If it were only for just a couple of hours, football made a brief cameo in the middle of the state of Georgia on Tuesday. It was a reminder that football is still, and always will be, king in this state.
Media members flocked to Macon to stick microphones and cameras in the faces of college coaches from the smallest and most humble of schools to the biggest and the baddest.
Some coaches sat quietly at their table, hands folded, waiting for a nod or a smile or even a “hello” from a reporter, only to watch that reporter a bit shamefully pass by to speak to one of the big wigs in the room.
There was Mark Richt, our old friend Paul Johnson, Chris Hatcher, of course, and the new “kid” in town – Bill Curry.
The latter was hassled from start to finish, explaining to anyone who would listen the trials and tribulations that go with starting a Division I football program from scratch. Just steps down the hall, an homage to Erk Russell and Georgia Southern sat dormant in its display case on the second floor of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.
Curry invoked Russell, saying he played close attention to Russell’s efforts in the early 80s. Whether Curry emulates the success Erk’s Eagles had, winning three national titles in eight seasons with the blue-and-white, remains to be seen.
The Panthers will be the fifth Division I football team from Georgia in 2011 after an initial 2010 season. They’ll play at the Georgia Dome – not Statesboro High. They’ll play for a school with an enrollment of 28,000 – not less than half of that. They’ll play in the bustling metropolis of Atlanta – not the then sleepy town of Statesboro. They’ll be no gnats, no yellow school buses, no trips to Tacoma or Pocatello.
Heck, Curry has it made compared to ol’ Erk.
But the wise coach said he was up to the challenge and has used every bit of doubt by everyone in the region to fuel the engine for his new vehicle.
Behind Curry, literally across the room, sat Richt. And unlike other years at the Peach State Pigskin Preview, where the media attacked him like piglets at their mother’s teat, Richt was relatively unbothered on this day.
He even had a moment to comment on one of Statesboro’s own.
“DeAngelo’s doing very well,” he said of former Blue Devil Tyson. “He’ll be the only guy — right now — in our initial rotation in the interior defensive line who’s not a senior. DeAngelo’s earned the right to play and he’s doing nothing but getting bigger, stronger, faster — and wiser within the system. He’s definitely gonna make a big impact.”
That says a lot for Tyson, a true sophomore, who has not only worked himself into that position on the field, but off the field as well.
“He’s bustin’ his tail academically,” said Richt. “He’s behavin’ very well… he’s trying to do things the Georgia way – that’s all we can ask of him.”
As for Tyson’s former SHS teammates, Justin Houston was suspended for the first two games of the 2009 season for, “a violation of team rules” and John Knox has transferred to Georgia Military College.
“John’s an exceptional player, of course we knew about him coming out (of SHS),” said GMC coach Bert Williams. “It’s a situation where he kinda needed to get his feet back firmly under him academically and we were kinda able to help him do that.”
Knox will join Weldon Watts, another former Devil who’s recovering from a broken wrist.
“He’s a great kid – he was slowed down a little bit — broke his wrist during the season which required surgery,” explained Williams. “But he’s going into the season as one of our starters. He can run and he will strike you.”
Williams said Watts continues to be an influence off the field in the community as well.
“We have a specific class that is geared toward moral and character development — Weldon is a great fit for that,” he said. “You know he’s not out looking for Weldon, he’s looking to be a great teammate and be a great young man.”
And its comments like those that rekindle the excitement for another football season. To know one of Statesboro’s own is out there continuing to represent his hometown well. To know that a certain home for boys still has a hero to root for on Saturday’s. To know that a friendly coach is just right up the road with that ol’ option gameplan. To know that a football legend will always have a man named Erk in the back of his mind. And to know that the roars of Paulson Stadium are echoing in the distance has us all ready for another year of college football.