STATESBORO, Ga. (WSAV) – The Georgia Southern quarterback situation got even murkier Wednesday afternoon.
In a preseason press conference, Eagles head coach Chad Lunsford revealed Justin Tomlin has been ruled academically ineligible and will miss at least the first two games of the 2021 season. Lunsford said the team knew about the situation after the Fall 2020 semester and he expects Tomlin, who appeared to be a frontrunner for the starting job, to be eligible and ready to play Week 3 if called upon.
“Spring semester and summer he did a good job getting himself in position,” Lunsford explained. “It could have been a lot worse, there’s no question, but I don’t think we are going to have any problems academically the rest of the way out because he’s learned what he has to do in college.”
With Tomlin sidelined for the home opener against Gardner-Webb and the away game the following week against FAU, Lunsford and company need to count on one of the three remaining healthy quarterbacks to step up.
“Whoever does end up being the quarterback in game one and game two, there’s no reason why they can’t continue to be the quarterback after that,” Lunsford added. “Obvously it would be game 3 before he could go, but I think [Justin Tomlin] has the leg up just because of his experience and what he’s done. I definitely think he can lead us to a championship, but we are going to give those other young guys a chance as well and obviously they are going to get that.”
Lunsford sang the praises of true freshman Cam’Ron Ransom who, if he ended up being the starter, would become the first true freshman to ever start a Week 1 game for the Georgia Southern Eagles. Lunsford said Ransom has already begun to earn the respect of some of the veterans on the team.
“My initial impression is he could probably handle it, but I don’t want to over speak on that yet because I think it’s important that we get him out there, let him go against our defense, let him get a feel for the offense with pads on and with the ball in his hands,” Lunsford said. “Let us see what he’s about.”
Ransom is now in a battle with Sam Kennerson and fellow true freshman Quincy Bonner for the starting job. Connor Cigelski is dealing with an injury and is not expected to be fully healed until October at the earliest, while Georgia Tech quarterback transfer James Graham made a position change to wide receiver in late June.
Tomlin may not be suiting up the first two weeks, but Lunsford said the redshirt junior has remained a leader in the quarterback room and continues to take the younger guys under his wing.
“There’s a huge competition in the room for sure, but there’s no selfishness,” Lunsford explained. “Everyone wants our team to win and Justin has done a really good job and I think that’s a credit to Shai [Werts] because Shai was really good with the younger guys as a starter.”
Looking beyond the quarterbacks, Georgia Southern returns a plethora of talent in the secondary and running back rooms. Derrick Canteen, one of the best freshman defensive backs in the country last year, is back to terrorize Sun Belt quarterbacks. J.D. King, who suffered a season-ending torn ACL in 2020, looks primed to bounce back and contribute immediately to the Eagles’ run game.
Despite all of the experienced talent returning to Paulson Stadium, the preseason polls had Georgia Southern finishing fourth in the Sun Belt East.
“We definetely see [the polls], but it’s good that those people aren’t the ones playing with us,” senior defensive end Justin Ellis said with a smile. “We believe in ourselves and we are a confident group.”
Anthony Wilson, Ellis’ teammate on defense, seemed on the same page.
“Inside the locker room, we believe in ourselves and we know what we can do and know what we have,” the sophomore safety explained. “We don’t pay attention to it, so it’s just something that is within us.”
The Eagles kicks off fall camp Friday morning at Beautiful Eagle Creek with practice set for 8:20 a.m. Georgia Southern opens up the season September 4th at home against Gardner-Webb.