Georgia State’s veteran offensive line centered around Malik Sumter

Being an old offensive line coach, one of the first things Shawn Elliott did when he became the head coach at Georgia State was to begin the process of acquiring interior linemen. Among his primary targets was Malik Sumter, a strong and sturdy four-year starter and all-state selection from Irmo, S.C.

Sumter had the frame, strength and mentality that Elliott was seeking and didn’t mind spelling it out during a recruiting trip.

“I just remember sitting in his home and telling him how I wanted to build it from the inside out and how I wanted to build it with a center,” Elliott said. “And everything we talked about in the living room that day has happened. He’s graduated, won multiple bowl games, and the only thing that’s left is to win that conference championship.”

Sumter already had a relationship with Elliott, who recruited him while he was an assistant at the University of South Carolina. And he knew Elliott was a straightforward guy who could be trusted.

“He didn’t sugarcoat anything, just like he is with us here,” Sumter said. “He’s a straightforward guy. Georgia State was my only FBS (scholarship) offer, and it wasn’t too far away from home, so it was a pretty good decision.”

Sumter took over as starting center in 2018 as a redshirt freshman when Jamal Paxton was injured with five games remaining. A year later, he was honorable-mention All-Sun Belt and helped the team set a school record for rushing yards and rushing touchdowns.

In 2020, he was honorable-mention all-conference and helped the offense average a school-record 33.3 points and 424.3 yards of total offense, as well as rank 13th in FBS for fewest sacks allowed. In 2021, he was voted team captain and named second-team all-conference on a team that ranked No. 8 in FBS with 226.4 yards rushing.

Sumter (6-foot-1, 285 pounds) enters this season having started 41 consecutive games and has blocked for the four most productive rushing seasons in school history. He earned a spot on the preseason watch list for the Rimington Trophy, given annually to the nation’s best center.

Sumter is one of four key returners on the offensive line, which lost only left guard Shamarious Gilmore, who signed with the Seattle Seahawks as an undrafted free agent.

The other returning starters on the line are:

· Right guard Pat Bartlett (6-4, 295), a super senior from Newtown, Pa., who has started 41 consecutive games and was third-team all-conference in 2021.

· Right tackle Johnathan Bass (6-4, 290), a senior from Kell High School who has started 22 consecutive games.

· Left tackle Travis Glover (6-6, 334), a senior from Vienna who has started 30 consecutive games. He started at right tackle as a freshman and was named Freshman All-America by the Football Writers Association of America.

There still could be some shifting among the positions before the season opens. Elliott hasn’t announced the other starter, but candidates include junior Bryson Broadway (6-4, 270) from Dawsonville, who transferred in after spending two seasons at Eastern Illinois, redshirt freshman Montavious Cunningham (6-3, 305) from Athens, junior Avery Reece (6-2, 280) from Anderson, S.C., junior Trey Bonner (6-4, 299) from Gray and sophomore Jonathan Brown (6-5, 295) from Anderson, S.C.

“It’s going to be a really good competition because we’ve got several really good young offensive linemen and a transfer, as well,” Elliott said. “So we’ve got some combinations we’re going to look into, and we’re going to see the best guys step up, whether it be at tackle or guard. It’s going to be fascinating.”

Sumter and Bartlett could have moved on, but both opted to return for their COVID-19 season. Their presence gives Georgia State one of the more experienced offensive lines in the Sun Belt Conference.

“I didn’t have to twist any arms. I didn’t have any sit-down conversations,” Elliott said. “I didn’t have any recruiting talks. I just told them, you let me know because we’d love to have you back. And if they had chosen not to come out, we could get younger players to take it over. But I think there’s a finish to these guys that’s in their minds. Those guys want to see it come full circle. You’re sitting there in 2017, and they pick you to finish dead last. It would be really amazing to see those guys out from first to last in their career.”

Open practice Saturday night: The Panthers will open Center Parc Stadium for the fans to watch practice Saturday. Gates will open at 6 p.m., with practice starting at 7. Fans can stay and watch the movie “Doctor Strange” on the big screen afterward at 9:15 p.m.

Fans should enter Gate 8. Admission is free, but a ticket for entry is required and can be obtained at Free parking is available in the green lot.