Shawn Elliott took the microphone at halftime of the Georgia State spring football game Thursday night and spoke with passion.

His voice labored from coaching and yelling in the chilly and rainy night, the Panthers’ head coach thanked those in attendance — including nearly 200 recruits and their families — before handing out awards. He gave out plaques for most improved player, best grade-point average and best players of the spring. The last award, special teams player of the spring, went to sophomore long snapper Jack Bernstein. After giving Bernstein a plaque, Elliott looked Bernstein in the eyes, spoke about his commitment to his team and his academics and then announced that Bernstein would be on scholarship.

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Bernstein didn’t have enough time to think about it before his teammates dogpiled the 5-foot-11 long snapper in celebration.

“I promise you there are going to be a lot of victories this fall,” Elliott said. “Stick with us, stay with us. Go Panthers.”

After halftime, the two teams went back and forth with the blue team winning the scrimmage. Elliott said he’ll take the winners to Six Flags as a reward, while the losing team had to clean up the locker room.

With spring practices over for the Panthers, they’ll be able to step back and look at tape and prepare themselves for the next six months before Rhode Island comes to Center Parc Stadium for the 2023 season opener on Aug. 31.

Here’s some things we learned from the scrimmage:

1. KZ Adams’ eye-popping emergence

On the fourth play of the game, redshirt sophomore running back KZ Adams darted up the middle and bounced off a defender. Rather than go to the ground, he maintained his balance, spun off another defender and sprinted another 40 yards to the end zone. It was one of four touchdowns for the back that had just four carries a season ago.

“KZ has been all business this spring, probably more so than he was last spring when he was new to this place,” Elliott said. “Now, he’s got the understanding of the game of football, he’s got the understanding of our offense. He probably sees holes now before they’re even there.”

Unofficially, Adams finished with 20 carries for 152 yards. He also had two catches for 13 yards. For the average fan in the stands, it seemed like this was an incredible, unexpected performance from a youngster. But for Adams, it was just another day doing what he’s done his whole life.

“Me going in there and doing what I do is nothing for me,” said Adams, who sat behind a stable of senior running backs a year ago. “It’s a regular performance for me. I don’t want that to sound cocky or anything, but I do this. I’m not super excited that this happened because I’m used to it.”

With each touch of the ball, Adams got more confident. On this night, he outrushed veteran running back Marcus Carroll, who amassed 100 yards and two touchdowns.

The two backs are ready to be the 1-2 punch that Elliott has been looking for.

“That’s my guy,” Adams said. “We’re like, ‘let’s be like Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Let’s be great.’”

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

2. Newcomers impress

Eight transfers joined the program this offseason, and several of them had impacts in Thursday’s scrimmage.

Merrimack receiver transfer Jacari Carter had three catches for 72 yards and a touchdown, catching passes from senior quarterback Darren Grainger. Carter was named outstanding newcomer on offense for spring practice.

“I just wanted to establish myself as a leader,” Carter said, when asked about his first few months in Georgia. “You can see the experience of Darren Grainger of him being here for three years in the leadership and the talent level that he brings. It’s a great lift for the receivers. He makes everyone better.”

The outstanding newcomer on defense award went to Clemson transfer Kevin Swint. The linebacker/defensive end flew around and plugged holes. He said he wants to continue getting acquainted with his new team, while playing closer to his hometown in Carrollton.

“It felt good being in a scheme I felt comfortable in so I could show my potential a bit more,” Swint said. “It was fun to go out there and play football again, execute and have fun with my friends.”

Elliott was impressed with how seamlessly the transfers and midyear signees have fit into his program.

“Sometimes it’s hard, especially when you transfer in from another program, to fit in,” the coach said. “You don’t always gel really quickly. They didn’t have a whole lot of time. We lifted for a month and then we’re right into spring practice. They’re thrown right into it. It seemed like they had been here for three or four years.”

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

3. Earlier spring practice pays off

The Panthers took the field this spring on February 13. That’s much sooner than the majority of college football will start spring practice. The hope, in Elliott’s eyes, was that by getting practice out of the way early — before spring break — it would leave enough time to strength train and be successful academically.

With the spring season concluding, the feedback in moving it up was positive.

“It was definitely the right decision,” Elliott said. “We got everything we needed out of spring that we wanted to get out of it. Now we have all this time on the back end, not only for us to grow as a football team physically and mentally, but academically. Sometimes, you do spring right in the middle and if you do it later, once spring ends, it’s almost like the semester ends. Now, we still have so much time athletically so we can get bigger and we can get stronger.”

His players agreed, saying that they’ll be able to get some rest physically from the grueling practices and focusing more on studies and getting back into the weight room.

“Since spring is done, I can put some more (weight) on, get a little faster and quicker,” Adams said. “I’m glad we got this out of the way and now we’re just focused on getting better.”

Grainger, who is entering his third season as the Panthers’ starting quarterback, is looking forward to focusing on his body in the last two or so months of the semester.

“Last year and the year before, we split it up between spring breaks,” Grainger said. “Now just going ahead and getting it out of the way, we’ll be back in the weight room getting stronger again, getting faster with conditioning. It’ll be better on the back end to get our bodies stronger for summer and camp.”