STATESBORO -- The recruiting pitch is fairly simple: Come to Georgia Southern and play for championships.
Head coach Jeff Monken was part of two national and five Southern Conference championship teams in his five years as an assistant coach with the Eagles.
In his two seasons as a head coach, Georgia Southern has gone to the FCS playoff semifinals both years. And, this past season, the Eagles won the Southern Conference championship outright.
If that is not enough to entice a young high school player to play in Statesboro, he can throw in the opportunity to not only play against tough SoCon competition, but also against some of the nation’s elite BCS teams.
The Eagles, who this year had the distinction of being the only team at any level to play both Division I champions in Alabama (BCS) and North Dakota State (FCS), have Georgia, Florida, Georgia Tech and LSU on their schedule during the next four seasons, beginning with the Bulldogs this fall.
Those are strong selling points to potential recruits.
Although Georgia Southern lost 45-21 at Alabama, it generated more positive publicity for the Eagles than if they had beaten a middle of the road mid-major team.
While a win over a Ball State, for example, would have been quickly forgotten, the game with Alabama made a national impression.
In nearly every story leading up the Alabama-LSU game, mentions of Georgia Southern were made when dissecting what the Tigers would have to do to be effective against the Tide defense.
Georgia Southern had more total yards (341), rushing yards (302) and points (21) against Alabama than anyone else on the Tide’s schedule.
Monken will use those positives and the opportunity to come in and compete for playing time to sign more than 20 players.
“We’re looking at our greatest needs,” Monken said. “Right now, our most pressing needs are in the secondary and at linebacker.
“We have to help ourselves in those areas. That may mean going the junior college route, where we can get someone mature and with experience. We don’t often go that route.”
The Eagles, who went 11-3 this past season and are 21-8 under Monken, had 22 players complete their eligibility.
There will be some exceptional talent returning, but there are notable losses, the biggest being quarterback Jaybo Shaw and cornerback Laron Scott.
The offensive and defensive lines, as well as the secondary, also suffered major losses.
All-America tackle Brett Moore, William Maxwell, Brandavious Mann and backup Josh Petkovich won’t be back, while on the defensive side of the ball John Douglas and Roderick Tinsley will need to be replaced.
In addition to Scott, the Eagles lose Derek Heyden, Hudson Presume and Michael Butler in the secondary.
Monken will need to replace place-kicker Adrian Mora, punter Charlie Jones, long snapper Carter Jones and kickoff specialist Billy Greer.
In addition, linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator Shawn Quinn has taken the defensive coordinator’s position at Charleston Southern.
Speed and quarterbacks will also be among the priorities, Monken said.
“We’re always looking for speed, and we’ll take it every time,” Monken said. “We’re always looking for a quarterback that fits our system, not one, but several ... guys that can play other positions.”
Recruiting at the FCS level operates literally in the shadows, as the major recruiting services do not track it and players -- especially players the caliber Georgia Southern is seeking -- do not commit until the final days as they await offers from a BCS school that often don’t come.
When those schools leave them hanging, the Georgia Southerns of the world swoop in to sign them.
“We recognize there are a lot of prospects out there being recruited by BCS schools who recruit our state,” Monken said. “Frankly, those kids being recruited by BCS schools are not ready to commit to us.
“We can get out there in January, and when the BCS schools head in another direction we’ll be there,” Monken said. “Hopefully we can get them to visit Georgia Southern, and they’ll decide to come to Statesboro.”
Monken has 15 scholarships available, but FCS rules allow him to split them up in a variety of ways. Some may get a full scholarship while others will settle for tuition and books or room and board. Pell Grants and the Hope Scholarship can also be utilized for players who qualify.
Being in the playoffs is a boost, not a detriment, to recruiting, Monken said.
While coaches from non-playoff schools hit the recruiting trail upon the end of the season, it’s different for the Eagles’ coaches.
“It’s tough because we’re not on the road,” Monken said. “We do a lot of work in the evenings by phone, but I would say having the opportunity to play in postseason does more for us in recruiting than going into a high school or a kid’s home.
“I think having a successful football program benefits our recruiting. It’s way more than a fair trade-off.”