These days, Ethan Souther doesn’t have a herd of teammates by his side during a workout at Chestatee High. Just weeks after graduating from the school, the former War Eagles quarterback comes back focused on his next journey, as a college football player.
Souther accepted the opportunity to be a preferred walk-on of Georgia State’s inaugural football program this fall. Long past the point where most of his high school classmates have hung up their football cleats permanently, he’s now trying harder than ever to prove he belongs on the football field.
“I really wanted to push the envelope and open new doors for myself,” Souther said. “I felt like Georgia State was my best opportunity.”
Souther can still vividly recall all the tough workouts with his teammates at Chestatee, following a recent morning workout at War Eagles Stadium. Walking along the track, he points to a steep hill along the stairway.
“That’s where the backs and wide receivers have to sprint,” Souther said. “And that’s after practice.”
Then he points further down the grassy area to a shorter hill with a more gradual slope.
“That’s where the offensive and defensive lineman have to carry each other up.”
But those long, hot afternoons as a high school player for Souther are a thing of the past.
His workout companion now is an iPod, which keeps music blasting in each ear during exhausting sprints, including runs up and down the bleachers of the same stadium he played as a prep quarterback.
“Most of the time, I’m working out by myself,” Souther said. “My main focus is trying to put on weight, while gaining speed at the same time.”
Without an initial athletic scholarship, there really are no guarantees for him.
All Souther — who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 160 pounds — can ask for is a chance. He’s willing to play wherever Georgia State’s coaching staff sees fit, with slot receiver and kick returner as the most viable options, based on initial feedback.
His acceptance to Georgia State was initially based solely on academics. As a student at Chestatee he carried a 3.9 GPA taking all honors courses.
Football didn’t necessarily figure into the original equation.
Still, the tug to play football after high school for Souther didn’t go away.
The only options for a football scholarship were to much smaller schools, even though larger schools like The Citadel and Louisville showed passing interest.
But Souther didn’t want to go the traditional route and become a student at a school based on where he was going to play football. He wanted to be a part of something new and experience life in the city at the same time.
Souther found that Georgia State was the perfect fit, and it just so happened that he’d get a chance to suit up with the football program when the Panthers kick off their first season in 2010.
“I’m definitely excited to be a part of something new,” Souther said. “There’s no pressure to living up to expectations, because we’re going to be the ones that set the standard.”
“Ethan’s always taken football and school very seriously,” said his father, Stan Souther. “He’s really overcome the odds with his size, and I think Georgia State is a great fit.”
Souther knew that a scholarship with the Panthers was initially out of the question. By the time he was in contact with Georgia State assistant coaches Mike Riddle and Chris Ward, all 25 athletic scholarships were off the table. But through meeting with the Panthers coaches he learned that two scholarships are reserved for walk-ons they deem worthy.
That’s all the incentive that Souther needed to work out under an unforgiving summer sun, trying to get bigger before reporting to campus later this summer. Souther is trying to put on at least another 10 pounds with weight training at the Fitness Forum as the backbone of his workouts, but admits that packing on the pounds has never been easy as a slender-built athlete.
Those that know Souther best say it’s his attitude and work ethic that will translate into continuing his football career with the Panthers, who will join the Colonial Athletic Association in the Football Championship Subdivision, in Division I.
Since he started playing football at Lanier Elementary at age 8, he was always one of, if not the smallest player on the field. Even that didn’t stop Souther from becoming a three-year starter in high school at quarterback.
“Ethan is the perfect teammate,” said Souther’s high school teammate Justin Byers. “He’s the kind of guy everyone in the locker room looks up to.
“He told me in April that he was going to be going to Georgia State, and I knew it would be a perfect fit for him ... He’ll do great there.”
For Souther, the opportunity to play for legendary coach Bill Curry is just icing on the cake. All the uncertainty of playing for a newbie program is pushed off the table for the chance to show he can play the college game.
“Ethan is an overachiever,” his father added. “I’m so pleased he’ll be able to play for a coach with the character of coach Curry.
“He’ll find his niche at Georgia State.”