Georgia Southern Hires Three New Coaches

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We are five weeks into the new year, and college football teams have been busy with new players from the transfer portal and new coaches/coaching staff. National Signing Day will also start on the first day of February. I’m going to take a look at three new coaching hires for the Georgia Southern Eagles (GASO). GASO will look to expand on a 6-6 first season under soon-to-be second-year HC Clay Helton. Let’s hope these new hires will be part of the rejuvenation this year!

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Note: All classes/years are from 2022.

BJ Johnson– Assistant Coach Wide Receivers

A former wide receiver at Georgia Southern, BJ Johnson returns to his alma mater after six years. He played here from 2013-16 before signing for the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL in 2017 as an undrafted free agent at rookie tryouts. Unfortunately, his NFL career stalled due to a hamstring injury. He would go on the injured reserve in 2017 and get waived from the IR on September 26th that year. Johnson started coaching in 2018, starting with Woodruff High School in South Carolina. He was a volunteer assistant coach at his high school alma mater.

Photo Creds: (L) Georgia Southern University Athletics, (R) Johnson while with the 49ers

Starting in 2019, he had his run of bouncing from one college to another on a yearly basis. He’s been a wide receivers coach (2019, 2022) and a graduate assistant (2020-21) two times beforehand. Johnson worked his way up from Savannah State, Colorado, Texas Tech, and Gardner-Webb respectively. At Colorado, he was a defensive G.A., while he was an offensive G.A. working with inside receivers and tight ends at Texas Tech. Let’s hope he can maintain stability at GASO instead of hopping around! He’ll take over as Assistant Coach (Wide Receivers) from Marcus Davis, who was hired away in the same role by Auburn University.

Star Players Coached

  • WR T.J. Luther (Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs): 63 catches, 1,166 yards, eight TDs, 18.5 avg.
    • First-Team All-Big South
    • Named Third-Team All-American by Phil Steele
    • Third receiver in G-W history to have 1,000+ yards
    • Accepted invitation to play in NFLPA Collegiate Bowl
  • WR Cutrell Haywood (Gardner-Webb): 78 catches, 775 yards, seven TDs.
    • First-Team All-Big South
    • Led Big South in receptions
  • Other notable performances:
    • LB Nate Landman (Colorado Buffaloes): 53 tackles, four sacks, one PD, one FR.
    • LB Carson Wells (Colorado): 37 tackles, 6.5 sacks, four PDs, one INT.
    • WR Erik Ezukanma (Texas Tech Red Raiders): 48 catches, 705 yards, four TDs.

Photo Cred: ESPN (T.J. Luther)                                                      Photo Cred: Twitter

State of the Wide Receivers

Johnson will look over a group that will be vastly different from 2022. He will still have the services of Derwin Burgess Jr. (sophomore), who had the second-most receiving yards and the most touchdowns on the team. However, three of the Eagles’ top four WRs will not return. Khaleb Hood (the team’s receiving yards leader) is a senior set for graduation, Jeremy Singleton is a redshirt senior, and Amare Jones has declared for the 2023 NFL Draft. These four were the most thrown-to GASO WRs in 2022.


Photo Cred: ESPN (Derwin Burgess Jr.)              Photo Cred: 247 Sports (Anthony Queeley)

The Eagles did manage to secure the commitments of former Syracuse WR Anthony Queeley (redshirt junior) and former Pittsburgh WR Jaylon Barden (junior) in the transfer portal. Barden is listed as an athlete (ATH) now. Returning players who recorded statistics in 2022 are as follows: Joshua Thompson (freshman), Marcus Sanders Jr. (freshman), Sam Kenerson (redshirt sophomore), Dalen Cobb (freshman), and Darius Lewis (redshirt junior). None of them crossed the 200-yard receiving mark and only combined for two TDs, so they’ll have to step up with the bigger names stepping away.

Taylor Reed– Assistant Coach Running Backs

Taylor Reed joins Georgia Southern after a relatively successful season at Illinois. QB Tommy DeVito and RB Chase Brown led the Fighting Illini to an 8-5 (5-4 Big Ten) record, with each player having various individual accomplishments as well. After his playing days ended in 2015, he managed to land coaching jobs at two of the three colleges he attended (Arkansas, Central Arkansas; the third one being Memphis). Before GASO, he held the title of graduate assistant thrice (2016-17, 2019-21), running backs coach once (2018), and offensive analyst once (2022).

Photo Cred: Georgia Southern University Athletics        Photo Cred: NewsBreak

He did manage some stability, lasting two years each at Arkansas, Auburn, and Illinois. At Arkansas and Auburn, he spent two years each as a G.A., with a one-year stint as RBs coach at Central Arkansas in between. In 2021, he spent the year as an offensive G.A. with Illinois before his promotion to offensive analyst the following year. At Arkansas, he primarily worked with QBs. At Auburn, he was an offensive G.A. working primarily with WRs. Reed takes over as Assistant Coach (Running Backs) from Matt Merritt. Merritt was hired as the Associate Head Coach/Running Game Coordinator at the University of South Florida.

Star Players Coached

  • RB Chase Brown (Illinois Fighting Illini): 328 carries, 1,643 yards, 10 TDs, 5.0 avg. (2022 stats).
    • First Doak Walker Award finalist at Illinois
    • All-American
    • 2021 stats: 170 carries, 1,005 yards, five TDs, 5.9 avg.
  • QB Austin Allen (Arkansas Razorbacks): 245/401, 3,430 yards, 25 TDs (2016 stats).
    • SEC’s top passer in 2016
    • Signed as a UDFA with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    • Also played for the Memphis Express (AAF) and the Salt Lake Stallions (AAF)
  • Other notable performances:
    • RB Carlos Blackman (Central Arkansas Bears): 162 carries, 773 yards, nine TDs.
    • RB Kierre Crossley (Central Arkansas): 107 carries, 613 yards, 5.7 avg.
    • WR Seth Williams (Auburn Tigers): 47 catches, 760 yards, four TDs, 16.2 avg. (2020 stats).
      • 2019 stats: 59 catches, 830 yards, eight TDs, 14.1 avg.
    • WR Anthony Schwartz (Auburn): 54 catches, 636 yards, three TDs, 11.8 avg. (2020 stats).
    • QB Tommy DeVito (Illinois): 257/369, 2,650 yards, 15 TDs.
    • WR Isaiah Williams (Illinois): 82 catches, 715 yards, five TDs (2022 stats).

Photo Cred: ESPN (Chase Brown)                     Photo Cred: WholeHogSports (Austin Allen)

State of the Running Backs

The GASO RB room looks much more stable compared to the WR room. The Eagles will be missing their second-best rusher in Gerald Green (redshirt junior), who will transfer to East Carolina. However, their lead RB, Jalen White (junior), will be there along with OJ Arnold (freshman) and AJ Brown (redshirt junior) to round out the top rushing spots for the team. Arnold and Brown will have some big shoes to fill in, considering that their combined rushing yards (257 + 34 = 291) would still be behind Green (483). Hopefully, Reed and Woods will be able to make them realize their full potential!

Photo Cred: Opendorse (Jalen White)                         Photo Cred: ESPN (OJ Arnold)

TJ Woods– Assistant Coach Offensive Line/Run Game Coordinator

TJ Woods is the type of veteran, experienced campaigner the Eagles needed. A 20-year coaching career will be helpful for Helton in his second year at GASO. He has quite a few notable pupils in his past, which is good news for the o-linemen he will soon inherit. Like Reed, he got to coach at two of the three colleges he attended as a player (Citrus College/Citrus JC, Azusa Pacific; third one being Iowa State). Over his 20-year career, the position he held the most was always offensive line coach (2006, 2011-22). Woods has also had to wear many hats over the years, spending six years coaching multiple positions (2006, 2009-10, 2016-17, 2022). Woods takes over as Assistant Coach (Offensive Line/Run Game Coordinator) from Richard Owens. Owens was hired away as the offensive line coach at the University of Louisville.

Photo Cred: Grice Connect                                     Photo Cred: NewsBreak

Stability has been a huge factor for Woods, as he spent multiple years with teams all but twice (2006, 2018). In his three years with Azusa Pacific, he started out as a G.A. before becoming a tight ends coach during his last two years there. He would then move to Citrus JC as the offensive line coach and run game coordinator for a year. Next would be a two-year stint at New Mexico as offensive line G.A. before a four-year stay at Utah State. He started as a tight ends/special teams coach for two years before transitioning back to offensive line coach for the last two years.

Photo Cred: Utah State University Athletics                    Photo Cred: UNLV Athletics

A two-year stay as o-line coach at Wisconsin would precede his next big stint at Oregon State. After working on the o-line in his first year, he’d have the added responsibilities of TEs coach and co-offensive coordinator (2016) and then just run game coordinator (2017). Woods would spend 2018 as the o-line coach for Western Kentucky before returning to Utah State for another two years in the same role. He’d finally end his journey (before Georgia Southern) at UNLV, where he was the o-line coach in 2021 and had the added duties of co-offensive coordinator last year.

Star Players Coached

  • T Byron Bell (New Mexico Lobos)
    • Freshman All-American in 2008
    • 2011 UDFA
    • Played for: Carolina Panthers (2011-14), Tennessee Titans (2015-16), Dallas Cowboys (2017), Green Bay Packers (2018)
  • G Beau Benzschawel (Wisconsin Badgers)
    • 2019 UDFA
    • Played for: Detroit Lions (2019-20), Houston Texans (2020)
    • Offseason and/or practice squad member at: Washington Football Team (2021-22), Jacksonville Jaguars (2022), Tennessee Titans (2022)
  • T Blake Brandel (Oregon State Beavers)
    • 2020 sixth-round pick by Minnesota Vikings
    • Played for: Vikings (2020-present)
  • C Erik Cook (New Mexico)
    • 2010 seventh-round pick by Washington Redskins
    • Played for: Redskins (2010-12)
    • Offseason and/or practice squad member at: New York Jets (2013)
  • C Michael Deiter (Wisconsin)
    • 2019 third-round pick by Miami Dolphins
    • Played for: Dolphins (2019-present)
  • C Ryan Groy (Wisconsin)
    • First-Team All-Big Ten in 2013
    • 2014 UDFA
    • Played for: Chicago Bears (2014), Buffalo Bills (2015-18), Los Angeles Chargers (2019-20)
    • Offseason and/or practice squad member at: New England Patriots (2015), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2015), New Orleans Saints (2019)
  • C Sean Harlow (Oregon State)
    • Second-Team All-Pac-12 in 2016
    • 2017 fourth-round pick by Atlanta Falcons
    • Played for: Falcons (2017), Falcons (2018-20), Arizona Cardinals (2021-present)
    • Offseason and/or practice squad member at: Indianapolis Colts (2018)
  • T Rob Havenstein (Wisconsin)
    • First-Team All-Big Ten in 2014
    • First-Team All-American in 2014
    • 2015 second-round pick by St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams
    • Played for: Rams (2015-present)
  • C Tyler Larsen (Utah State Aggies)
    • First-Team All-Western Athletic Conference in 2011-12
    • 2014 UDFA
    • Offseason and/or practice squad member at: Miami Dolphins (2014), Washington Redskins (2015)
    • Played for: Carolina Panthers (2016-20), Washington Football Team/Commanders (2021-present)
  • T Tyler Marz (Wisconsin)
    • 2016 UDFA
    • Offseason and/or practice squad member at: Tennessee Titans (2016-17), Carolina Panthers (2019-20), Miami Dolphins (2021)
    • Played for: Los Angeles Chargers (2017), Titans (2017-18)
  • G Isaac Seumalo (Oregon State)
    • 2016 third-round pick by Philadelphia Eagles
    • Played for: Eagles (2016-present)
  • Other notable performances:
    • C Leif Fautanu (UNLV Rebels): Second-Team All-Mountain West in 2022.
    • G Philip Gapelu (Utah State): First-Team Preseason All-WAC in 2011, Preseason All-WAC in 2010.
    • TE Ricky Burgan (Azusa Pacific Cougars): NAIA All-American Scholar-Athlete in 2005, 2005 NAIA Football All-America Team Honorable Mention.
    • P Peter Caldwell (Utah State): Had a punt of 50+ yards in 10 games, including two 60+ yard punts; netted an average of 45+ yards/punt in five games (2009 stats).
      • 2010 stats: Had a punt of 50+ yards in six games, including one 60+ yard punt.
    • KR Kerwynn Williams (Utah State): 45 returns, 1,131 yards, 25.1 avg., 75 LONG; netted an average of 25+ yards/return in six games (2009 stats).
      • 2010 stats: 53 returns, 1,444 yards, 27.2 avg., one TD, 92 LONG; netted an average of 25+ yards/return in six games.
    • RB Ryan Nall (Oregon State): 147 carries, 951 yards, 13 TDs, 6.5 avg. (2016 stats).
      • 2017 stats: 165 carries, 810 yards, eight TDs.
    • RB Aidan Robbins (UNLV): 209 carries, 1,011 yards, nine TDs.
    • WR Ricky White (UNLV): 51 catches, 619 yards, four TDs, 12.1 avg.
    • WR Kyle Williams (UNLV): 40 catches, 541 yards, five TDs, 13.5 avg.

Photo Creds: (L) Los Angeles Rams (Rob Havenstein), (R) Wikipedia (Isaac Seumalo)

State of the Offensive Line

Owens brought a lot of change to the GASO o-line unit, so Woods will need to fill some big shoes here. Only seven sacks were allowed throughout the season last year, which was the second-lowest in the FBS. The offense delivered 4,200 passing yards, 28 passing TDs, ~1,800 rushing yards, and 23 rushing TDs in 2022. With regards to the actual players, 2021 Third Team All-Sun Belt honoree LG Khalil Crowder (redshirt senior) led the group alongside RG Brian Miller (sixth year). They were returning OL starters from 2021, along with G Caleb Kelly (sixth year) and T Logan Langemeier (fifth year). From this group, only Miller did not start all 12 games in 2022.

Photo Cred: ESPN (Khalil Crowder)                                 Photo Cred: ESPN (Caleb Kelly)

All four former starters will need to be replaced. It will be a tough proposition and a possible rough transition for the new OL coach and QB (Kyle Vantrease was a sixth-year player, and he will move on). The good thing is T Pichon Wimbley (freshman), one of the five GASO players to start all 12 games last season, is a returning starter and a young player at that. In the transfer portal, former Georgia State T Bryson Broadway (junior) will join GASO to round out the group.

Photo Creds: (L) Coweta Score (Pichon Wimbley and family), (R) ESPN (Bryson Broadway)

Other returning players are: G Ethan Ingram (redshirt freshman), IOL Chandler Strong (freshman), G Aaron Pyron (redshirt junior), T Rasheed Miller (redshirt sophomore), IOL Michael Jubran (redshirt junior), C Teva Reynolds (redshirt junior), T Caelan Williams (redshirt sophomore), T/G Vontrez Jackson (freshman), G Nate Lewis (freshman), T Chas Collins (redshirt freshman), G Korbett MacGregor (freshman), G Griffin Carder (redshirt junior), and T Caleb Cook (redshirt freshman). It’s going to be a relatively young group for Woods to coach, which bodes well for GASO’s future.

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