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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dawgs to Watch No. 16: Shaun Chapas

Saddled with a plastic boot around his foot, senior fullback Brannan Southerland shuffles his way across Georgia's practice fields each day to play the role of coach.

On the field listening closely is sophomore Shaun Chapas, who thanks to Southerland's foot injury, will get the first start of his career when Georgia opens its season against Georgia Southern. It's a working relationship Chapas has counted on for nearly three years.

"Ever since I first got here, he's always taken me under his wing, and nothing's changed since he's been injured," Chapas said. "He comes out to practice after he rehabs, and he's always standing there coaching me up. If I have questions I know I can go to him, and he'll give me great answers."

Chapas had just 11 carries last season in a reserve role behind Southerland, a three-year starter who has 21 career touchdowns. Foot surgery in June put Southerland on the sideline, however, and Chapas is expected to start the first four or five games of the season in 2008.

"It's big shoes to fill," Chapas said. "Brannan, I think he's the best fullback in the country."

Although Chapas doesn't have the experience of his injured teammate, Southerland said, after watching practice, he has no doubt Chapas can fill in admirably.

"I think as far as nerves and mentally, he's got it down," Southerland said. "It's one of those things that, if you practice hard, all you've got to do is do it on Saturday."

In fact, once he's ready to play again, Southerland said he hopes his job as the starter won't just be waiting for him. In a perfect world, he said, Chapas would make line-up decisions difficult.

"I want him to do good for the team and good for himself, then hopefully when I come back, he's playing great, and then it's going to be a competition to see who's going to play," Southerland said. "That's what we want. It just makes the team better."

Chapas said he isn't gunning for the starting job, but he does know Southerland's injury provides him with a perfect chance to prove what he can do. No matter how he gets on the field, he plans to take advantage.

"That's why it's exciting," Chapas said. "I know it's a big opportunity for me."

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