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Hatcher preaching patience
2008 Eagles to be very young, coach tells members of Effingham Eagle Club
04.27 hatcher 2

Holy Eagle Creek water

Chris Hatcher meets Eagle Creek water.

Hatcher 1

Georgia Southern coach Chris Hatcher talks about the first year with the Eagles.

Georgia Southern University football coach Chris Hatcher looks at his roster and the signing class he expects to bring in and sees what’s close to a balance — and it’s not reassuring.

Of the 62 players he expects to have on scholarship for the 2008 season, more than half — 32— will be on campus for the first time this August.

“Half the team wasn’t even here this spring,” Hatcher said.

So the second-year Eagles coach is preaching giving a very young team time to grow as he addresses alumni and boosters groups across the state.

“Have a little patience with these guys, because that transition to college is pretty difficult at times,” Hatcher said.

And the Eagles will open the season Aug. 30 at Georgia, and the Bulldogs could be ranked No. 1 when the two teams meet. Georgia Southern will have a brand-new starting quarterback — Lee Chapple was named the starter coming out of spring practice — a new starting running back and almost an entirely new offensive line that will rely heavily on redshirt freshmen.

“Bottom line is, we’ve got a bunch of holes to fill,” Hatcher said.

Hatcher doesn’t expect the entire 30-plus class to make it into school for the fall — five were enrolled for the spring semester — but he is anticipating about 25 will be there when practice begins in August. He’s also enthused about the recruits he and his staff were able to get.

The Eagles beat out Louisville for Roswell running back/defensive back Lavelle Larry, and they scooped Irmo (S.C.) quarterback Leander Barney away from Southern Conference rival Appalachian State and Coastal Carolina.

Hatcher said Barney is the closest thing he has seen to Jayson Foster, the Eagles quarterback who just finished his career at GSU as the Walter Payton Award winner, given to the best player in the Football Championship Subdivision.

Like Foster — who played running back and receiver and also returned kicks — the 5-foot-8, 187-pound Barney also wants to return kicks.

“We feel we’ve got a great product to sell, and we were very, very pleased with our recruiting class,” Hatcher said.

With a year under his belt at GSU, Hatcher still doesn’t think he has put his full stamp on the program.

“Not even close,” he said. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do. I was at Valdosta for seven years, and I didn’t have everything I wanted in place there.”

How long Hatcher would be at Georgia Southern became a question not long after the 7-4 campaign concluded. He interviewed for the Georgia Tech head coaching job, which eventually went to former Georgia Southern coach Paul Johnson.

But the rumors are part of the territory to Hatcher and they’re a sign that a coach knows what he’s doing.

“If my name doesn’t get thrown around every year,” he said, “then we’re not doing a very good job.”

Hatcher and his staff only had 11 days to recruit for the initial recruiting period and took over a team that they didn’t know much about. They had to figure out what the team could do and try to put in a third different system in just over two years.

“It was just a whirlwind of a year,” he said.

The 7-4 record was the worst in his eight seasons, which included a Division II national championship at Valdosta State, as a head coach.

“But the season was one of the most rewarding and fun seasons I’ve had as a coach,” Hatcher said.

Hatcher had the Eagles on the cusp of the playoffs in 2007, beating eventual three-time FCS champion Appalachian State on the road — snapping App’s 30-game home winning streak — and beating 10th-ranked Wofford on the road.

They had a chance to secure the SoCon title and an automatic bid with a win over Furman in their final league game, but Jesse Hartley’s field-goal try as the clock ran out sailed wide right by mere inches.

“We were disappointed, but we did make a lot of strides,” he said.

Southern may have been able to earn a playoff berth with a win over Colorado State in the finale, but the Rams held on for a 42-34 victory. The Eagles trailed the Rams 28-3 at the half and were down 42-17 to the Football Bowl Subdivision team early in the fourth quarter.

But that’s when Hatcher saw more signs that the future holds promise. In scoring five second-half touchdowns, the Eagles rolled up 302 yards of offense and outgained the Rams 509-507 for the game.

“At Colorado State, it would have been easy for them to quit,” he said. “The second half there was by far the best offensive performance we had all year.”

Hatcher lauded Foster, who finished with 1,844 yards and 24 touchdowns rushing and threw for another 1,200, as one of the best young men he’s ever met. He also praised the Eagles he coached this past season for their perseverance in the face of two coaching changes — and they believe they can use last year as a springboard back to the top of FCS.

“These guys have been through a lot,” he said. “This was one of the better offseasons we’ve ever had. Our guys believe they can get the Georgia Southern magic back.”