Much has changed for Georgia State’s seniors in the past five years.
They’ve gone from practicing on a mostly dirt field at a local middle school to a classy practice facility featuring natural grass and synthetic surfaces. They’ve gone from being a team with no classification and a year of practice with no games to one that on Friday will play its first game on the FBS level, college football’s highest, when they kick off against Samford at the Georgia Dome.
“Every player wants to play at the highest level,” redshirt senior Jordan Giles said. “It’s an unconventional route, but I’ll take it.”
Giles is one of 17 players who were on the sidelines for the inaugural game against Shorter on Sept. 2, 2010, a 41-7 victory for the Panthers. He caught three passes for 53 yards and a touchdown. Three years later, Giles has caught 35 passes for 515 yards and six touchdowns.
Parris Lee scored the first touchdown in that game on a 4-yard run on the Panthers’ first possession. Georgia State’s program isn’t the only thing that has grown. When Lee scored that touchdown, his dreadlocks were less than an inch long. Now, they are longer than a foot.
“I’m excited, I’m definitely excited,” he said about playing on the FBS level. “The competition is better and it actually will make our school better.”
Giles and Lee said that when they were being recruited, playing FBS football was mentioned as a possibility, but neither gave it much thought. Instead, they came to Georgia State because of Bill Curry, who led the program for the first three seasons before retiring.
Giles said one of his best memories was of Curry sitting in his parent’s home, talking to them about the new program and their son’s place in it.
Trent Miles replaced Curry and the players seem to like his approach to the FBS challenge. Lee said he likes the structure, pace and instruction during the practices. Snapper Scotty McQueen, who has played in every game except one, said he likes Miles’ practice schedule as well as the nutritional choices offered to the players. The team has restructured resources and literally gone from bagels to full breakfasts before the morning practices.
“I would never imagine being FBS,” he said. “I know playing Alabama that first year, when I was a freshman, was amazing. Now we are going to be playing top caliber schools every week. It’s a big jump but I think this team is more ready for it than our team four years ago.”
Of course, a lot has happened in between. After going 6-5 in that first season, the team slipped 3-8 when it played as an FCS independent in 2011 and then dropped to 1-10 last year as a member of the Colonial Athletic Association.
Some players who were there for that first game have moved on. Six players who started remain, including Giles, wide receiver Danny Williams, offensive tackle Grant King, linebacker Robert Ferguson, defensive back Brent McClendon and offensive lineman Harrison Clottey.
They were a few of the building blocks in what on Friday will be yet another moment in Georgia State’s short football history.
“It’s great that I can look back on it as starting from the bottom and now it’s really a complete program,” Giles said.
Twelve freshmen, including as many as four starters depending upon which offensive and defensive packages are used, were on Georgia State’s depth chart released Sunday.
Defensive end Shawayne Lawrence is the one true freshman who figures to start no matter the package.
“Shawayne is an outstanding young man who is physically well-ahead of most freshmen at any level,” Miles said. “He is a 415-pound bench presser. He is a smart, physical player who is tough, and he is a great young man.”
As for the situational starters, if Georgia State uses three wide receivers, Robert Davis could start. If they use a tight end, either Keith Rucker or Bill Teknipp could start. Mackendy Cheridor is competing with redshirt senior Allen McKay for a starting spot at outside linebacker.
Miles’ first weekly radio show of the season will broadcast at 4 p.m. Monday on 1340AM. Dave Cohen will host. It will air every Monday at the same time. It will re-air on at 6 a.m. most Saturdays on 680AM and 93.7FM. Fans can ask Miles questions on twitter from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday using the hashtag #AskCoachMiles.
Miles’ TV show can be seen every Thursday at 3:30 p.m. on CSS. The first show will air this week.