Even with four new assistant coaches still getting settled with the program, Georgia Southern head coach Tyson Summers said he feels more comfortable with the program as the Eagles leave spring practice.
Georgia Southern finished 5-7 in Summers’ first season, and after the season, he made several changes to the coaching staff, adding offensive coordinator Bryan Cook, offensive line coach Bob Bodine, wide receivers coach Juston Wood and safeties coach Olten Downs.
The Eagles wrapped up spring practice at the end of last week.
“I’m really excited about the direction we’re headed with our program,” Summers said. “I’m really impressed with our new coaches and our new coaching staff: one, that they’re really buying into what Georgia Southern is about and what GATA is about, and two, what they’ve been able to bring from the standpoint of how each side of the ball works together.”
Cook previously worked as the quarterbacks and B-backs coach at Georgia Tech, while Bodine is returning to to the Eagles after three years at Army. Wood served as the offensive coordinator at Cal Poly in 2016.
Downs joins Lorenzo Costantini’s defensive staff and will work with secondary coach Jeremy Rowell.
“Bryan Cook has done a tremendous job. Bob Bodine and Juston Wood both bring coordinator experience as position coaches and do an fantastic job,” Summers said. “Everybody is on the same page and believing in the system that we’ve put in place. Dwayne Chandler, our new strength and conditioning coach, has done a fantastic job with bringing team unity and also with bringing a disciplined mentality in everything that we do.
“While there is really only one change on defense, there are really two position changes. Adding Olten Downs and Coach Zo having the entire defensive line, what a tremendous move that ended up being for us, and getting the opportunity for Coach Downs and Coach Rowell to work together, they’re doing a tremendous job. It puts Coach Zo in a comfort level because it puts him with the position he is comfortable with to make him a better coordinator, as well.”
While the new coaches made up one big story line of the spring, the battle for the starting quarterback spot is another one. Summers liked what he saw from all three: rising junior rising LaBaron Anthony, rising sophomore Seth Shuman and Shai Werts, who redshirted in 2016.
“I thought they all three did a good job. Shai Werts had a tremendous spring,” Summers said. “I can’t tell you how much he has grown up in watching film, the understanding, the knowledge, but really the leadership that he has commanded from the offensive unit. That’s hard to do at his age. It’s necessary because of his position and particularly with the offense that we run, but it’s hard to do for his age, and I thought he has done a tremendous job with that.
“Seth has had a good spring. Seth had to learn some new techniques and new fundamentals that aren’t necessarily things he’s done in his background, so there is a little bit of a learning curve there. The guy who really showed spurts and signs of being a tremendous quarterback is LaBaron Anthony. He’s certainly put himself in that group.”
That competition will continue into the fall. Georgia Southern opens its season Sept. 2 at Auburn.
“We’re a long ways away from naming our starter,” Summers said. “We’ll do that at the end of our camp before the Auburn game. We’ll figure out if it’s play one and play the second one a little bit or play the second one a lot or play the second one none. We’ll figure those things out really in camp.”
The Eagles have only six scholarship seniors on their roster, but Summers pointed to the offensive line and secondary — two positions with no seniors — as the strengths of the team. He said the coaching staff will be counting on incoming freshmen to help with the lack of depth on the defensive line and at linebacker.
Summers praised Matt Wise, the program’s director of character development, and said the staff has tried to keep things light at times this spring with off-field competitions like kickball, a slam dunk contest, basketball games against the coaches, intertube relay races and a belly flop contest.
“I think that for me in trying to go through the end of the season and evaluate things and trying to figure out what it comes down to it is keeping the main thing the main thing,” Summers said. “Ultimately, what I have tried to spend my last three or four months focusing on, outside of recruiting, has been trying to make sure the culture of our program, that these kids know what the demands are, what the work ethic has got to be and still trying to make sure that we’re coaching them hard but still having fun and building relationships with those guys.
“It’s hard in the first year a lot of times. I think that our assistant coaches and our players have bought into those things.”