Clay Helton was so charged up about a player he called “Mr. Electric” and the other 19 early signees with Georgia Southern on Wednesday, one wouldn’t know he had pushing himself toward exhaustion since he got the job on Nov. 2.
Yet Helton, a veteran coach of 27 years, seemed raring to get the 2022 season started as he held a press conference to discuss the 20 newest additions to the Eagles program on the first day of the early signing period for college football.
Omari Arnold, a 5-foot-9, 185-pound running back, led Brooks County to the GHSA Class A Public state crown with a 320-yard, five-touchdown performance. Arnold rushed for 2,544 yards and 42 touchdowns this season and more than 6,500 yards along with 95 rushing TDs and 110 total for his career.
“What can I say about Omari Arnold, ‘Mr. Electric’?” Helton said. “I acted like a sixth-grader at the state championship game watching it on TV. Here’s a guy that had over 6,500 yards all-time. That’s 12th in the history of this great state overall as one of the all-time leading rushers. Just a true electric player that we’re really excited to have.”
Arnold was the lone running back among 10 offensive players and 10 defensive players to sign national letters of intent — with 17 from the Peach State. Helton had said as recently as a press conference Monday that the Eagles are strong at running back and on the offensive line, and he really wants to establish more balance to the run-heavy offense with a bigger passing game.
More explosive plays means more explosive players, and Helton felt that need was addressed in a big way at the skill positions of wide receiver and quarterback.
Georgia Southern signed Dalen Cobb, who played quarterback at Washington-Wilkes but is projected as a receiver, along with Joshua Thompson of Johns Creek as well as two receivers that flipped from earlier verbal commitments to other colleges — Trinity Christian’s Josh Dallas (Western Michigan) and Macon County’s Marcus Sanders Jr. (Sun Belt Conference rival South Alabama).
“I’ve worked across the country, and just the speed and explosiveness these four men bring to the table is very, very impressive,” Helton said. “To garner all four of them to really set the tone as we transition from one style of offense to another was extremely important.”
Dallas won the GHSA Class A Private state title this season with his brother David at quarterback and their father Kenny as the head coach at Trinity Christian in Sharpsburg. Helton called David Dallas and fellow signee Zak Rozsman of George Walton High in Marietta “two elite quarterbacks” with huge passing statistics in high school.
David Dallas passed for 8,846 yards and 92 TDs in his career, while Rozman put up 6,000 yards and 50 scores in 37 starts.
Helton credited offensive coordinator Bryan Ellis, one of several hires this month as he builds his staff, with helping to seal the deal on the QBs. Ellis, a former college QB, came over from Western Kentucky, the top passing offense in the FBS this season.
“I don’t know if that happens if Bryan Ellis isn’t here, to be honest with you,” Helton said. “To garner those four wideouts and those two quarterbacks, to see what the future can hold, that was a tremendous effort by this staff.”
The Dallas brothers were committed to Western Michigan, then on Monday announced their decisions to stay in state and come to Statesboro.
“I would have taken either one of them,” Helton said of recruiting them together. “They’re such unique talents — each one of them by themselves. I’ve always recruited each man for each man. Never really done package deals.”
He called Josh Dallas a physical receiver with the same approach as two of his former charges at Southern Cal, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Michael Pittman Jr., now both in the NFL.
“To get them both, I feel like I’ve won the lottery twice,” Helton said of the Dallas brothers. “Those were two kids that went right down to the last second.”
The Georgia Southern staff also worked to the last available opportunities for official visits and contact with prospects. There was no time to waste because there wasn’t that much of it.
He had plenty of praise for his coaches and staff — some of whom hit the recruiting trail before they had settled into Statesboro, Helton said — as they adopted a mentality of “no job too small, all hands on deck.”
“Being a little bit shorthanded, it took everybody within the building,” said Helton, who has hired mostly on the offensive side of the ball and has been more patient before bringing in a defensive coordinator, who will have a say in the selection of on-field assistants.
Another key has been the retention of the lone holdover from the previous staff, Kevin Whitley. In his third year as GS cornerbacks coach, Whitley was selected to be the interim head coach when Chad Lunsford was fired on Sept. 26. Whitley was an All-America defensive back for the Eagles and later was a successful head coach in the Peach State at the high school level, so the experience and continuity he brings has been invaluable.
Whitley could speak for the defense in recruiting prospects, especially at defensive back where Helton said the roster needs depth after a 2021 season when that unit was beset by injuries. So welcome Milton’s Zyere Horton, Denmark’s Treston Jordan, Cairo’s Kevin Speed, Starr’s Mill’s Marc Stampley II and Ashton Whitner of West Greenville, S.C., one of two recruits from the Palmetto State.
” … Coach Whit had a lot of great relationships to these kids, kept those relationships, and these are kids that can come in and be able to help us immediately,” Helton said.
The other South Carolina recruit is Ky Tayo (6-1, 290) of Spring Valley in Columbia, who brings size to a defensive line along with Da’Shawn Davis (6-3, 280) of Charlotte, N.C., and the lone transfer, Kristian Varner (6-4, 300), from Hiram High by way of the University of North Carolina.
Helton said Davis is an elite pass rusher who can play the interior or on the edge. He also likes the size of linebackers Jacob Hammonds (6-3, 215) of Griffin and MJ Stroud (6-4, 235) of Alcovy.
“They look like they’ve been in college for a couple of years already,” the coach said.
Eight of the signees will get a jump on their college years by enrolling in January. That includes offensive linemen Nate Lewis of Jeff Davis, Chandler Strong of Houston County and Pichon Wimbley of Newnan. They will have the advantage of training with the team in the spring and have access to the weight training and conditioning on campus.
Georgia Southern 2022 early class (listed alphabetically)
Name, Pos., Ht., Wt., Hometown, High School (last school)
Omari Arnold, RB, 5-9, 185, fr., Valdosta, Brooks County
Dalen Cobb, WR, 5-10, 185, fr., Washington, Washington-Wilkes
David Dallas, QB, 6-0, 195, fr., Sharpsburg, Trinity Christian
Josh Dallas, WR, 6-1, 215, fr., Sharpsburg, Trinity Christian
Da’Shawn Davis, DL, 6-3, 280, fr., Charlotte, N.C., Hough
Jacob Hammonds, LB, 6-3, 215, fr., Griffin, Griffin
Zyere Horton, DB, 6-2, 200, fr., Woodstock, Milton *
Treston Jordan, DB, 6-0, 200, fr., Alpharetta, Denmark
Nate Lewis, OL, 6-4, 280, fr., Hazlehurst, Jeff Davis *
Zak Rozsman, QB, 6-3, 200, Fr., Marietta, Ga., George Walton *
Marcus Sanders Jr., WR, 6-3, 195, fr., Montezuma, Macon County
Kevin Speed, DB, 6-2, 200, fr., Cairo, Cairo
Marc Stampley II, DB, 5-11, 180, fr., Fayetteville, Starr’s Mill
Chandler Strong, OL, 6-3, 290, fr., Warner Robins, Houston County *
MJ Stroud, OLB, 6-4, 235, fr., Covington, Alcovy
Ky Tayo, DL, 6-1, 290, fr., Columbia, S.C., Spring Valley *
Joshua Thompson, WR, 5-11, 185, Fr., Johns Creek, Ga., Johns Creek
Kristian Varner, DL, 6-4, 300, RS-Jr., Hiram, Ga., Hiram (UNC) *
Ashton Whitner, DB, 6-1, 195, fr., West Greenville, S.C., Greenville *
Pichon Wimbley, OL, 6-3, 315, fr., Moreland, Newnan *
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