However you say it, Veneziale making impact for Georgia State defense

Good thing Jordan Veneziale isn’t one of those people who gets mad when someone mispronounces his last name. If so, the Georgia State linebacker would be a regular attendee in an anger-management class.

“I think maybe one or two people in my whole life have pronounced my name right the first time, besides my family,” he said with a smile.

Veneziale is not that difficult to enunciate when broken down phonetically: VEN-zee-al. But strangers aren’t sure which syllable to accent or how to handle that “le” at the end. Others just throw in letters and make the name more familiar.

“My fifth-grade teacher called me ‘Venezuela,’” he said. “And that’s what coach (Shawn) Elliott likes to nickname me sometime.”

Stadium announcers around the Sun Belt Conference should make sure they look at a pronunciation guide because there’s a good chance they’ll be calling his name many times through the course of a game. Most of time it will be preceded by the phrase “tackle by …” since the junior has emerged as the top tackler on the team.

In three games, Veneziale has 27 total tackles -- 15 solo stops and 12 assists -- along with 1.5 tackles for loss. He had nine tackles in last week’s win over Charlotte, sharing the lead with his pal and fellow inside linebacker Blake Carroll. They were instrumental in limiting Charlotte to 276 total yards, the seventh-lowest figure in program history.

Veneziale has been one of Georgia State’s breakout players this season. He’s gone from a special-teams star to a steady, effort-based contributor at inside linebackers.

“I’ve been preparing for the last two years,” Veneziale said. “I just knew if I kept working hard on special teams and on and off the field, an opportunity would present itself.”

Elliott has noticed Veneziale’s work ethic since the Panthers recruited him out of North Forsyth High School. Elliott called him a “tackling machine.”

“He plays with tremendous effort,” Elliott said. “You notice that because he’s been our leading tackler in all our special teams. It’s all about want-to, and he has the kind of demeanor to go get it. He may not always be in position, but he finds that football, and that’s what we really like about him.”

Carroll said, “I’ve watched Jordan since he came in. He’s a guy who’s going to be a guy. He watches the ball, and his effort is relentless. I love playing beside him because I know he’s going to go 100 percent all the time. He never takes a play off.”

Veneziale should get plenty of opportunities to hear his name called Saturday when the Panthers travel to Auburn for their final non-conference game. Kickoff is 4 p.m. (Television: SEC Network. Radio: WRAS-FM 88.5 tape delay.) It is the first meeting between the two teams and the first against an SEC opponent since Georgia State’s historic win at Tennessee in 2019.

“We’ve got a very talented opponent in Auburn,” Elliott said. “But you know what, we’re going to go down there and fight our tails off and see what we can do. We’ll work hard this week, fix some things and continue to improve.”

Elliott said Darren Grainger will start at quarterback again this week. The transfer from Furman displaced incumbent Quad Brown against Charlotte and threw for 139 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 50 yards

“He settled in and did a good job running our offense,” Elliott said. “I wouldn’t sit here and say he made a breakthrough performance by any stretch, but he did a good job, and I was pleased.”

Elliott also complimented Brown for the way he handled the situation. He was engaged with his teammates on the sidelines and stayed involved in the game, despite the demotion.

“I’m not naïve enough to think that it didn’t affect him to some degree, but I think he handled it like a mature man,” Elliott said. “He was watching more film, he was working after practice. We played at 7 o’clock the other night, and at 2 o’clock it looked like he had run through his practice out on our game field. I thought he responded well.”

The Panthers may again be without top receiver Sam Pinckney, who is dealing with a hamstring issue, or Cornelius McCoy, who tweaked his hamstring in the first quarter against Charlotte. It opened the door for Jamari Thrash to build additional importance to the offense (team-leading 11 catches, 15.2-yard average) and allowed Central Florida transfer Ja’Cyais Credle to get deeper into the mix with two long catches and a touchdown.

The Georgia State defense also could miss starting safety Chris Bacon, who is in concussion protocol. Bacon ranks No. 3 on the team in tackles, with 16.