Georgia State football team takes high expectations into spring practice

Shawn Elliott likes to cancel the last day of workouts before spring football practice starts. It’s a way for the players to have a little extra time before starting the grind.

This year, on the eve of starting spring drills, the Georgia State coach was surprised to have his offer rejected.

“After I had kind of broke it all down and we’re going to walk away, (linebacker) Jamil Muhammad says to the team, ‘If you’ll want to win the Sun Belt, everybody’s in that weight room tomorrow,’” Elliott said. “It’s interesting to see that because player-led teams win. It’s awesome. See, when players lead your team, it makes it easy on me.”

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The response indicates the team is serious about building on last year’s school-record eight wins and is eager to compete with perennial Sun Belt powers Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina and Louisiana.

“I think the thing that we want to do so bad now is go win a Sun Belt championship, do whatever we can do,” said tight end Aubry Payne, who was granted a seventh season of eligibility. “I think the only people that are going to hold us back is us. That’s something coach Elliott has been preaching since he got here, and I think that’s something that we can do.”

Georgia State takes high expectations into spring practice, which begins Tuesday and culminates with the spring game April 1 at Center Parc Stadium. The Panthers return most of their high-impact players – including nine super seniors – from last year’s team that finished second in the Eastern Division and won the Camellia Bowl.

“It’s always a good time because you start creating your team for next year,” Elliott said. “We have been lifting weights and doing our conditioning, and that’s one way to build your team. Now new positions, new faces, new captains, new leaders, all those things start to arise and come to the forefront here in the next 15 days.”

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Much of the spring will be focused on finding depth, moving players around to find their best position and giving an opportunity to those who have worked hard to get a chance.

“We’re going to try to push our young guys to the forefront and create some opportunities for guys to step up and push the guys who are leading the charges,” Elliott said.

One priority will be to replace five-time All-Sun Belt left guard Shamarious Gilmore. The leading candidates there are returners Avery Reece and Jonathan Brown, freshmen Marquez Bargman and Montavious Cunningham, and Eastern Illinois transfer Bryson Broadway.

“I think the only people that are going to hold us back is us. That's something coach (Shawn) Elliott has been preaching since he got here, and I think that's something that we can do."

- Georgia State tight end Aubry Payne

“That left guard spot is the hot commodity,” Elliott said. “It’s like everybody says, ‘Hey, coach, I want to play left guard … put me at left guard … sign me up to play left guard.’ It doesn’t matter what position they play or whether they’re backing up someplace else, they’re all pushing.”

While the backfield is solidified with returners – quarterback Darren Grainger and running backs Tucker Gregg and Jamyest Williams – the Panthers will sort out the backup situation. Mikele Colasurdo and Keilon Brown, a transfer from Memphis, will compete at quarterback. Marcus Carroll should get plenty of reps at running back.

“Probably one of the more exciting players I’ve seen is Marcus Carroll,” Elliott said. “Strength, speed – he’s a man on a mission. He is going to get a lot of looks this spring. It’s time to see what some of these younger guys can do.”

The offense will operate behind new offensive coordinator Josh Stepp, who was promoted after Brad Glenn left to coach quarterbacks at Virginia Tech. There won’t be a change in philosophies, although Elliott said they will look for ways to throw the ball downfield more effectively.

“We’re going to do whatever we’re best at,” Elliott said. “I feel like we have dynamic running backs and a strength on the offensive line, then we’re going to take advantage of that. Our philosophy for the most part, unless someone knocks me over the head, is going to stay very, very consistent from what we’ve done since I’ve gotten here.”

On defense, Elliott wants to develop depth at inside linebacker behind stalwarts Blake Carroll and Jordan Veneziale and sees defensive end Jeffery Clark on the verge of a breakthrough season.

Now starting his sixth season, Elliott wants to encourage the continued development of the player-led culture.

“Once you take ownership of something, it’s hard,” Elliott said. “Just like when you buy that first car, you want that car clean. You take the floor mats out, you’re doing all of that because you own it. It’s yours. And I think everyone on this football team knows that this program is theirs.”