Cole Fountain has endured plenty of change in his first four seasons at Georgia Southern. Now the senior offensive tackle is hoping a bit of stability in the program leads to renewed success for the Eagles in 2009.
Fountain was a member of coach Mike Sewak’s last recruiting class before Sewak was fired after first-round playoff losses in 2004 and 2005. Then came Brian Van Gorder, who went 3-8 in 2006 before leaving to become an assistant coach with the Atlanta Falcons.
Chris Hatcher is entering his third season as Georgia Southern’s coach. Finally, the feeling of constant change in Statesboro has ended.
With Hatcher and his offense firmly established, Fountain said the Eagles have moved past an era of uncertainty.
“That excuse has been out the door, as far as going through three coaching changes,” said Fountain, an offensive tackle. “We kind of put that behind us. We’re ready to move on and get this offense rolling.”
Hatcher said this will be the first year the Eagles will run the true “Hatch Attack” offense the coach used to win the 2004 Division II national championship at Valdosta State.
The Eagles return 17 starters, including seven on offense, from last year’s 6-5 team. Fountain is one of four returning starters on the offensive line.
Quarterback Lee Chapple is the new leader of the offense, which Hatcher predicts will set new passing standards for the school this season.
Chapple took the starting job late last season from Antonio Henton, who started nine games in 2008 but has left the program. Chapple was named Southern Conference offensive player of the week after he completed 39 of 56 passes for 323 yards and two touchdowns in a 17-10 win over Furman to end the season.
That game helped make Chapple, a sophomore from Greater Atlanta Christian, the favorite to keep the starting job this season.
Hatcher says he didn’t have the personnel to fully implement his offense the last two seasons.
Quarterback Jayson Foster, the 2007 starter, was a tremendous threat as a runner who won the Walter Payton Award. Henton was a dual threat last season, when he completed 156 of 279 passes for 1,852 yards and 15 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. He also rushed for 628 yards and nine TDs.
Chapple is more of a pure passer.
Hatcher said it’s time to unleash his entire passing attack.
“This year we’re gonna be full-bore throwing the ball around the field,” Hatcher said. “This will really be the first year that we run what I’m accustomed to running, that put me in position to be the Georgia Southern coach.
“The first year we had Jayson Foster and we led the nation in rushing. I never thought I’d do that. Last season we kind of mixed and matched just due to the transition from the option to what I like to do.”
Chapple said he senses Hatcher feels more comfortable.
“This will be his third recruiting class and I think he’s got the players that he wants now,” Chapple said.
Chapple calls Hatcher’s offense “a quarterback’s dream.”
“It’s a lot of fun to play in,” he said. “Playing against Furman last year, we were just laughing half the time, it was just so fun to get out there and play in his offense.”
Hatcher predicts the increased passing may require an adjustment period.
“We will have some growing pains with that,” he said. “It’s the third year with this coaching staff but it will be the first year we’ve really gone to the offense that made us successful at Valdosta State.”
Hatcher is looking for more than an increase in passing yards. He said a key to success for the Eagles is to learn to make the winning play at the end of close games.
Georgia Southern lost to Wofford in overtime, lost to Appalachian State by one point and lost to Elon by two points last season. The Eagles also won in overtime against Northeastern, Western Carolina and The Citadel.
“We’re an interception in the end zone away from a victory over Appalachian, we’re a 2-point conversion away from a victory over Wofford and then we’re a fourth-down stop away from beating Elon,” Hatcher said.
Fountain says the close finishes provided offseason incentive.
“You always hear ‘finish in the fourth quarter,’” Fountain said. “Well, our motto is we want to play a whole game like it’s the fourth quarter. That to me is our biggest key this year.”