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Hatcher drives bus literally to win
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     Erk Russell, the father of Georgia Southern football as Statesboro knows it, may have passed away, but first-year coach Chris Hatcher and the 2007 Georgia Southern Eagles have made sure that his legacy and all of the tradition that he brought to the field and to the campus at GSU will live on forever.
    Since Hatcher’s arrival, he has made it clear that the Eagles were in Statesboro before him and that he wants to honor all of the traditions established by Russell. At his inaugural press conference, Hatcher made it very clear that things like Beautiful Eagle Creek — the endless reservoir of magic water that added a touch of home for the GSC teams of old on the road in the playoffs — would still be used to help the Eagles to victory, the old, beaten-up yellow school busses that carried the home team to Paulson Stadium since the start of the program would still be ridden and the plain-yet-distinctive uniforms – grey facemasks and all – would still be worn by the Eagles.
    The return of all of these traditions came as no surprise to Eagle fans, but at Saturday’s season opener against the Wolves of West Georgia, it started to become clear that Hatcher was going to add a few things of his own.
    As the car horns started sounding and those yellow busses arrived, nobody was surprised. That is, not until the busses started getting closer. All of a sudden, the large group of fans that gathered around awaiting the arrival of its Eagles noticed something a little bit different. Hatcher was behind the wheel of the lead bus.
    “It was the first time I’d ever driven a bus before,” said Hatcher. “It takes some wide turns. I told (defensive coordinator Ashley) Anders — he was driving the back bus — I said, ‘don’t get close to me.’ And I told the policemen to make sure they clear two lanes the entire way.”
    It may have been Hatcher’s first time behind the wheel of a bus, but the players weren’t worried.
    “We didn’t know if coach Hatcher had his license to get behind the wheel,” said Eagle quarterback Jayson Foster, who had a breakout game under center in the opener, “but it was a nice smooth ride.”
    Just like in the early days, GSU football players sang the ‘Valley Song’ — a mystery to non-players — and for this coaching staff, it was the first time hearing it.
    “I promise you,” Hatcher said, “the coaches who have never (heard the Vally song) including myself — there probably wasn’t a dry eye on the bus.     
    The old-school Eagle teams, in a tradition that was abandoned from time to time, depending on the coach, also hit the field without names on the backs of their jerseys, because — according to Russell — without the names on the back of the uniforms, folks would have to buy a program.
    That is one tradition that Hatcher has always had in common with GSU.
    “Some of the old players came to me when I first got here,” said Hatcher, “and they said, ‘You know, we’ve never had names our jerseys. That would be one tradition we’d like to bring back.’ Little did they know I had already planned on not doing it. … I believe if you’re a good player, they’ll know what your number is.”
    The 2007 squad also started a new tradition before the opening kickoff of the season. In a pre-game ceremony, a bust of the legendary Russell was unveiled on the way from the locker room to the field.
    Notre Dame has its ‘Play Like a champion Today’ sign for the players to touch before games, Maryland has the Terrapin that it rubs for luck before home contests, and now the Georgia Southern Eagles have the bald head of Erk to rub, or, if the mood hits them, head butt.
    In homage to the legendary coach, several players butted heads with the statue. That bald head came into contact with a lot of heads over the years, and even today, it appears that it is still used to motivate the Eagles.
    The Eagles may be true to the time-tested traditions of the past, but for Hatcher and his 2007 staff, it truly is a new era at GSU.

    Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9404.