With great fun comes great focus, and Lunsford’s Eagles are fully prepared for both

McClain Baxley

In the fourth quarter of the Eagles’ fourth game of the season, the new party anthem “Mo Bamba” by Sheck Wes rang over the PA. The student section lost control—jumping and yelling and enjoying their team having a lead over the top team in the Sun Belt.

Like their fans, the Georgia Southern defense, facing a third down, began to bounce in synchronization with arms waving and chills ensuing.

As Arkansas State’s Justice Hansen threw the ball, junior cornerbacks Monquavion Brinson and Kindle Vildor swarmed to the receiver and knocked the ball away. Two separate eruptions then occurred in Paulson Stadium, one on the sidelines and one in the stands.

The Eagles got the ball back, and a few plays later, sophomore Wes Kennedy III was blazing his way into the end zone for the victory, which sent the team, coaching staff and fans into a state of jubilation.

Many of the same characters who crouched down, sullen, after a loss against ASU less than a year ago, were now running around Glenn Bryant Field in complete elation. Since the loss to ASU last season, the team is 5-7 and has had more fun than ever.

{{tncms-inline account=”#GATALifestyle” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">IT'S GREAT TO BE AN EAGLE ON A SATURDAY NIGHT AFTER A WIN<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ChairSlamSZN?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ChairSlamSZN</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/chadlunsford?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@chadlunsford</a> <a href="https://t.co/GftGnpb8rB">pic.twitter.com/GftGnpb8rB</a></p>— #GATALifestyle (@GATALifestyle) <a href="https://twitter.com/GATALifestyle/status/1046213300327858178?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 30, 2018</a></blockquote>” id=”https://twitter.com/GATALifestyle/status/1046213300327858178″ type=”twitter”}}

After each game, the players hoist Head Coach Chad Lunsford up and parade him around the locker room. Following the upset victory against ASU, Lunsford brought back out the slamming of the metal chair for the first time since Louisiana last year.

But now it’s back to business, and the challenge of looking ahead and becoming complacent has never been so present.

“Right now there’s a lot of excitement, there’s a lot of energy, there’s a lot of people patting us on the back,” Lunsford said. “I told [the team] enjoy that, but as soon as it’s over, we have to put it away and move on.”

Ironically, the Eagles host a team that was in a similar spot last season, who fell to the trap game. In 2017, South Alabama was coming off of convincing wins against Troy and Arkansas State before visiting 0-9 GS.

The Eagles won 52-0.

Now, it’s GS coming off of a big win against a down USA team who is going to try and do everything in their power to ruin the atmosphere and electricity Lunsford’s Eagles have produced. There’s nothing on the Jaguars’ minds other than spoiling the homecoming party.

“[Last year] we just beat Ark State, we just beat Troy and we go into Statesboro thinking that we’re going to have a pretty good chance at beating them, and they destroy us,” USA senior tight end Collier Smith said in a press conference Monday. “Now, it’s flipped. Now we’re kinda down and they just beat Ark State. We’re going to go right the wrong that happened to us last year.”

Four other USA teams have tried, but GS has won all four games against the boys from Mobile, winning by a combined score of 159-32.

And while there’s quite a bit of reason to have confidence in this GS team on Saturday, Lunsford has time and time again reminded Eagle Nation that they’ve only won three games.

“Validation? Again, we’ve only won three football games,” Lunsford said. “Last year, we won two. So, we have a lot more work to do to get validated.”

He’s right. If fans were satisfied with getting three wins, then 2016 should’ve exceeded all expectations after starting the season 3-0.

But unlike the 2016 GS football team, this year’s squad is capable of so much more, and anyone who is around them can feel it.

“I don’t think winning three football games is what this team wants,” Lunsford said. “I think this team wants to do more than that. I don’t think it’s going to be really hard to reel them in and get ready.”

Since Lunsford was named head coach of his beloved Eagles, he’s been passing tests.

The first test was on the recruiting trail, going out and trying to get high school athletes excited about playing for a program that had a combined 7-17 in the past two seasons. Lunsford passed that hurdle by reeling in the top recruiting class in the Sun Belt.

Next was getting a win earlier than the tenth game of the year. Once again, the first-year head coach succeeded in that assessment by winning one-sided contests in non-conference games to open the 2018 season.

He followed his two wins by covering the spread against the then No. 2 Clemson Tigers on the road and getting over the previously unbeatable ASU Red Wolves in an instant classic.

Fun and passion has returned to Statesboro, feeding into Lunsford’s biggest test yet—the possibility of a letdown.

Leading into each game this year, Lunsford and the Eagles have had a safety net they can fall back on. They could blame the first-year head coach, or the inexperienced team, or the rebuilding of a program.

Instead, they have raised the bar high, farther than anyone outside the locker room thought possible. It will be anything but smooth sailing with a win over South Alabama Saturday, but it will make the wrongs of the past few years seem far more miniscule.

“We’re in a position right now that we haven’t been in in awhile, and that was the first thing we started talking about on Sunday,” Lunsford said. “We have to go each and every week. We can’t take anything for granted. We have to make sure we have an edge, a chip on our shoulder.”

McClain Baxley, The George-Anne Sports Editor, gasports@georgiasouthern.edu