GSU practice schedule
Aug. 3-2:45 p.m
Aug. 4-2:45 p.m.
Aug. 5-2:45 p.m.
Aug. 6-2:45 p.m.
Aug. 7-9 a.m.; 4:33 p.m.
Aug. 8-3:55 p.m.
Aug. 9-9 a.m.; 4:33 p.m.
Aug. 10-No practice
Aug. 11-9 a.m.; 4:33 p.m.
Aug. 12-2:45 p.m.
Aug. 13-2:45 p.m.
Aug. 14-10:05 a.m.; 4-5:30 p.m. “Meet the Eagles” event at Paulson Stadium
There are some similarities to the first time Jeff Monken coached at Georgia Southern University.
In 1997, when he was Paul Johnson’s slotbacks coach, Monken was part of a staff charged with restoring the Eagles’ winning ways and championship tradition. In the next five seasons, the Eagles won five Southern Conference and two national championships.
Monken has returned to Statesboro, again after a losing season, as the GSU head coach and the task now is the same as then — return the Eagles to their winning ways.
But there are some stark differences between the two situations. Even though Monken and his staff, several of whom have previous ties to the Eagles, are bringing back GSU’s renowned triple option, it’s an offense the current Eagles are not familiar with.
It’s been five years since the Eagles ditched the triple option, but they were only two years removed from the iconic offense when Monken first set foot in Statesboro.
“We also had some experience in this offense with those guys who had played under Coach (Tim) Stowers,” he said, noting the former GSU coach was dismissed in the spring of 1996. “There was little bit of movement away from it. But when we started talking about arc blocking and load blocking, they knew what we were talking about. They had been coached and well-coached.”
But the old offense has been a foreign language to the current Eagles. None of the players were around for the 2005 season, the last year Southern ran its fabled triple option offense.
“Our guys didn’t understand any of it when we got there,” Monken said. “We were a lot farther lot away, mentally and physically, in taking over this team.”
The 1997 Eagles not only had some knowledge of the offense, there was also a number of players who became all-conference or all-Americans. Guard Mark Williams “may have been the best guard who ever played in this offense,” Monken said. Greg Hill was a backup quarterback and eventually led the Eagles to two national championship games. Slotbacks Bennie Cunningham and Corey Joyner also were valuable members Johnson’s staff inherited.
The defense too had its share of talent ready for the new staff more than a decade ago. Two of the cornerbacks, Earthwind Moreland and Kiwaukee Thomas, played in the NFL, Monken noted. Linebackers D.T. Tanner and Chad Nighbert were stars, and defensive tackle Voncellies Allen was later an all-American.
“We had some speed on our football team,” Monken said. “That’s not a knock on our kids. We’ve got some fast guys. We don’t have enough. We can get there. The guys can get faster, and we need to do a good job of recruiting faster players. That’s probably the biggest difference.”
But at least the Eagles will have a quarterback well-versed in the offense. Jaybo Shaw transferred from Georgia Tech, following in Monken’s path from Johnson’s staff there. A junior, Shaw played for the Yellow Jackets for two years.
Like Monken, he’s the son of a high school coach, which his new head coach also appreciates.
“He’s a gym rat,” Monken said. “He’s around the weight room and the practice field all the time. He wants the ball in his hands. He brings the confidence that will help our football team. He’s very efficient in running this offense. I’m excited to have him in Statesboro.”
The Eagles opened their preseason practices Monday and they will begin the season at home Sept. 4 against Savannah State. With a spring practice and an offseason under their belts, the players have responded to a new coaching staff — their third in five years.
“I like our guys. I like our football team,” Monken said. “We’ve got guys who are willing to let us push them and we’ve pushed them. Hopefully, get them to grow together as a football team and become a team that plays with a tremendous sense of loyalty to each other.
“I think if we do that and play with the effort and toughness we’ll demand as coaches, I think we’re going to have a chance to win some games and eventually win some championships.”