I am a lifelong Georgia Tech football fan, and I have never watched a single FCS division football game. In fact, the only things I know about FCS football are that the division uses a tournament based post-season, Paul Johnson-led teams won the FCS championship a couple times, and Joe Flacco won an FCS championship while at Delaware. So why would I care about a new FCS football program being established? The obvious answer would be that it is my alma mater that is establishing the program, but that does not get to the heart of what has built my anticipation and excitement for Sept. 2, 2010. Much like the process of building a football program from scratch, my enthusiasm has built slowly over time.
When I first heard the rumblings that THE (just kidding) Georgia State University was looking into building a football program, I was excited about the idea, but sure it would never see the light of day. We'll say my enthusiasm was at a 2 on the official Enthusiasm Scale.
The first step in the process was hiring an outside consulting firm to complete a feasibility study. I assumed this "study" would immediately halt any ideas of football at Georgia State. When I was a student at Georgia State, it hardly felt like a school that was demanding, begging for, or even interested in a football program. At that time, the school was, and still is, attempting to transition to a more "traditional" university. With an overwhelming majority of the student body living off campus, most students arrived on campus just in time for class and sprinted home as soon as class was over. There was nothing to bond the student body together.
To my surprise, the feasibility study did not immediately destroy the idea of GSU football. Instead, it encouraged the school to continue pursuing the idea. Soon thereafter, Georgia State hired Dan Reeves as a football consultant to help drum up financial support from alumni and other supporters of the University. This was exciting news; I mean, Dan Reeves is a real football person and everything! With Reeves on board, it seemed that football was an actual possibility and the rumors that Dan Reeves might be the program's first coach just added fuel to the fire.
Finally, on April 17, 2008, the announcement was made that Georgia State would be officially entering the world of college football and its home stadium would be the Georgia Dome. When this announcement was made, my enthusiasm rose to a 3.5 on the Enthusiasm Scale. I was apprehensive about the team playing home games in the rather large Georgia Dome, as I feared it would be strange watching a football game in a nearly empty facility, but I understood that for various reasons the Dome made the most sense for the program at this point in time.
Two months later, the most impactful event of the program's short life occurred, as Bill Curry was named Georgia State's first head coach. This came as a shock, as I fully expected the position to go to someone whose name I had never heard. Curry is the former head coach at the University of Alabama and Georgia Tech, what is he doing at Georgia State? Once again, it was great to see real, actual, respected football people being associated with Georgia State football. Maybe we would actually be more than a glorified high school team! With this announcement, my excitement spiked to a 6.
At this point, the ball really got rolling, as Coach Curry put together his staff, the school signed its first scholarship football player, Mark Hogan Jr., then its first full recruiting class in February 2009. The school upgraded its logo and mascot to a slightly less goofy bright blue Panther, season tickets went up for sale, articles about the football team started showing up in the local newspaper, a marching band was put together, and a new fight song that shows off the spelling skills of G-S-U students was written. All these activities brought me to a 6.5.
Then, the inaugural season's schedule was released. It consisted of a couple schools that I had heard of, a number of schools that I had no idea existed, and the reigning FBS Champion, the University of Alabama. I was shocked and excited with the idea of seeing the Panthers take on the Crimson Tide. It doesn't matter to me that State may lose by 100 points, it's still exciting to have that .0000001 percent chance that the Panthers could hold their own against a team of Alabama's caliber. Yeah, right, but anyway... Georgia State presumably was able to get on the defending National Champion's schedule due to Coach Curry's relationship with Alabama. This game alone, easily bumped me up to a 7.5.
The events of this summer spiked my enthusiasm to the maximum. Offensive linemen Jospeh Gilbert and Clyde Yandell transferred from Georgia Tech, tight end Baily Woods transferred from Auburn, and quarterback Star Jackson transferred from the University of Alabama. These transfers went a long ways towards giving legitimacy to the team's roster. Star Jackson, amazing name and all, is fully expected to be the starting quarterback on Sept. 2, though Coach Curry has only stated that he would have the opportunity to compete for the position. Also during this summer EA Sports' NCAA '11 was released and the Georgia State Panthers were quickly created and downloadable for all. It was great seeing Star Jackson in blue and in action on the (digital) football field! Seeing the GSU logo in a video game certainly helps bring it all home that the team is real and almost ready to kick off. Additionally, the first GSU football jersey (No. 10) went on sale this summer and I must say, it looks quite nice in my closet. Finally, just five days before the first game, I received my season ticket sheets. Such glorious artwork! I have now officially Joined the Huddle!
Throughout the process of building the program from scratch, ESPN cameras were around to document the team in an eight-part web series. ESPN's involvement was presumably a result of Coach Curry being a former employee of the network, but whatever the reason, it was a huge promotional and recruiting tool for the school.
The ESPN series led up to the biggest, most unexpected news since Bill Curry was named head coach; Georgia State University football would be the cover story for ESPN The Magazine's college football preview issue. When I first heard the rumors of this, I didn't believe them for one second. But the rumors were true, as a baby sitting on a football tee wearing GSU eye black did indeed grace the cover of the magazine. Now, of course I would have preferred many (possibly any) other Panther related images for the cover, but I tried not to complain. This was huge press for the football program and for the University.
The excitement of having a football team is one thing, but the exposure that the program has given the University has been remarkable. I currently live approximately 650 miles away from campus and when I first moved here, whenever I would tell anyone where I went to college, the usual response was, "where"? Now, when I tell people where I went to school the responses are more like "I saw them on the cover of the ESPN magazine" or "aren't they playing Alabama or someone like that this year"?
More people are familiar with the school due to the publicity that the football program has received. The football program and its related publicity should greatly assist the school in the future as it continues striving toward becoming a more "traditional" university and make it more recognizable on the national level. The additional recognition should also increase student applicants and help the school continue to grow and become more and more competitive. Additionally, I am hopeful that football will bond the student body and keep alumni more connected to the University than in the past.
I am also hopeful that the city of Atlanta will embrace the Panthers and give the team the opportunity to become "Atlanta's Team." I mean, everyone in the metro Atlanta area isn't a nerd or a redneck, right? OK, well it may be WAY too early for jokes, but with approximately 30,000 students annually enrolled at Georgia State, there is no arguing that the school puts its imprint on the city. GSU now offers Atlanta area football fans the opportunity to be a part of building tradition from the ground up.
It may have taken 97 years, but the Georgia State Football tradition finally begins on Sept. 2, 2010. Shorter University will come to the Dome and challenge the Panthers claim of being "Still Undefeated." I am not making any predictions related to what will occur on the field, but I will be in attendance and full of excitement for the team's existence this season and in the future.
I hope the program continually improves and is embraced by the city of Atlanta, and maybe, just maybe, there will come a day in my lifetime when I am forced to choose between Georgia State and Georgia Tech (I, of course, would pledge my allegiance to Georgia State). Until that point in time arrives, I will just have to get used to handling busier weekends.