Georgia Southern’s signees for 2004 were:
Raja Andrews, WR
Korey Alexander, DE
Jerry Barker, DT
Larry Beard, DE
Dedrick Bynam, SS
Justin Callaway, LB
Kyle Carroll, DL
Chris Covington, RB
Jared Howard, LB
Roger King, CB
James Knight, DL
Blake Mullis, DT
Fernando Phillips, FS
Tripp Russell, WR
Casey Wingard, DL
Davis Wokeme, RB/DB
There isn’t much Patrick Bolen would change about his five years in the Georgia Southern University football program.
“Not at all,” said the South Effingham High School alum.
That’s not to say his college career didn’t have a set of twists and turns to make a road racing course jealous. The same could be said for the Eagles’ fortunes during Bolen’s career.
He played for three different coaches in a span of 13 months. The Eagles made two playoff appearances in his first two years in the program — both ending in heartbreaking first-round losses — before the first coaching change ensued. Out went Mike Sewak, a former assistant coach at Georgia Southern, and in came Brian VanGorder, the well-regarded former University of Georgia defensive coordinator.
The Eagles posted a 3-8 mark under VanGorder, their worst record since restarting the program in 1982. VanGorder was gone after 13 tumultuous months on the job. In stepped Chris Hatcher, who had taken Valdosta State University to a Division II national championship in 2004.
For Bolen, the rapid coaching changes were nothing new. He had the same experience in high school, where he played for, in succession, Mike Harper, Todd Conner and Bob Herndon in his stellar career.
“It’s been different, getting to play under three coaches,” Bolen said. “You get accustomed to their styles.”
Bolen’s role on the team has undergone some changes, too. After his redshirt season in 2004, he was 2-for-2 on his only two point after touchdown attempts in 2005, in a blowout win over Morehead State. He was one of three kickers that year, behind starter Jonathan Dudley and fellow backup Bo Galvin.
In 2006, he connected on 11-of-12 extra points and was 6-of-11 on field goals, again splitting time with Dudley and Galvin, before Jesse Hartley won the full-time place-kicking job a year ago.
This year, Bolen was the designated kickoff man and even earned the Southern Conference special teams player of the week award for his game against Western Carolina. The changes, both in coaching and in his duties, have made him a better man and have given him more character, Bolen said.
“There’s been some ups and downs,” he said. “It made me better mentally and physically. Just got to continue to stay on the right track.”
Bolen had 13 touchbacks, more than twice the number of Southern’s opponents. No other SoCon team had more than nine, and the Eagles held their opposition to only 18.1 yards per kickoff return, leading the league in kick coverage.
Nationally, Georgia Southern was 24th among Football Championship Subdivision teams in kickoff return coverage, and Bolen was tied for sixth nationally for number of touchbacks.
Bolen finished up his senior season in last week’s 17-10 victory over archrival Furman, a win that allowed the Eagles seniors to finish with a winning record at 6-5 — and they delivered a potentially fatal blow to the Paladins’ playoff chances. At 6-5, the Eagles almost assuredly won’t be making a return to the FCS postseason, extending their drought to three consecutive seasons.
“It isn’t fun realizing you can’t go to the playoffs,” Bolen said.
And what hurt the Eagles is a place that used to treat them so well — home. Georgia Southern went 2-4 at home in 2008, losing all four conference home games. Still, Bolen doesn’t regret any of the experience from the last five years.
“Getting to play college football was a dream,” he said. “It’s been fun.”
As rough as the waters have been for Bolen and the Eagles the last few years, he sees a steady sea ahead for GSU with Hatcher at the helm.
“I know this team, with Coach Hatcher, is on the right track,” he said.
Not long before the end of the season, Bolen and some of the other seniors who have endured the turmoil of three coaching changes and the program’s second losing season since its renaissance. There weren’t many left for the final ride — of the 17 members of the Eagles original 2004 signing class, only five were left for the 2008 season finale.
Bolen even recalled teammate Raja Andrews wanting to sit in the stands with his family instead of being on the sidelines during their redshirt season.
“I was telling Raja in the locker room, just the other day we were freshmen,” Bolen said. “Time does fly by.”