only or if he’ll play both ways Saturday. It’s also too early to know if Covington’s return to offense will be permanent, and if so, his void would certainly be felt in the defense backfield where he’s developed into a key contributor.
    As for Teal, he’s currently working as Georgia Southern’ s starting running back but has also practiced at receiver since joining the Eagles this fall. The Cairo native is lauded for his versatility and speed, skills he honed while playing quarterback, receiver, defensive back and punt returner in high school. He was also a track star.
    “He may be one of the top two or three fastest guys on the team,” Hatcher said. “The thing about him is the more reps he gets, the better he’s going to be. He’s just kind of adjusting to our scheme and being a full-time running back. I’m not so sure that he may not eventually be a better wide receiver when it’s all said and done, but I think he’s going to be ready Saturday. We’re going to have to have him this week.”
    Coaches are also complimentary of Teal’s hands and vision, and the freshman’s quick feet and slashing running style reminds offensive coordinator Rance Gillespie of standout quarterback Jayson Foster.
    Teal, who other than Rozier is the only true freshman to play this fall, had two totes for three yards against Coastal. He didn’t record a carry or reception while playing sparingly in the West Georgia game.
    “We are very fortunate to have a couple of guys like Chris that are able to step in and play early as a freshman,” Gillespie said. “Chris has certainly done a great job. He came from a good high school program. He’s a great player, and we are very fortunate to have him.”
    Lewis characterized Teal as a hard worker whose age is deceiving.    
    “He’s a freshman but you don’t see it in him,” Lewis said. “He’s always out here giving 100 percent. He’s a real fast runner, so he should be fine.”
    Gillespie and Lewis said the injuries to the running backs aren’t too big of a concern considering the team’s depth.
    “Fortunately we’ve got a lot of great players at that position, and we’ve got a lot of guys that are stepping up and filling some voids,” Gillespie said.
    Said Lewis: “We’re probably a little banged up, but we are still going to go out there and perform to the best of our abilities.”
    Teal considered heading to Valdosta State out of high school but ultimately committed to Samford University. His plan changed once Hatcher took over the Eagles in January.
    “When coach Hatcher moved to Georgia Southern, that just made everything better,” he said.
    With the possibility of his first collegiate start looming and increased playing time certain, Teal said he’s not at all nervous for Saturday.
    “I’m excited in a way, but I’m just ready to play,” he said.
    Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.