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Panthers set to play
Georgia State University headed into inaugural season
Georgia State University tight end Kalan Jenkins catches a pass during a team scrimmage. Panthers open the season against Shorter College on Sept. 2 at the Georgia Dome. - photo by For The Times
MACON – During his cousin’s graduation ceremony from Georgia State University, Michael Davis sat in the audience and listened to legendary coach Bill Curry give the commencement speech.

As Curry was talking, Davis’ father leaned in to the 295-pound offensive lineman and asked, “wouldn’t it be great to play for someone like that?”

“A year later, I was signing a scholarship to play football for the Georgia State Panthers,” Davis said Tuesday at the annual Pigskin Preview in Macon.

And in less than three months, Davis, Curry and the rest of the Georgia State Panthers will take the field for the first time in school history when they play host to Shorter College on Sept. 2 at the Georgia Dome.

While it is yet to be determined if the team is prepared for the opener, the students, faculty and alumni are certainly excited about finally having a football team.

“Every time we come around and talk to people they’re excited,” said Brandon Jones, the team’s starting safety. “People are ready to come out and it’s like they’re ready to take the field before we are.”

Rightfully so, as it’s been more than two years since the anticipation for this season began with the official launching of the program on April 17, 2008. Since that day, the program hired a coach — Curry, who is 83-105-4 in his 17 years of coaching at Georgia Tech, Alabama and Kentucky — began construction on a practice facility and signed its first and second recruiting class.

With the majority of legwork out of the way, the team can finally focus on football.

“Now it’s time for us to actually play football games,” Curry said. “And that’s the excitement and motivation for starting a program.”

But Curry still has some obstacles before the season-opener, specifically trying to assimilate his current players with the ones who have yet to step foot on campus.

“Some of our best players we haven’t seen yet,” Curry said. “To make us a cohesive unit is our job. I’ve never done this before, but it’s a fascinating challenge.”

One thing Curry won’t have to worry about is building an avid fan base.

“The atmosphere has been electric since the day we got here,” Curry said. “The only reason the program exists is because when the feasibility tests were done, the kids voted unanimously to increase the athletic fees to get the program started.

“The kids made a statement: We want a football team.”

Now they have one, and that team has only a few months to prepare for Shorter, a team that might not be as easy as most people think.

“Shorter looks an awful lot like Georgia Tech,” Curry said. “They know exactly how to attack; we got our work cut out for us.”

So does Shorter, which won’t have the luxury of watching game tape to prepare for the Panthers.

“It’s difficult because there’s a huge unknown,” Shorter assistant head coach Tim Mathis said. “We do have one game before to work some kinks out when they might not have the chance.”

Although he doesn’t know what type of football team Georgia State will have, Mathis knows one area the Panthers have a distinct advantage.

“Even being a first-year school, they have more scholarships than we have,” Mathis said.

Two of those scholarships went to Davis and Jones, a pair of athletes who played high school football in Georgia and are looking forward to playing on the same field as the Atlanta Falcons.

“Two of the biggest reasons I came here was because my family is able to come and watch and playing in the Dome,” said Davis, a redshirt freshman who lost the Class AAA semifinals at the Georgia Dome while playing at Chamblee High. “To play (at the Dome) is going to be a big thing; it’s great for the city.”

Jones agrees, and hopes that his next time playing on the Georgia Dome turf won’t be like the last, when his Southwest DeKalb team lost to Stephenson.

“There wasn’t too many people there the last time I was there,” Jones said. “I’m not sure what a college game will be like, but since it’s our first game there, the Dome might be packed and I’m excited to feel that rush from all the fans.”

And according to Curry, who admitted that he didn’t know how well a “commuter school” would accept a football team, that fan base is going to do nothing but grow.

“If we had not had the infusion of students in dorms, this wouldn’t have worked,” Curry said. “And these students are a genesis because they are jacked up about this team.

“The more students on campus leads to more fans,” he added. “And the ones not on campus, the thousands of alumni, have been ready for this season for a long time”
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