Georgia State begins a historic football season tonight when it hosts Samford in the first game under new head coach Trent Miles, as well as the Panthers’ first game as an official member of the Sun Belt Conference and the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Both new experiences should have the Georgia Dome filled with energy.
“We are very excited,” Miles said. “We have had a great week of preparation and our young men are ready and have been flying around. I am looking forward to them playing extremely well.”
Georgia State is coming off a disappointing, one-win season and is hoping that a new era brings better results. The Panthers have a very experienced roster with as many as 14 seniors potentially starting in the opener. However, a talented mix of freshmen have been added in as well with 12 first-year players making appearances on the depth chart prior to the first game. Among those are four potential starters in wide receiver Robert Davis, defensive end Shawayne Lawrence, linebacker Mackendy Cheridor and tight end Keith Rucker.
Samford is coming off a 7-4 season that saw them score a number of marquee victories in the Southern Conference. The Bulldogs return eight starters on offense and five on defense, including their leader and sixth-year senior Andy Summerlin at quarterback. Summerlin came to Samford after two injury-plagued seasons at Memphis that led to his sixth season of eligibility.
The team also returns All-Americans in running back Fabian Truss and safety Jaquiski Tartt. Samford is coached by former Heisman trophy winner Pat Sullivan, although he will not make the trip to the Dome because he is recovering from offseason surgery. Samford also features a trio of Gwinnett players on its roster — linebacker Chad Jones (Buford), defensive end Brinson Porter (Wesleyan) and offensive lineman Jordan Boatright (Peachtree Ridge).
“They have a fantastic running back and an extremely experienced quarterback,” Miles said. “To have six seasons of college football, obviously he couldn’t play all six, but to have that many reps just makes you better and better.”
Georgia State must replace its all-conference running back Donald Russell, who was picked up by the Falcons briefly this preseason prior to being cut Monday. The primary candidate to do so is junior college signee Gerald Howse. The 6-foot-1, 212-pounder will run behind a line that features four returning starters and three seniors.
The Panthers’ most dangerous weapon, however, is senior Albert Wilson, who is Georgia State’s career leader in receptions, receiving yards, receiving touchdowns and all-purpose yards. Wilson was voted Colonial Athletic Association co-special teams player of the year a season ago and was a third-team all-conference selection at wide receiver.
On defense, the Panthers have added a lot of talent and depth this season, particularly among the defensive line and linebackers where as many as six freshmen could play vs. Samford. The defensive line also added Kentucky transfer Nermin Delic, who hopes to boost a Georgia State unit that managed just 10 sacks and 15 forced turnovers last year.
Miles has stressed that every position with the exception of punter has been up for competition since the spring, including the quarterbacks. Brookwood graduate Ben McLane started nine games last season and is the most experienced of the group. His stiffest competition has come from Ronnie Bell, a transfer from Ohio University who started two games a season ago. McLane was 139 for 274 last season for 1,592 yards and 10 touchdowns. Other former Gwinnett players Harrison Clottey of Grayson and John Kelly of Norcross will play key roles for the Panthers throughout the season.