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The Beginnings of a Program; My Experience at GSU

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A look back at the inaugural season of Georgia State Football.

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

I suppose I should begin by introducing myself. My name is Joseph Gilbert and I hail from beautiful Cartersville, Georgia.

Through a combination of hard work and good fortune I earned a football scholarship to Georgia Tech out of high school. After 3 years on the flats I had been a part of an ACC championship team and earned my Bachelor's Degree in Business Management. Another bit of good luck allowed me to transfer to Georgia State to attain my graduate degree while playing for the Panthers under legendary Coach Bill Curry. From there my story becomes far less interesting. After college I found a job in Atlanta, and continue to support my two alma maters.

Now that that's out of the way, I'll also mention I did not study journalism. I'm just a passionate fan who wants to help get the good word out about Georgia State football. Since there isn't an abundance of news to report on this time of year, and because it's my first article, I thought that I would share my experience at GSU.

My first memories of Georgia State football are from April of 2009. My roommate stumbled on to a video of one of State's first tryouts. At the time I didn't know about the years of hard work and alumni support that had made football at GSU a reality. But I did recognize the amazing opportunity those players were going to have as the first team in school history.

At Tech we were steeped in tradition from the moment we set foot on campus. The field we played on had been the home of Georgia Tech football for over 90 years, and the walls of the Athletic Association were adorned with the trophies, accomplishments and larger than life photos of past Tech greats, such as Coaches John Heisman and Bobby Dodd.

While I loved the history, I was always aware that my team mates and I were just the latest in a long line of athletes to play for Tech. We were simply adding new expansions on to an already great house. But these players at State were going to form the very bedrock of the program. They would lay the foundation upon which all future teams would build. Just thinking about it gave me chills. What an opportunity that would be.

I didn't think much about GSU again until almost a year later. By that time it was clear I would be able to graduate in summer and I wanted to make the most of the two years of eligibility I had left. For me that meant graduate school. Once again my attention was drawn to Downtown. I learned that State had hired John Bond to be their Offensive Coordinator. I knew him to be a gifted offensive mind and a fun coach to play for from my red shirt freshman year when he held the same position at Tech. That in combination with Coach Curry's impeccable reputation and a chance to attain a Master's Degree at the J. Mack Robinson College of Business sold me on State. I enrolled that fall.

GSU football started from humble beginnings that first camp. The new football locker room and field house was still under construction and would not be ready until spring. So in the mean time we made do. We met as a team in large auditoriums and held position meetings in small class rooms throughout Kell Hall and the General Classroom Building. We dressed in two tiny locker rooms beside the sports arena and took buses to and from the newly finished practice field on MLK.

What little down time there was, was usually spent just looking for a soft place to sit down and get off your feet for a while. It was an uncomfortable and occasionally downright unpleasant situation, but you'd never know it by talking with the team. From the highly touted transfers to the try out walk-ons, nobody complained. Everyone knew the first game in school history would kick off in just a few short weeks. So we just put on our pads and went to work.

As camp drew to a close and students began arriving for fall semester there was a palpable excitement on campus. The marketing department had been working overtime hanging banners, posting adds on everything from buses to billboards to raise awareness. By game week the energy had reached a fever pitch.  Football had finally arrived at Georgia State.

The atmosphere was nothing short of electric before kickoff. A crowd of over 30,000 had packed out the lower bowl of the Dome to see us take the field for the first time. And we put on a show. Our QB Drew Little captained the offense like skilled veteran, and posted a line of 13 for 17 with 2 TDs. It was also a good night for RB Paris Lee who made history rushing for State's first touchdown.

With a final score of 41-7 in State's favor the end of the game was a jubilant blur. I remember seeing AD Cheryl Levick jumping up and down in celebration with center Ben Jacoby. Next seeing Coach Curry spread eagle face down on the turf. I learned an over eager team mate had accidentally cold cocked him with the cooler trying to give him a Gatorade bath. To the relief of all, especially the linebacker who'd hit him, he popped up a few moments later no worse for wear. Eventually we left the field to the sound cheers echoing behind us.

From there the season had its ups and downs. We followed up the win over Shorter with a humbling loss to Lambuth. In the long run I think it benefited the team, it kept us grounded and lead to an inspiring performance the next week against Jacksonville State. The Gamecocks had just come off a historic win against SEC opponent Ole Miss the week before.

A close and hard fought game was ultimately decided by a questionable call in overtime. The referee ruled that Tight End Arthur "Bully" Williams had stepped out of bounds before securing what would have been a game tying touchdown pass. From where I was, and from the angle shown on the jumbotron it looked like a completed catch. But without the benefit of replay review I had to swallow my objections and accept that we just came up short on what could have been a defining victory.

In the weeks that followed we would go on a four game win streak turning the anger and frustration of the Jacksonville State game into motivation and results. Notable among them was a 55-21 blowout over Savanah State. During that time the offense found its identity as a unit. Little developed incredible timing, and our talent group of receivers took full advantage.

The streak was snapped by a hard loss to a talented Old Dominion team, and followed by another tough defeat to a very evenly matched South Alabama squad. This left us sitting at 5-4 with 2 games remaining in the season. With the season finale being against SEC juggernaut Alabama, it was obvious we would have to win our next game against Lamar to secure a winning season. After a low scoring slugfest State emerged with a 23-17 victory and the first winning season in school history.

Playing for State that year was one of the great privileges of my life, and I'll always be grateful for the opportunity. Though the seasons since then have not gone as well as I'd hoped, sometimes building something great takes longer than you'd like. The program is still building it's foundation and I can't wait to see what the 2015 team can add to it.

God bless and Go Panthers!