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Fans meet the Eagles
082011 MEET THE EAGLES 01 web
Ally Keene, 6, center, gets autographs from Georgia Southern volleyball players Hannah Nelson, lower left, and Parker Small, lower right, while brother John Wesley, 3, gets a piggy back ride from dad John during Saturday's Meet the Eagles event at Paulson Stadium.

    Georgia Southern fans got their chance to interact with their favorite Eagles up close and personal Saturday afternoon as the fifth annual Meet the Eagles was held at Paulson Stadium.
    In the relatively short time that the event has existed, it has grown exponentially. In 2006, the entire event was small enough to be confined to the top floor of the Gene Bishop Field House and only the GSU football team was in attendance. Saturday, eight Eagle athletics teams were in attendance — including swimming and diving and track and field for the first time — and lined up around the football field while fans were able to pick up schedule posters, get autographs and talk to their favorite players.
    “There has been a tremendous growth in the popularity of Meet the Eagles,” said GSU director of athletic  marketing Matthew Taylor. “The first year, we had a few dozen people show up. Now, we’ve got hundreds coming from all around.”
    Even some spotty weather couldn’t dampen the mood as the field was filled despite thunderstorms causing a 30-minute delay on the event.
    “That was a pretty bad storm,” said Taylor. “It’s got to be a good sign that weather like that can come through and we still get this much support.”
    One Eagle fan who was ecstatic to be on the Paulson Stadium turf was Davis Grovenstein, 5, from Stilson. With his football poster in hand, Grovenstein couldn’t wait to meet Eagle quarterback Jaybo Shaw. When the imposing football players finally came into view, Grovenstein was a bit shy, but a high-five from Shaw brought him to life and he chatted up the rest of the team as he collected autographs.
    “I really like going to the games,” said Grovenstein, barely taking his eyes off of the players. “I like cheering for my favorite players and I think the Eagles can do good this year.”
    Tiny GSU fans had a blast running around on the freshly painted field, and a couple of Eagles higher up on the tree enjoyed themselves just as much.
    “I think it’s great for our team to be able to come out and feel appreciated,” said GSU football coach Jeff Monken. “It’s also great for our fans, who show us so much support, to be able to shake a kid’s hand and talk to him. I know it’s a treat for our guys to get to meet their fans who know them by name and root for them every week.”
    Georgia Southern president Dr. Brooks Keel was also in attendance, making his rounds with the teams and fans alike.
    “Fall is such a great time,” said Keel. “We’ve got sports starting up and students coming into town. I think it’s very important for our athletes to get to meet their fans. Not only can they show their appreciation, but I think that seeing the fans — especially the younger ones — lets them know how big of a role model they are.”
    Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.