Culture change is a big thing. It usually takes a complete buy-in from everyone involved, and usually it is a process that takes time to see results. If you want to see a live example of this, look no further than Allen E. Paulson Stadium. Coach Chad Lunsford is creating something special, and while some of us imagined this, others were (and still are) a bit skeptical.
The Eagles are off to a hot start, and it could not have come any quicker. The days of 2-10 seem far behind us, when in reality, Georgia Southern is only 10 months removed from picking up its first of two wins in last year’s campaign against South Alabama. Paulson Stadium attendance is down, and that was expected for the first two games, but after an all-around victory against South Carolina State, as well as a revenge-inspired trouncing of the Minutemen of UMass, it is time to start filling the Prettiest Little Stadium in America back to capacity.
The Eagles have embraced this new era, and it looks to be paying dividends. Plus, it helps that this era does include having fun, something unseen in the last regime of coaches. Some examples include the GATA turnover chain, the team anthem, “Swag Like Chad” by our own quarterback Kado Brown, and even the music played on third down (Hard in Da Paint by Waka Flocka Flame) that was voted on by the team. If you watch this team play, you may notice the new schemes may be working, but if you watch the sidelines, you can see a remarkably visible difference in the morale of the Georgia Southern camp.
In the national media, the Eagles are starting to regain momentum, as their national rankings have risen from the abyss of the 110+ up to the mid-60s and 70s. Ryan McGee has not even thought about considering Georgia Southern for the “Bottom 10,” his weekly column discussing the 10 worst teams in the NCAA. Coach Dabo Swinney spoke very highly of Georgia Southern’s rich tradition and history, and sparked some conversations on national television. In other words, the future of Georgia Southern looks bright once again, and the return to Sun Belt dominance is not far off.
Some of the little things I have noticed that are stemming from this huge era of change are things that aren’t necessarily things directly on the field of play. For example, each week at the Inside Georgia Southern Football Radio show, Lunsford has brought two players to be a part of the hour show at Eagle Creek Brewing Company, which allows us listeners to hear stories from the players’ viewpoints, rather than hearing an hour of coach speak. One week, we got to hear a full story on how Wesley Fields and Josh Moon had a run in with too much salt in their homemade chicken alfredo. That was just as interesting to hear about the players’ lives outside of football.
Another great thing Lunsford and his staff highlight is the Student-Athlete of the Week and Professor of the Week. Being a good student athlete is something every coach preaches, but this is the first time in a long time I have seen any coach actually visibly reward players for in any program. Each week there are two designated. I really am impressed with the second of those awards, as getting involved with the campus does not just involve networking with the students, but also all of the student-athletes’ instructors. This helps build a relationship between the program and the faculty, which will ultimately help the university and the program grow as a whole.
For example, this upcoming road trip to Texas State, the team will miss Wednesday through Friday for the game as well as travel time. If there is a disconnect between faculty and football, there will be a struggle for the players to return to class next week with potentially two missed classes. By building this network with the faculty, the instructors will become more willing to work with our student-athletes, and make their academic life better with an increasing amount of opportunity to succeed. Overall, these off the field changes and additions to the program and campus are helping foster a growing enthusiasm that will continue to grow and spill over to more campus and community involvement and investment. This added investment, in whatever form it comes in, will bolster this already rich tradition and culture that is Georgia Southern football, and lead to greater success in the future!
So what does this mean for you? If you are True Blue through and through, great! Keep it up, the Eagle Walks, the Paulson and PAC tailgates, the atmosphere inside the stadium are all more electric now than they have been in years. If you swore off the Eagles until a coaching change was made, the ball is in your court. Change has been made, and change is here. All the prior elements I just referenced, you can easily become an integral part of it all, and I can assure you, Lunsford and the Boys In Blue will be extremely grateful.
If you have never been True Blue before, whether you just became an Armstrong Eagle, an Eagle parent, or any other situation, our Eagle arms are spread wide open for you, so come be a part of the ever-growing Eagle Nation! Whether it’s in the form of showing up and filling Paulson, showing out and rocking your blue on True Blue Mondays or any other form of support for the “Greatest Team in America,” there is no better time to be an Eagle. But don’t wait, because Paulson is about to fill up, and the yellow school buses are about to take off!