After two weeks serving an academic suspension, Georgia Southern quarterback Kevin Ellison is back on the roster and will suit up Saturday as the Eagles host The Citadel.
Ellison, a junior, easily transitioned into head coach Willie Fritz’s take on the spread option. Ellison rushed for 1,096 yards and passed for 1,001 more, racking up 17 total touchdowns while leading the Eagles to a 9-3 record and a Sun Belt Conference championship in the program’s first season at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
Ellison is getting a later start on his 2015 season, but he’s glad to be back.
“I can’t wait,” he said. “It was tough watching the games the last two weeks, but I’m proud of our guys. Favian Upshaw did a good job of running the offense, and we’re going to try to keep that going.”
Ellison added that he didn’t expect much to be different at practice for him, even though he’s now preparing for game action.
As crucial as the return of Ellison is to the GSU offense, of equal importance is the fact that Ellison and his teammates remained on the same page during his absence. Even as the Eagles struggled in their season opener, there was no blame placed on Ellison for failing to be on the field with his team. Likewise, Ellison was one of the team’s biggest supporters this past weekend as he patrolled the sidelines and shouted out encouragement during the Eagles’ 43-17 win over Western Michigan. Matt Breida rushed for 176 yards and four touchdowns on just 11 carries in the win.
“Sorry about my voice,” Ellison said — just barely audibly — at a press conference Monday morning. “It’s still gone from Saturday.”
“He’s very excited, like a caged tiger,” Fritz said. “Sometimes, when you have something taken away from you, it makes you appreciate it more. I’m proud of how he’s handled this tough situation.”
As glad as Fritz is to have Ellison back, he’s staying close to the vest when discussing how big of a role Ellison will play this weekend. With a full week of film study and practice still in front of the Eagles, Fritz wasn’t yet ready to say whether Ellison or Upshaw — who had 114 rushing yards against Western Michigan — will take the first snap against The Citadel.
“Those guys are going to be trading reps all week and they’re both going to be playing Saturday,” Fritz said. “We don’t know if we’ll go by quarter, by series, or every two series. As the week goes on, we’ll get that plan in place.”
Ellison was suspended because of an academic issue dating back to the fall semester of last season. Ellison failed to accrue enough credits to satisfy the NCAA standard and was initially handed a four-game suspension.
By taking on additional classes over the spring and summer semesters — and by earning solid grades in those classes — Ellison was able to get his suspension reduced.
“It was a learning experience for me,” Ellison said. “School has to come first. I kind of overlooked that last year.
“Now I’m just glad to play for my school and to be able to go out there on Saturday.”
Ellison is hoping that this run-in with The Citadel (2-0) is as successful as the last.
In 2013, he was the star of the game as the Eagles pulled out a 28-21 win. Ellison passed for 138 yards, ran for 135 more and scored the game-winning touchdown with 1:59 to play.
According to CitadelSports.com, the Bulldogs (2-0) are first in the Football Championship Subdivision with an average of 438 rushing yards per game.
Kickoff is at 6 p.m.