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Eagles hand off offense to Chapple
Sophomore anxious, eager to get started with new receivers
06.16 lee chapple file 1
Georgia Southern sophomore Lee Chapple (14) played in seven games in 2008, getting the starting nod twice, but he has established himself as the clear No. 1 quarterback for the Eagles. - photo by File photo

Chapple by the numbers
Games: 7
Attempts: 121
Yards: 787
Touchdowns: 5
Interceptions: 4

Against Furman:
Attempts: 56 (GSU record)
Completions: 39 (GSU record)
Yards: 323 (4th in GSU)

When Lee Chapple shattered some of Georgia Southern’s passing records — some of which weren’t all that out of reach, given the program’s history of having one of the best rushing attacks year in and year out —it could be a harbinger of things to come for the Eagles.

Chapple, the sophomore quarterback who completed a school-record 39 passes in another program-best 56 attempts, was prepared to throw even more passes in the 17-10 season-ending win over Furman.

“He told me before the game, ‘we’re going to try to throw the ball 70 times,’” Chapple said of GSU head coach Chris Hatcher. “The Furman game was fun. I’ve never heard of someone throwing the ball 56 times and 40-something times going into halftime. It was a great time, just cutting it loose.”

Chapple got the start in the final game over Antonio Henton and with Henton’s offseason departure, entered spring practice firmly set as the No. 1 quarterback. He threw for 787 yards — 323 coming against Furman for the fourth-best passing day in GSU annals — and five touchdowns last season.

“He played well,” Hatcher said. “He had a good game against Georgia. He played well against Western Carolina until he got hurt and he had a great game against Furman, considering we changed the whole offense in a week. We have tremendous confidence in him. He’s our guy.”

But just who Chapple will throw to, starting with the Sept. 5 against Albany (N.Y.), has been a question since the start of spring practice. Leander Barney is the leading returning receiver and the No. 2 player on the list — Chris Teal — hasn’t caught a pass since 2007. The Eagles lost six receivers who won letters last year.

Yet Chapple exudes confidence in a relatively untested receiver corps that includes spring game standout Tyler Sumner.

“I’ve got great chemistry with the receivers. It’s been awesome,” Chapple said. “Going into spring, it was a little shaky. After spring, I feel great about the receivers. I’m very confident in those guys. In the spring game, they showed they can all play.”

Though leading receiver Raja Andrews graduated, Chapple recalled throwing a pass for Barney in the spring game and the sophomore made a catch that immediately had Chapple thinking of Andrews.

“He made a play that I thought, ‘that’s a play Raja would have made,’” Chapple said. “I’ve got great confidence in those guys. If we can catch, we can flat out score some points.”

The offense also promises to be closer to what Hatcher coached at Valdosta State than in his first two seasons at Georgia Southern — especially if the final game of 2008 against Furman is any indication.

“This will be the first year that we’ll run what we’re used to running,” Hatcher said. “We’ll have some growing pains with it.”

Chapple can’t wait and even said he’s looking forward to the 7-on-7 offseason drills.

“That offense is fun,” he said. “You can tweak it to what you can do best. You have to have a whole understanding of the offense before you can start doing it. In spring, they cut me loose and said, ‘you’ve got the offense. Do what you do best.’”

He’s also putting his trust in an offensive line that struggled through much of last season but only gave up one sack against Furman. Four starters are expected to return for the offensive line, much to Chapple’s relief.

“After the Furman game, getting hit two or three times, I walked out of that game fully intact. I felt great about it,” he said of the line. “They know each other. They have great chemistry with each other, great chemistry with the whole offense.”