GSU Panthers Open
With Momentum

By Dave Cohen

Coming off their most successful season in the short history of the program, a 7-5 finish and a win over Western Kentucky in the AutoNation Cure Bowl, Georgia State Football heads into the 2018 season with a lot of excitement and optimism. With seven starters returning on offense, including First-team All-Sun Belt Conference receiver Penny Hart, and five on defense, second-year head coach Shawn Elliott and his staff will still embrace stiff competition at most positions during fall camp. Panther fans are keeping an eye on the battle at quarterback to see who replaces Connor Manning, who passed for 3,146 yards and 14 touchdowns. In the running will be returning players Aaron Winchester (102 yds, 1 TD), Jack Walker, Jacquez Parks and new-comer Dan Ellington, who passed for over 3,200 yards and 27 touchdowns at Itawamba Community College in Mississippi in 2017. A challenging early non-conference schedule for the Panthers includes the opening game vs. Kennesaw State on August 30 followed by road games at N.C. State and Memphis. Coach Shawn Elliott spoke with INsite's Dave Cohen.

Certainly, after winning seven games, including a bowl game, in your first season here you've got to like where you're starting from now heading into fall camp and your second season.

To some degree I do. We did lose a lot of pieces from last year's team but we've got guys in place to step up and manage those positions. We've still got a quarterback battle that is going to go into our fall camp and as everyone knows that's very important to our football team. You've got to have a guy there that can lead and manage the team. We do have some pieces in place but we also have some uncertainty at some positions.

You've been emphatic that the running game is going to improve and it has done that. Along with the returning backs you also signed three highly regarded prospects during Signing Day last February.

Actually, you overhaul the running beginning with the offensive line and we're trying to do that with our last two signing classes but you also have to have some guys that can carry the football. I think we have the tools to open up some holes up front but sometimes those special backs can make things happen on their own and really develop so we had a big emphasis this year on signing running backs and we've had them here all summer. We're going to see how it all shakes out but I'm excited about the freshman that we have here as well as the guys returning. Tra Barnett and DeMarcus Kirk coming back and Taz Bateman coming off the injury from last season. There's going to be a lot of competition among that position group vying for one or two spots depending on what formation we'reĀ running.

Whoever wins the quarterback battle will have no shortage of options at receiver when the football has to go in the air, Penny Hart and Devin Gentry among them along with some younger guys like Tamir Jones and some new faces as well.

Yes, I thought Devin Gentry had a fine year. Tamir Jones, as a true freshman, for what he could do for us, really came in and played well. We're adding some big bodies. Something we did not have a year ago. 6'-5" Christian Owens, who transferred in from the University of South Carolina, 6'-3" Diondre Champaigne and freshman Sam Pinkney. These guys have height and athleticism and they're strong.

The defense will be anchored up front by Marterious Allen, Dontae Wilson and Terry Thomas. Wilson and Thomas were two of the freshman who received significant playing time last year as true freshman. That pays dividends going forward.

You take a guy like Dontae, who plays with great effort, energy and enthusiasm, but he was a true freshman. There's a lot of things to learn and it's hard to go out there and be thrown into the fire and understand the nuances of the offensive line play and the schemes that they're trying to block you with. Now he has a lot of knowledge because he played a lot of snaps so you're going to see him have another banner year. He will anchor the middle. Terry Thomas and Marterious Allen, those guys up front, they've got to be the mainstays for us to make things happen. We've got some newcomers coming in as well so we're excited to see thatĀ group.

This team showed signs of its character early last season following a rough two game start. To everyone's credit they dug in and ended up winning seven games and earned a bowl bid.

When we took over and we looked at past games it was the faltering in the fourth quarter that really got the team in years past. Right away I knew we had to change that so there wasn't any question about what we were going to do. It's now who we are. We're a bunch of blue collar guys who like to go out there and work until that whistle blows and the games over and that is how we are going to continue to be.

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