Celebrations were breaking out all around Statesboro on Saturday night and for good reason.
The Eagles’ bounceback season continued to gain steam as a dominating 48-13 victory over South Alabama put them at 4-1 on the season and kept them atop the Sun Belt Conference standings. Aside from the win on the field it was also homecoming, giving Eagles young and old alike an excuse to have just a bit more fun than usual.
But for all of the frat get togethers and house parties that carried on well into Sunday morning, one of the best places to appreciate the Georgia Southern win didn’t even require fans to leave the proximity of Paulson Stadium.
Following Saturday’s game — just as the case has been after the first three home games - a huge postgame tailgate was hosted by Eagle supporter Bubba Hunt near the soccer field. Plenty of RV’s remained in the main lot, with the glow of the late games on television hazed over by the smoke of grills preparing victory dinners, but Hunt’s party is an animal all of its own nature.
The food is professionally cooked. There’s plenty of variety and it’s impossible to walk away wanting more. Through Hunt’s generosity, the food is also served up free of charge to anyone wanting to swing by.
But the tailgate isn’t special because it’s big or free. It’s one-of-a-kind because of the guest list.
At a table underneath a tent by the main food spread, quarterbacks coach Juston Wood is picking apart some ribs and raving about how Shai Werts continues to grow as the leader of the Eagles’ offense.
Inside linebackers coach Travis Cunningham was guiding his wife and child through the buffet line while outside linebacker counterpart Jeremy Rowell was recounting Alvin Ward’s interception for a touchdown that had capped a big win less than an hour before.
And over by some golf carts, defensive line coach Vic Cabral was doling out chest bumps and hugs to anyone who wanted one.
Each week, the entire football coaching staff has cleared out the locker room and then headed to the tailgate to mingle with the fans and boosters that support them. In a sport that tends to obsess over salaries that put coaches on a different level of existence and 20-hour workdays that paint coaches as anti-social football robots, the postgame tailgate couldn’t be farther from those stereotypes.
A week ago, offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse likely went over his game-winning reverse play call a dozen times as fans listened in while head coach Chad Lunsford was high-fiving kids up well past their bedtime and discussing the creative process he goes through with the wrestling moves he’s prone to show off for the camera.
It’s as unique a tradition as any in college football and the perfect embodiment of the heart and soul of Georgia Southern Football.
The Eagles reached the top of the mountain once before with coaches who worked out of trailers and held public court over coffee each morning. Sure, there are more bells and whistles attached to the program nowadays - and that is necessary and for the better - but the only thing better than watching your team win on a Saturday is to share a victory toast of ribs and a sauce-filled smile right afterwards with the coaches that helped bring home the victory.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 486-4755.