Curry is the es­sen­tial in­gre­di­ent

The Covington News - - Front page -

Ge­or­gia State Uni­ver­sity seems to have ev­ery­thing go­ing for it: the sec­ond­largest en­roll­ment of any state col­lege, a cam­pus that is re­vi­tal­iz­ing down­town At­lanta with all the new build­ings go­ing up, and a ster­ling rep­u­ta­tion as one of the Uni­ver­sity Sys­tem’s four re­search in­sti­tu­tions (a sta­tus it shares with UGA, Ge­or­gia Tech and the Med­i­cal Col­lege of Ge­or­gia).

Even with all the aca­demic ac­claim, one thing Ge­or­gia State never had was that sta­ple of south­ern col­lege life: a foot­ball team.

Foot­ball is not ev­ery­body’s cup of tea, of course, and the sport is of­ten crit­i­cized for em­pha­siz­ing big-money val­ues over the aca­demic achieve­ments ex­pected of un­der­grad­u­ates. Even so, the ex­cite­ment of “foot­ball Satur­day” adds a rich­ness to the col­lege ex­pe­ri­ence for many stu­dents and pro­vides a sen­ti­men­tal bond that strength­ens the sup­port of a school’s alumni.

That is the case at Ge­or­gia State, where the de­ci­sion was made two years ago to be­gin a foot­ball pro­gram in the hope it would pro­vide that miss­ing in­gre­di­ent for stu­dents and alumni. The Pan­thers will soon join the ranks of long-es­tab­lished pro- grams at UGA and Tech, as well as foot­ball teams at smaller schools like Ge­or­gia South­ern and Val­dosta State.

The man at the cen­ter of this big ad­ven­ture is head coach Bill Curry, who is build­ing a foot­ball pro­gram from ground zero at a school long known as a “com­muter col­lege” for non-tra­di­tional stu­dents.

Curry has the cre­den­tials that seem ideal for this im­por­tant po­si­tion: an All-Amer­i­can cen­ter at Ge­or­gia Tech, a 10-year vet­eran of the NFL who played for such coaches as Vince Lom­bardi and Don Shula, and a for­mer coach at Tech, Alabama and Ken­tucky.

He hadn’t coached since 1996 when he was of­fered the job at Ge­or­gia State last year, but Curry al­most im­me­di­ately ac­cepted the chance to get back into the life he loved. He will be one month away from his 68th birth­day when Ge­or­gia State kicks off its first of­fi­cial sea­son in Septem­ber 2010, but Curry says he’d much rather do this than slide into re­tire­ment.

“What mat­ters is what’s in your heart,” he said. “In my heart of hearts there was some­thing that lin­gered, a long­ing for a hud­dle — a group of young men that I would have the priv­i­lege of men­tor­ing, us­ing the cam­pus, the class­room and the hud­dle. Those are my things that I love.”

A foot­ball pro­gram, Curry agrees, is an im­por­tant part of Ge­or­gia State’s tran­si­tion from a con­crete cam­pus serv­ing part-time stu­dents to a more tra­di­tional col­lege en­vi­ron­ment.

Where applications from prospec­tive fresh­man stu­dents in­creased by 6 per­cent at Ge­or­gia Tech this year and 8 per­cent at the Uni­ver­sity of Ge­or­gia, they were up 21 per­cent at Ge­or­gia State, he said.

“I don’t have the il­lu­sion foot­ball’s the only rea­son, but part of the rea­son is that kids want to go live on a cam­pus that has a foot­ball team,” Curry said. “In the South, you want to go to your team’s foot­ball games on Satur­day. So in­stead of hav­ing zero stu­dents liv­ing on cam­pus, now we have over 3,000 and it’ll soon be 5,000 and it’s just go­ing to keep right on sky­rock­et­ing.”

Curry and his as­sis­tant coaches are run­ning that ini­tial group of play­ers — a mix­ture of schol­ar­ship ath­letes, trans­fers and walk-ons — through their first months of prac­tice at such venues as a Boys & Girls Club field near the GSU cam­pus. The sched­ule next year will range from smaller schools like Shorter and Sa­van­nah State to a sea­son-end­ing block­buster against the Alabama Crim­son Tide.

Curry has of­ten been asked why he would send a first-year team out to get clob­bered by a na­tional cham­pi­onship con­tender like Alabama. The game will bring badly needed money (about $400,000) and me­dia ex­po­sure to the new pro­gram, he con­tends.

When the game is over, Curry said he will tell his play­ers: “Now men, we learned a lot to­day. The next time we play a great foot­ball team, we’re go­ing to do bet­ter. And the time af­ter that we’re go­ing to do bet­ter than that, and we’re go­ing to keep on play­ing great foot­ball teams un­til we can com­pete with them, and one day we’ll be­gin to beat them.”

It’s a hard way to start a col­lege foot­ball pro­gram, but Curry is ea­ger to take on that chal­lenge.

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