It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to refer to Georgia Southern as “Defensive Back U.”
Despite being most widely identified by their trademark option offense, the GSU Eagles have churned out more than a few defensive backs who have reached NFL rosters over the last 15 years. The list includes Earthwind Moreland, Kiwaukee Thomas, David Young, and most recently Laron Scott, Darius Eubanks and J.J. Wilcox.
GSU cornerbacks coach Orlando Mitjans inherited Scott and Carson Hill when he joined the coaching staff in 2010, and he’s just as happy with this year’s class of corners.
“I’ve been blessed since I got here,” Mitjans said. “I’ve had some great corners. It makes it real easy for a coach.”
Topping the depth chart right now are senior Lavelle Westbrooks and junior Valdon Cooper, who transferred to GSU from Illinois before the 2012 season, but the depth and experience doesn’t stop there.
Junior Nick Wright appeared in all 14 games in 2012 and started four, while recording 29 tackles, and senior Javonte Martin appeared in 10.
“We’ve got some older guys and some younger guys, too, who have stepped up,” Cooper said. “As a unit we’re solid.”
“Me and Coop, we work well together, and we’ve been mentoring the younger guys,” Westbrooks added. “We also have Nick and Javonte. I feel like everybody got their feet wet and has experience in game time. That will help us out when things get tough this season.”
Mitjans likes what he sees among the new faces, too, including Darius Safford, a transfer from Lafayette College, and freshmen Darius Jones and Tyrail Hawkins.
“Down the road, they’ll make a lot of plays for us,” Mitjans said. Playing cornerback at Georgia Southern isn’t just about one-on-one coverage and batting down passes. In practice, GSU corners spend the day fighting off cut blocks from wide receivers and helping out with the run game.
“If you’re not a tough guy, it’s going to be hard to survive,” Mitjans said. “But it teaches you how to use your hands, it teaches you how to get off of blocks, how to deal with the cut block, and it makes you a more well-rounded corner.”
With the departures of Wilcox, Eubanks, leading tackler from 2012 John Stevenson and GSU’s all-time sack record holder Brent Russell, Cooper and Westbrooks are two of the more seasoned players in the defensive secondary.
Fortunately, leaders have been emerging across the defense in 2013.
“We have a lot of experience in the backfield but we still rely on guys like (safety) Deion Stanley and (defensive linemen) Blake Riley, Justice Ejike and Javon Mention to help the defense out,” Westbrooks said.
Georgia Southern spent most of Tuesday at practice during a two-a-day. They spent the morning on the banks of Beautiful Eagle Creek and the evening in Hanner Fieldhouse when rain forced them inside.
The Eagles return to practice for another two-a-day today at 8 a.m. and
Practice times are subject to change depending on the weather.
Saturday marks the end of fall camp. GSU’s fall sports teams will be available for “Meet the Eagles,” at 10 a.m., at the GSU Soccer/Track Complex, where fans can meet the players and get autographs, followed by a scrimmage in Paulson Stadium.