Chris Hatcher took a deep breath, smiled and confirmed the mounting speculation: Antonio Henton is officially an Eagle.
The former Ohio State quarterback enrolled at Georgia Southern Monday and will begin working out with the team Tuesday.
"He was looking for a place to go, and what better place to come to than Georgia Southern," Hatcher said. "He’s from middle Georgia so he knows all the traditions and the lore about Georgia Southern. I think it’s going to be a good fit for him and us."
The arrival of the 2005 Georgia Offensive Player of the Year brings automatic intrigue to GSU’s quarterback race where the Eagles are looking to replace Walter Payton Award winner Jayson Foster.
Henton’s top-prospect, major-university status won’t make him a shoo-in for the No. 1 spot. Hatcher said he’ll start at the bottom the depth chart and have to beat out redshirt freshman Lee Chapple, who won the job during spring practice, and backup Kyle Collins. Billy Lowe is questionable for the season and Leander Barney is an incoming freshman, so Hatcher was concerned about the Eagles’ lack of depth and experience at the position.
"He’ll have to work himself up the ladder if he wants to play in that opener versus the University of Georgia – he understands that," Hatcher said. "If you are a competitor, if you’re a football player, that’s what you expect to happen whenever you go to a new place.
"We tell our team each and every year before we go recruiting that we are always going after better players than what we’ve got. Next year we’ll do the same thing. We feel like we’ve got some good quarterbacks. It ought to be a battle. He’s excited about a new start, and we’re excited to have him."
Hatcher also announced the transfers of offensive lineman Trey Dunmon (Georgia Tech/Hawkinsville) and Dylan Douglas (South Florida/Jacksonville), who saw significant time on special teams.
Henton, a 6-foot-2, 232 pound Fort Valley native, rejoins Eagle offensive coordinator Rance Gillespie, who was Henton’s high school coach at Peach County. As a senior, Henton threw for 2,117 yards and 30 touchdowns and helped his team to the Class AAA state title, the first in Peach County’s history. He was touted as one of the best multi-threat quarterback prospects in the country coming out of high school.
Henton redshirted the 2006 season at Ohio State and saw limited action in four games last year. He has three seasons of eligibility remaining and was unavailable for comment Monday.
During his days at Valdosta State, Hatcher had a knack for drawing in big-name quarterback transfers such as Florida State’s Fabian Walker and Kentucky’s Dusty Bonner. Walker led VSU to a national title and Bonner won two Harlon Hill trophies, but Hatcher remains cautiously optimistic about Henton’s future.
"We’re not saying, ‘This is the savior of the football team," Hatcher said. "This is just a high-profile signee that chose to come to Georgia Southern. Hopefully he’ll work out well for us. Fall camp will determine that."
Hatcher thinks Henton should have no trouble learning the Eagles’ system, which is similar to what he ran at Peach County. How quickly he picks up the schemes will be crucial during fall camp.
"He has been given the promise that every player I have has gotten: That he’ll have a fair and honest opportunity to compete for the starting job," Hatcher said. "Then it’s up to him to win it. We let the chips fall where they may.
"I haven’t seen him play at Georgia Southern, and I base all my evaluations on what you do for me while you’re here. Anytime you sign good football players, the competition will be fierce."
Georgia Southern players report for fall camp July 30, and the Eagles open the season Aug. 30 at Georgia.
Alex Pellegrino is a sportswriter for the Statesboro Herald. She can be reached at (912) 489-9413.