ATLANTA — After a year of firsts, there is less of a sense of newness surrounding Georgia State’s football program as it enters its second season of competition.
Notwithstanding the recently completed football training facility just a few blocks from GSU’s downtown campus, which was unveiled during Tuesday’s media day festivities, the focus of Season 2 will be on moving the program forward, rather than establishing it like a year ago.
“The newness has really worn off,” said Panthers starting center Ben Jacoby, a Buford grad. “We’ve got this new facility. That’s something we’re excited to be able to get into and start using, but in terms of the football season and playing, the newness is definitely gone, and we’re ready to get out there and show the improvement we’ve made over the summer.”
If the Panthers are going to improve on their 6-5 mark from last year’s inaugural season, they will have to do so dealing with one major difference.
GSU entered its first preseason practice with four talented quarterbacks in a fierce battle for the starting job.
Since then, however, one (former Alabama quarterback Star Jackson) has left the program, another (last year’s eventual starter Drew Little) is suspended for the first four games for violation of team rules and a third (Kelton Hill) has an uncertain status in school and with the team following an offseason arrest.
That leaves just Bo Schlecter, who moved to wide receiver early last season and also handled the Panthers’ punting duties, and incoming true freshman Ben McLane, who led Brookwood to the Class AAAAA state championship last fall, as preseason practice begins Thursday.
“A year ago, it was an embarrassment of riches,” GSU coach Bill Curry said. “It was the last thing I expected was to have four potentially polished quarterbacks on the field. ... Really, it was a struggle. ... (But) it was, frankly, thrilling.
“In the offseason, the situation developed that we now have, and that’s life. Sometimes that happens. We’d rather it didn’t, but we’ll manage. We’d love to redshirt Ben McLane, but I’m going to sit down with Ben, and I know (offensive coordinator) John Bond already has. One thing when you join a football team, if it’s the right thing to hold somebody out, then we would like to do that. ... But if you have to play — and this applies to everybody, especially in a brand new program — you’re going to play. We’ll get you ready, but we’re going to expect you to have to right attitude and not walk around with you lip poked out about redshirting or not being redshirted.”
With inexperienced quarterback under center the first few games, combined with one of Curry’s stated objectives being to improve the running game, the play of the offensive line will be crucial for GSU’s fortunes early on.
Fortunately for the Panthers, the line is one of most seasoned areas of the team, with all but one projected starters being seniors, including Jacoby, plus several underclassmen who saw plenty of action last season, such as Grayson grad Harrison Clottey.
And Jacoby says the line members are ready for the challenge of leading the way for the Panthers offense to move forward.
“Whoever’s back there (at quarterback) is going to do a great job,” the 6-foot-2, 275-pound redshirt senior said. “I (also) think the running game is going to be a strength for us. It’s something that our O-line as a unit pride ourselves in.”