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New football Eagles adjust to new nest
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    Their hectic days begin with 5 a.m. wake-up calls followed by 6 a.m. runs, 7 a.m. weight lifting and morning classes. Then it’s off to afternoon film sessions and 7-on-7 drills at Beautiful Eagle Creek.
    The event-filled weeks that comprise voluntary summer workouts can be very beneficial to Georgia Southern football players, particularly incoming freshmen. Most of first-year coach Chris Hatcher’s 2007 signing class is already on campus using June and July to adjust to the demands of juggling football with classroom expectations.
    Though their summers are very scheduled, GSU’s newest signees say they’re getting a good lesson in time management and a taste of what the fall will be like.
    “From 5 a.m. to noon, my day is packed,” said freshman Brett Layson, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound former quarterback out of Tattnall Square Academy. “Then I sleep, have football and study. It’s good because we don’t have time to get in trouble.
    “I’m glad I came down before the fall, because just having two classes right now is hard. But once fall comes around, I’ll have more of an idea of how to manage my time. It’s going to be a lot better then. It’s a little tough right now, but it’s definitely better to do it now than in the fall.”
    Summer is also the ideal time for freshmen to begin adjusting to the overall speed of the college game both physically and mentally, something they get a feel for during the 7-on-7 drills.
    “Watching on film, the speed looks kind of the same,” said Lee Chapple, a 6-2, 190-pound quarterback from Greater Atlanta Christian. “But when you get out there and start running around, it’s three or four times as fast as you played in high school. Your reads are faster, you’ve got to think faster and you’re going to get better athletes than you did in high school.”
    Layson, who will likely be used as a receiver, agrees.
    “There’s no weak link when you come to college,” he said. “In high school, there’s always that one person you can pick on, like a weak corner, but it’s not like that in college. You’ve got to run every route exactly the right way or else the whole play will break down. It’s something you’ve got to get used to.”
    Getting to know teammates is another huge part of summer workouts, and the upperclassmen have been helpful with showing the younger guys the ropes. Their assistance is crucial, especially since the NCAA prohibits coaches — other than those assigned to strength and conditioning — from working with players until fall camp begins.
    “They’re all really nice,” Layson said of the older players. “None of them think they are too good to help out a freshman or anything like that. If they see me run a route wrong, they’ll pull me to the side and show me what I’m doing wrong.”
    Layson and Chapple said coming in with a new head coach makes life a little easier on them. Hatcher took over in January, becoming the third Eagle coach in as many seasons.
    “You don’t start as far behind as you would if the same coach was here for four years and everyone else had already been running the offense for three or four years,” Chapple said. “You are coming in with guys who just learned this stuff this spring. So you are still behind a bit, but it’s not as wide a gap as it could have been.”
    Said Layson: “(Hatcher) hasn’t put in a lot of the offense. So when he starts putting it all in, we’ll all be learning at the same time. That’ll make it a little easier.”
    Though players who were here for spring workouts might have a slight head start, Hatcher has made it clear that the best players will play regardless of age and experience. That’s motivating to his recruits.
    “It really makes you want to work hard just to see what’s out there,” Layson said.
    Both Chapple and Layson said Georgia Southern’s tradition coupled with the arrival of Hatcher drew them to Statesboro.
    “His offense, for a quarterback, is pretty exciting,” Chapple said. “And the tradition Southern has speaks for itself. They’ve had a couple of down years, but the tradition was very influential coming here. When they named Coach Hatcher, I took a huge interest in the school.”
    Layson, initially recruiting to Valdosta State by Hatcher, felt similarly.
    “Having a chance to win big games is always something you want to do,” he said. “You don’t want to go to a school where maybe you can build and have a winning season by your fourth year. Having a chance to win right away is going to be really exciting.”
    After summer classes end, the student-athletes will have a quick break before reporting for fall camp Aug. 4. The first official practice is slated for Aug. 6. Though camp and two-a-day workouts can be grueling in south-Georgia’s notorious summer heat, the freshmen are looking forward to getting started.
    “It’ll be nice to get back into full pads again,” Chapple said. “We did two-a-days in high school, but it’ll definitely be different down here.”
    Getting through the first couple days of camp will be key.
“Once we understand what’s going on and what to expect, it’s going to be fun,” Layson said. “We both love to play football. Just working out isn’t the most fun thing in the world to do, but once you get out there and start playing football again it makes everything a lot easier.”
    Georgia Southern opens its season Sept. 8 against West Georgia at Paulson Stadium.

    Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.