The academic year is drawing near a close, and though there is still a good chunk of baseball left, and the Sun Belt Basketball Tournament still in progress at the time of writing, there have been a lot of things I have observed and learned over the past year of watching and writing about Georgia Southern Athletics that I feel are worth passing on to you all. I write this knowing that many of you probably share some of the similar thoughts as you read this.
Winning starts long before kickoff
A few months back I wrote an article about how the culture change around Georgia Southern Football was brewing and bound to pay dividends. And though I was correct, I could not have imagined just how big of an explosion it was. On November 5, 2017 in this very column I talked all about how a half-full parking lot and an even less filled Paulson Stadium was the worst thing I had ever seen.
Flash forward 365 days, and Georgia Southern was sitting at 7-1 and riding high. But to get to that point, Coach Lunsford and staff put in the work long beforehand. Meetings with the Southern Pride Marching Band, the fraternities and sororities, and the student body in general all helped turn the tide back in the positive direction. It was the many camps before classes started where the players bought into the culture of Georgia Southern, being a Blue Collar team, and the Brotherhood that helped get Georgia Southern to that 7-1 mark, and eventually a 10-3 record with a Camellia Bowl Championship.
Sure, Jon Gordon’s book “You Win In The Locker Room First” is a great book. But for the stretch of 5 months from July to December, Georgia Southern Football was a walking, living, personification of that.
The world is out there
Before the football season started, I wrote another article as both a tribute to Anthony Bourdain and a preview of the awesome places Georgia Southern was set to travel to. I was lucky enough to make three regular season trips and one trip to the bowl game.
I ran from the hurricane and took refuge in Clemson, spent the first half of Thanksgiving Break in Conway, and finished the regular season in Turner Field in Atlanta. All of these trips were unique in their own way, but one thing they all had in common was that they all included interactions with hundreds of fellow Eagle fans all seeing a part of the world different from Statesboro. Some of the best tailgates all year were away from Paulson, where groups came together as one big family to throw a jam-up tailgate.
I truly think I can speak for the rest of Eagle Nation who has traveled to an away game and experienced the local experiences, such as Crocodile Rocks in Myrtle Beach, Study Hall in Clemson, and the Stagecoach in Buckhead, an away trip is well worth the travel.
Some things are worth the wait
It had been a long two years for Georgia Southern Football. We all had been longing to travel back to a postseason game ever since getting our first taste of the excitement in the GoDaddy Bowl. We all endured the trials and tribulations of 2016 and 2017, just hoping to get out of that funk in 2018. I myself would simply have been content with a 7-5 record before the season started, just to get back to a bowl game.
Obviously we exceeded that mark, and found ourselves with a date with Eastern Michigan in the Camellia Bowl. When it hit midnight in Montgomery, the Eagles had a Bowl Trophy heading back to Statesboro, and boy was it emotional. Grown men were crying (myself included), people making confetti angels on the field, people taking in pictures, and all just soaking in the moment. After everything the program had been through, this one game seemed to cap off the historic chapter in Georgia Southern history.
Now, I don’t want to ever wait 3 years again until our next bowl game, but I can promise you that I will never take the experience of a bowl week for granted again.
Blood and Muscle are sometimes better than Brick and Mortar
When you look at Hanner Fieldhouse compared to the rest of the Sun Belt Conference, you will find it at the bottom of the list in terms of date opened, and third bottom in terms of capacity. That being said, I believe that I am not alone in saying that Hanner is one of the toughest places to play in. I watch most Sun Belt games on ESPN+, and I can say with confidence I have only maybe seen one or two conference games with a higher “true” attendance than Hanner Fieldhouse’s average.
Hanner gets loud, and it is an awesome noise to hear. When George Mason came to town, and the Eagles went on a 24-4 run to start the half and tie the game, I would not be surprised if it would have registered on the Seismic chart. The Eagles finished 10-4 at home, with all but 1 loss being close to the very end. When the crowd is in the game, it is tough for teams to leave Statesboro with a win.
Sure, a new arena would be nice, but the quaint, historic Hanner Fieldhouse can get quite rowdy.
Good things come from finishing what you start
Tookie Brown was introduced to us in the late part of 2015, and boy were we all in for a treat. Tookie was an integral player for the Eagles for four years, playing alongside Ike Smith, Jake Allsmiller, Mike Hughes, Montae Glenn, and many other solid Eagles.
Last year after the season, Tookie explored his options regarding the NBA Draft, leaving us all wondering if he would soar to the ranks of professional stature. After much consideration, Tookie declared he was coming back for his senior year wearing the Blue and White. His return did not disappoint, as he became the top man in the Sun Belt. After eclipsing the 2,000 point mark in his career, he continued to thrive, eventually becoming the Sun Belt Player of the Year. It was a much deserved award that came after a very exciting career at Georgia Southern.
Overall, I can usually find a lesson out of any situation. This year, I found several, including more than what I have passed on to you. My hope is that Georgia Southern Athletics continue to not only entertain me, but also teach me valuable lessons that will stay with me through the memories wherever Eagle Nation extends to and the players to pass through Statesboro, Georgia. Here’s to another full exciting year of Eagle Athletics. Hail Southern!