Raja Andrews doesn’t shy away from admitting he’s not completely over last season.
Recollections of the Eagles’ 7-4 campaign cross the senior wide receiver’s head quite often. A lot of the memories are good ones — rebounding with remarkable speed from a disastrous 2006, pulling off upsets at Appalachian State and Wofford, watching Jayson Foster return to quarterback and win the coveted Walter Payton.
But the flashback of the way it ended — with the game-winning field goal sliding painfully wide right of a conference title and an automatic playoff berth in a loss to archrival Furman — is impossible to wash away.
“I tend to keep last year in my mind, just as a reminder as to the things we could have accomplished,” Andrews said following the team’s first spring practice Monday morning. “We came so close and you never want to repeat the same thing. A lot of times you just want to forgive and forget and put a lot of stuff behind you. But this is my last season, so I have to just think about want I want to accomplish and the things I think we can improve on from last year. We’ve still got a great team.”
Back on the banks of Beautiful Eagle Creek, the Georgia Southern football team began its search for players needed to fill numerous spots. All eyes will be on the quarterback race where the Eagles have the daunting task of filling Foster’s tremendous void. The three frontrunners are sophomores Billy Lowe and Kyle Collins and redshirt freshman Lee Chapple. Like GSU’s fans, Eagle players are anxious to watch how the wide-open chase pans out.
“That’s going to be something to see,” Andrews said. “We’ve just got to wait until it develops. We’ve got a couple of guys who are really pushing for that top spot. They’re all great guys, great athletes. It’s going to be a tough competition. I think they’ll be great for the position, which one gets it.”
Second-year Eagle coach Chris Hatcher plans to rotate the trio through drills this week.
“Whichever one steps up the quickest is going to be the guy that gets the majority of the reps,” he said. “Right now, I think we got a pretty good battle. They’re all practicing hard, they all pretty much know the offense, so it’ll be interesting to see how that shapes up.”
Lowe has the edge in experience after playing in seven games off the bench last season. He spent most of the offseason rehabbing from minor back surgery and is glad to be back at 100 percent.
“Everybody is doing a pretty good job,” Lowe said. “It’s going to be a challenge. I’m just grateful I have the opportunity to be out here and compete. Everybody has an equal opportunity, it just all depends on who comes out on top in the spring. I feel like I’m just going to try to work harder than everybody else, no matter if it’s on the field or off.”
Chapple was a highly touted member of Hatcher’s first recruiting class and was redshirted last season. He’s glad he had a year to familiarize himself with the offense.
“It’s a three-way battle, and everybody has a good shot,” he said. “It’s going to be a fun spring. Offseason throwing was big — getting the guys together, getting timing down. Coach said nobody’s got a starting job yet, so that’s the way I’m going to look at it and go at it as hard as I can for this spring. I have high expectations for myself. I’m just like everybody out here. Everybody wants to go play at Paulson.”
Though the current quarterback situation is a three-man race, Hatcher won’t rule out the possibility of putting promising incoming freshman Leander Barney under center come fall. Barney, along with every player coming in during fall camp, will have a shot at starting, Hatcher said.
“We can’t penalize (Barney) because he’s still in high school,” Hatcher said. “Our goal now is to narrow down who can play for us. Then when we come back for fall camp, the battles will all start over again.”
As they were last spring, all starting jobs are up for grabs.
“We’ve got to find out who can do what because we’ve got over 30 players coming in new during fall camp,” Hatcher said. “We are going to have to have a slot for those guys to come in because they are going to have contribute right away whether we like it or not.”
Overall, Hatcher was very pleased with what he saw Monday morning but said it was hard to get an accurate feel with so many new faces. The Eagles lost more than two dozen players from a year ago.
“We were very eager, we hustled around the football field,” he said. “Tomorrow I expect us to be a lot sharper in our drill work strictly because of familiarity. Everybody will know what’s expected of them. They’ll know where to go.”
Knocking it out
Thirteen of Georgia Southern’s 15 spring practices will be held in the morning, a new schedule for the Eagles. Hatcher prefers getting work out of the way early in day, but he didn’t have his druthers last year because the players’ class schedules were already set when he came onboard in January.
“You get it done early in the morning and you’re not sitting around waiting all day,” he said. “Plus, when the weather gets nice like it is right now, sometimes it’s hard to focus during spring practice in the afternoon, so we go ahead and knock it on out and free up their afternoons.”
Georgia Southern’s bald Eagle Freedom swung by Beautiful Eagle Creek for the team’s first workout. Wildlife Center director Steve Hein said the bird will take flight at the annual Blue/White game on April 12.