Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Georgia Southern University head football coach Jeff Monken keeps time as high school football players run a 40 yard dash during the one day football camp GSU hosted at Mill Creek High School in Hoschton on Saturday.
HOSCHTON -- Since the legendary Erk Russell made his way down to Statesboro in the early 1980s, Georgia Southern University has staked its claim near the top of the college football landscape.
Six NCAA FCS (formerly Division I-AA) titles in 1985, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1999 and 2000 confirm that lofty status.
But with the playing field becoming more crowded as schools in the state like Kennesaw State, Mercer and even Reinhardt add football programs, Georgia Southern decided last year to take its show on the road with a one-day football camp.
Back at Mill Creek High School for its second consecutive year on a hot afternoon Saturday, Georgia Southern hosted more than 135 rising high school juniors and seniors at its Option U one-day camp.
Not a bad way to spend an afternoon learning from an Eagles' coaching staff, which, led by head coach Jeff Monken, has gone 21-8 over the past two seasons, captured a Southern Conference title in 2011 and earned two straight berths in the NCAA FCS semifinals.
That's why Monken and his staff spent another Saturday in June at Mill Creek and will head off to Lovejoy on Friday for the second of two camps in the metro Atlanta area.
"Last year we did a one-day camp at Mill Creek and another one at Camden County in south Georgia," said Monken, a former Georgia Tech assistant coach. "Out of those two one-day camps, 13 of our signees came out of those camps. They were very successful, particularly this one (at Mill Creek). If you just look at our roster, the number of Gwinnett County kids far out number any other location, including other metro Atlanta counties.
"We also get more personal time with these kids because of the numbers. We get to learn a lot about them and that's important not only to us, but to them as well. We hope this is something we can continue to do."
On the upcoming 2012 Georgia Southern roster, 20 players call Gwinnett County home. Monken and his staff plan to keep that pipeline open for now and the future.
Three Mill Creek graduates -- DeVonte Lewis, Austin Hagan and Cody Rediger -- are listed on the 2012 Eagles roster, which is appealing to rising Mill Creek senior linebacker Brandon Holley.
"I just want to get out there and compete, so this camp today is a great opportunity to do that," Holley said. "I also attended a national underclassmen camp down in Albany, but this is a great experience. I just got to meet Coach Monken and I really enjoyed that. Of course, I hope I get to talk to him more in the future. Georgia Southern is a competitive and successful program, which is very appealing."
Other Gwinnett County schools represented on the upcoming season's roster include Buford, Collins Hill, North Gwinnett, Norcross, Parkview, Peachtree Ridge, Dacula, Mountain View, Brookwood and 2011 Class AAAAA champion Grayson.
On Saturday, Grayson was represented by four players at the camp, including rising senior and running back/outside linebacker Jordan Germany.
"This is my first year doing this camp and since Georgia Southern has shown an interest in me, I thought I should come out here and show them what I'm all about," Germany said. "Georgia Southern has a great history and it is a great program, so I thought I should be here."
Former Ram Wilson Hudgins is on the Eagles roster for 2012.
The camp also offers a chance for coaches like Eagles' offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Brent Davis to return to where he once played.
"We've had such a great response from Gwinnett County and we have a good percentage of our team from Gwinnett County," said Davis, a Duluth and UGA product. "We believe that some of the best football in the state is played right here and really around all of the Atlanta area. Instead of having the kids make the drive down to Statesboro, we have the camp right here so many more can attend. There are always good players here and so many of the coaches are friends that I competed against, so it's always been like home."
Georgia Southern will open the regular season on Sept. 1 when Jacksonville University (Fla.) comes to Statesboro for a 6 p.m. kickoff in the first meeting between the two schools. The Eagles will be in Athens on Nov. 17 to take on Georgia.