Beautiful Eagle Creek Baptism concludes first week of fall football practice

Head football coach Chad Lunsford and Interim President Shelly Nickel stood on the banks of the creek before stepping in

McClain Baxley

To most people, the water that runs just off Fair Road is the murkiest, non-drinkable, most disgusting water.

But to those who reside in Statesboro, the water is beautiful – so beautiful that a tradition began five years ago where players and coaches are “baptized” in Beautiful Eagle Creek.

That tradition continued Friday morning as senior players and the coaching staff stood in the water while the rest of the team and swarms of media watched on with pride. This year, the creek was filled with 14 student athletes and nine coaches. GS Interim President Shelley Nickel led the congregation.

“It’s a great feeling,” Head Coach Chad Lunsford said. “Hopefully, this is something that reminds [the seniors] that I’ve got to give everything on every single play, every time we take the field and do it for Georgia Southern.”

Of the 14 seniors, running back Wesley Fields was one of the first to get in the water and took the moment to be thankful for where he is now.

“It’s very special,” Fields said. “Coming in my freshman year in 2015, standing on the sides and watching the older heads just getting blessed by that Eagle Creek water, it’s a blessing.”

The senior running back has been sidelined with a shoulder injury since spring camp, but he didn’t let the setback stop him from being a part of the tradition with his brothers.

“This senior class is a really tight bunch. [We’re] really just trying to rally around, stay positive and bounce back. Everybody is just grinding,” Fields said. “The shoulder is very fine.”

Lunsford, though trying not to harp on the symbolism of washing away the past seasons, made sure to make note of the symbolism of the new season and spoke about what the water resembles.

“With Eagle Creek, it’s just another opportunity to talk to the guys about what the water means and what has happened in the past,” Lunsford said. “It’s a great opportunity to talk to the guys about the legacy of Georgia Southern, but also now it’s their turn to add to that legacy.”

And adding to that legacy begins on the practice field, where the defense played lights out Friday morning while the offense was far more subdued.

Senior defensive end Logan Hunt had quite a successful morning, from singing Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” to plowing through the offensive line to get in the backfield. Disrupting the offensive scheme on the edge was the trend for the defense all morning, where at one point, Lunsford stopped practice so the entire offense could do up-downs.

“Don’t play down to the offense,” Lunsford said to the first-team defense. “Play to your level.”

Though the defense owned the ground game Friday, the battle through the air was tight. The defensive backs rarely got beat, but when they did, the quarterbacks made them pay.

Shai Werts, LaBaron Anthony and Jaalon Frazier were the primary passers and were on target for the majority of the day, even if the receivers didn’t follow through with the catches. To have so much depth as receivers, almost none of them could come down with the catch in one-on-ones, which drove offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse crazy.

“Why can’t we be strong through the catch?” DeBesse asked frantically.

Friday was another showcase of Werts’ vast improvement in the air. On several occasions, the redshirt sophomore was able to extend the play by rolling out and passing to his receivers. Whether Werts’ ability to keep the play alive will translate outside of a light-contact practice should be seen Saturday in the team’s first scrimmage of fall.

The scrimmage is set for Saturday at 5:30 p.m. in Paulson Stadium and the annual Fan Fest will occur following the scrimmage.

McClain Baxley, The George-Anne Sports Editor, [email protected]