STATESBORO -- Georgia Southern nose tackle Brent Russell and defensive tackle Roderick Tinsley may seem like an unusual pairing.
But whatever the two are doing is working for the Eagles’ defensive front.
“We call them the odd couple,” Georgia Southern defensive coordinator Brent Pry said. “One’s in to fishing and hunting, and the other is more urban. Definitely two different personalities, but they’re great friends.”
Russell and Tinsley have developed into two of the best interior linemen in FCS football.
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The Eagles’ tandem will be facing another challenge at noon on Saturday in Newark, Del., when Georgia Southern (10-4) takes on No. 3 seed Delaware (11-2) in an FCS semifinal playoff game. The game will be televised by ESPNU.
The winner earns a spot in the national championship game Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas, against the winner of the Villanova-Eastern Washington game.
When the season began, Russell, a 6-foot-2, 287-pound sophomore, was a known commodity. He was a first-team pick on the preseason All-Southern Conference team.
Great things were projected for Russell, who is the only second-year player among the 20 finalists for the Buck Buchanan Award that goes to the top defensive player in FCS.
Tinsley, on the other hand, was somewhat of an unknown. A 6-3, 259-pound junior from Soperton, he had done nothing to distinguish himself in his first two years. He played in eight games, starting two, last year.
At the beginning of this season in the weekly Southern Conference coaches teleconference calls, Russell’s name was always brought up as a player to be dealt with.
But as the season progressed, both players were mentioned together.
“That 66 and 94 are the best pair of defensive tackles in FCS,” Furman head coach Bobby Lamb said. “No team in the country has a better pair of inside guys than those two.”
So how did Tinsley suddenly become a player to watch?
“I have to give all the credit to my defensive linemen, my linebackers and my coaches,” Tinsley said. “At the beginning of the year, I was kind of scared about living up to expectations. They talked to me, told me they believed in me, and they encouraged me.”
Tinsley also improved his study habits.
“Coming into the season, I felt like I could just go out and get it done,” Tinsley said. “Going into the film room and studying my opponents really started helping me on game day.”
Russell, who said he was envious of Tinsley’s athletic ability, agreed with that assessment.
“He started coming to practice every day to work hard,” Russell said. “He started learning that the way he approached the game would give him an edge.
“He knew what the offense was going to do. He matured that way. I would love to have his physical tools -- he’s so quick, he has a long frame and long arms He’s very athletic and quick.”
Tinsley played linebacker and wide receiver in high school at Treutlen County, and he also played basketball.
Surprisingly, considering his size, among the positions he played was point guard.
“I’ve never seen him play,” Russell said, suppressing a grin, “but he’s always telling me he was a good player.”
Tinsley enjoyed the basketball talk.
“I don’t know if I’m the best basketball player on the team,” Tinsley said. “I’m definitely the best one on the defensive line. I could handle the ball. I have point guard skills.”
Russell and Tinsley were in the same recruit class, but Russell was injured in the first game of the season at Georgia and wound up being redshirted.
Tinsley, meanwhile, did not have the benefit of the extra year to mature and learn the intricacies of his position, but he has grown by leaps and bounds in the past two months.
“I trust him to do his job,” Russell said. “I wouldn’t want anyone else playing beside me. His personality is very different from mine, but I love playing with him.”