GSU Panthers open season
With new coach and stadium

By Dave Cohen

Georgia State Football kicks off the 2017 season on August 31 vs. Tennessee State with a new head coach in Shawn Elliott and in their own facility, Georgia State Stadium (formerly Turner Field).

The Panthers finished 3-9 last season after finishing 2015 with the program's first bowl appearance at the AutoNation Cure Bowl. However, they could not sustain the momentum from that success to the 2016 season and it cost then-coach Trent Miles his job. Enter coach Elliott, who takes over after serving as the co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach under Steve Spurrier and Will Muschamp the past seven seasons at the University of South Carolina. He spoke with INsite's Dave Cohen about his first season leading the Panthers.

That first game will be here before you know it but this team's been in preparation mode going back to spring practice and all the conditioning during the summer.

This time of year, as a coach, there's always such anticipation to get back on the field. They call it a reporting date but our guys have been here. Football is a year-round job, as is any sport these days. You've got to be well-conditioned. Your strength levels have got to be high. We've got a long way to go and a lot of preparation work to get done prior to our opener on August 31. I think if you look at our team from an attitude and energy level right now it's at an all-time high.

Are you of the belief that all the work during the summer months, the conditioning goes a long way to winning games throughout a long 12-game season?

I think early games, they really are, from a conditioning standpoint. Those early games we're going to have some heat and they're going to have to deal with it so the conditioning factor is something you've got to be prepared for and the strength level, of course. As you get into the season your practices are your conditioning basically and you have very minimal strength gains during the season so in the summer coach (Scott) Holsopple has had his work cut out for him. So far, he's done an excellent job and the guys look like they're ready to go.

You've been adamant that the Panthers are going to be more of a running team this season. It starts up front. What have you seen from the offensive line?

We are going to run the football. I think the line has improved and we have improved our numbers depth-wise. I think we're going to have sixteen offensive linemen in fall camp and adding another walk-on there as well so there's seventeen guys that are working. I think it may be one of the more surprising positions that you'll see. Going into the spring I was thinking that we really needed to solidify this offensive line and after spring practice I was fairly pleased with it so I feel like it's in the right direction. Coming into summer they really had to work hard and now, in fall camp, I'm expecting that group to be among the leaders.

Penny Hart missed most of last season with an injury after his outstanding freshman year. How is he coming along with his return?

From a healing standpoint, I think he's probably a hundred percent healed. From a running standpoint, we're going to take it slow. This is a situation where you don't want him to go into the third game of the year and something happens. During fall camp, it's going to be a gradual increase of involvement into the route running and things of that nature. We want to take a cautious approach with Penny because I think he can do so much for us.

The university's acquisition of the Turner Field property (now Georgia State Stadium) certainly is a difference-maker for this football program, not that the Georgia Dome wasn't nice, but it was somebody else'sĀ building.

We've got a nice place. Facilities are very important in anything you do in athletics. Recruits want to see the shiny things. Your players put a lot of work into it. The reward for those players to step on that field, it's going to be so gratifying for those guys. I can't imagine what it was like playing in the Georgia Dome to tell you the truth. I'm sure it was probably fun at first but it wasn't theirs. This is our home turf. Players can go there and workout whenever they want. This will give us a home field advantage.

Georgia State Football opens the season August 31 vs. Tennessee State at Georgia State Stadium. Call 404-413-4020 for ticket information.

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