Years from now, when members of this season’s Georgia Southern football team are asked to reflect on the 2019 season, it may very well be that they have trouble figuring out what to highlight, or even where to begin.
There has been the triumph of beating a nationally ranked rival, but there were also some key losses that prevented the Eagles from contending for a Sun Belt Conference championship.
There was the inspiration of a guy like lineman Drew Wilson overcoming a career-threatening injury to once again excel on the field while garnering national honors in the process. However, there was also the tragedy of the Eagle family losing one of its own and mourning a friend and brother midseason while still trying to win games.
Off the field, there was the continued growth of the team as a squad that could just as easily make headlines for viral videos, but there was also the wrong kind of national attention heaped on the team when quarterback Shai Werts was arrested on an ultimately unfounded charge just hours before fall camp began.
Any team will have its ups and downs, but much of that usually escapes the view of the public and is dealt with internally. Perhaps it’s the fact that Georgia Southern is so open about everything that affects the team that has helped it get past the tough days while making the most of the good ones.
Throughout the season, GS coach Chad Lunsford and his players have been vocal about the passing of Jordan Wiggins and have leaned on fans and each other for support in dealing with death and with talking about day-to-day issues that anyone might need help with.
When Werts was in the news for all the wrong reasons in August, Lunsford publicly supported his quarterback and never enacted rules for the other players as to what could or couldn’t be discussed on social media. His thinking was that they knew what couldn’t be discussed and they knew that any shared thoughts would reflect positively or negatively on the team as a whole, so they could make their own decision.
That kind of openness and honesty is a stark contrast to most of today’s college football landscape. On most campuses, personality from players or coaches get whitewashed. Opinions from within the locker room leaking out to fans or the media is kept to a minimum and anything that could possibly lead to insight about how a team is approaching an upcoming game is guarded like nuclear secrets.
Sure, Lunsford isn’t inviting everyone inside the huddle, but the Eagles are constantly honest about who they are. That was evident as ever ahead of Thursday’s practice in Orlando. As some players and coaches fulfilled media obligations, the special teams unit was playing hacky-sack with a football. Meanwhile, the defensive linemen were attempting to defend linebackers running fade routes into the back corner of the end zone.
“We are a disciplined and focused team. It might not look like it right now,” Lunsford said, referring to the antics going on behind him. “But we are. We have fun and enjoy ourselves, but these guys know when to get serious.”