For the last three years Lee Chapple has gotten accustomed to making the four-hour drive down I-16 to Statesboro. The Greater Atlanta Christian grad was a two-year starter on the Eagles' football team until a coaching change prompted his transfer.
This summer instead of making the trip east towards the Georgia coast, Chapple has found a new route west to the Alabama Shoals. Chapple transferred to the University of North Alabama this summer, one of the top programs in Division II.
"It's a little different," Chapple said. "A lot more scenic."
When Chapple signed with Georgia Southern out of high school in 2007, he joined the Eagles' program hoping to return it to its glory days of the '80s and '90s. He was part of head coach Chris Hatcher's first signing class, but after three dismal seasons the entire coaching staff was released.
"After three years, and I had a blast playing for a heck of a coach and enjoyed my time there, I felt like we were one or two years away from turning the program around and getting back to where we wanted it," Chapple said. "I always wanted to have a hand in building a program and I thought we were on our way."
Georgia Southern was 18-15 in Chapple's three seasons, including 5-6 in 2009. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Chapple threw for 1,774 yards last season with 8 TDs and 14 interceptions. But after a season-ending win over The Citadel everything changed.
Georgia Southern announced a week later that it had hired Jeff Monken as its head coach. Monken was an assistant at Georgia Tech and a former assistant coach at Georgia Southern. Monken was bringing to Southern the triple-option offense that brought Tech an ACC championship. A style of offense that didn't fit Chapple after spending the last three years in Hatcher's air attack.
"I knew the system he was bringing in and it's not my forte being an option quarterback," Chapple said. "I have a lot of respect for Coach Monken and I told him straight up if you weren't running the option I wanted to play for him."
A business management major, Chapple plans to graduate in the spring of 2011. He has two years of college football eligibility remaining, and after aspirations of wanting to build a program coming in to college, now he wants to win a championship.
North Alabama is not a bad choice for that. The Lions are the two-time Gulf South Conference champions and consistently make deep runs in the Division II playoffs.
"The cool part is they host the national championship game," Chapple said. "You're almost playing another home game if you make it that far."
Chapple chose North Alabama over Grand Valley State and Northwest Missouri State, which are also among the elite teams in Division II.
"You really couldn't go wrong with any of those schools," Chapple said. "That was one of the things I looked at. What schools have been successful in recent years and where can I go to win a national championship. (North Alabama is) always competing for some kind of championship and that's what I want to be a part of."
Last year's starter Harrison Beck was a senior, leaving the quarterback position open heading into fall camp. Chapple plans to spend the next month in Florence, Ala., going through summer workouts, participating in 7-on-7 drills, learning the offense, getting to the know the players and getting plenty of reps throwing the ball.
"I kind of feel like a freshman all over again," Chapple said.