When Clay Helton took over the Georgia Southern Eagle football program he admits it was a tough sell to try and let recruits know how much the passing game would change and flourish under the guidance of offensive coordinator Bryan Ellis.
The proof is in the pudding. The Eagles set virtually every passing and receiving record in 2022 including finishing third nationally in passing yards per game, and fourth in total passing offense.
Hitting the recruiting trail was much easier this year, and instead of having to call and reach out to players the Eagles were the ones getting the phone calls. Among the interested parties were a few players who could have an immediate impact on the Eagles passing game.
In addition to a few talented quarterbacks looking to replace Kyle Vantrease, comes a few receivers and tight ends looking to get on the receiving end of some of those passes.
Among those catching the eye of Elton are wide receivers Jaylon Barden, a transfer from the University of Pittsburgh and Anthony Queeley who comes to Georgia Southern from Syracuse.
“We lost Amari Jones and Jeremy Singleton and that is talent and leadership,” Helton said. “We have a lot of talent returning at receiver, but we feel like guys like A.Q. and Jaylon bring a poise and a veteran kind of swagger about them. They make their plays and that has been evident in every live scrimmage atmosphere we have had.”
“A.Q. is a physical wide out,” Helton said. “You saw what Jeremy Singleton did for us last year. I think he brings that same physicality on the outside. He is the guy who can catch short and go long, and he is going to come down with the 50/50 balls. Jaylon is just pure speed. We knew coming in he was the kind of guy who can just run right by you. He really pushed the ball vertically for us.”
Queeley totaled 600 yards receiving and four touchdowns at Syracuse during his career with the Orangemen.
“I felt like this program gave me a great opportunity to showcase my skills,” said Queeley. “We run an up-tempo spread offense and throw the ball a lot. I’m a receiver so hearing that is like someone offering a kid candy.”
Barden had over 300 yards receiving and three touchdowns in his time at Pittsburgh.
“Coach Ellis recruited me out of high school,” Barden said. “I didn’t feel like I got a really good chance to show what I could do at Pitt. So I decided to get back with coach Ellis and see about coming here. I love what they are doing with the offense and I think I will fit in. We have a great receiver room with a lot of guys who can run and catch so I think it will be very competitive.”
Another player that is high on Helton’s list is 6-7, 250-pound tight end Keaton Upshaw who transferred to Georgia Southern from Kentucky.
“Keaton is another veteran who has already made some impressive plays,” Helton said. “He caught a short pass today and then just dragged a defender 15 yards into the end zone. He brings strength and size and is a matchup nightmare. He is a weapon I can’t wait to use in this offense.”
Upshaw recorded over 300 yards receiving and three touchdowns in his time at Kentucky.
“The first thing I fell in love with here was the coaches,” said Upshaw. “I feel like the relationships with the coaches and the family atmosphere here was very special. I feel like we are on the rise and I think I can help us get to a conference championship and help put Georgia Southern back on the map.”
The Eagles were scheduled for a scrimmage Saturday morning but have pushed that back to Monday at approximately 4:30 due to the weather expected Saturday.