0

Gwinnett grads effective at GSU's first spring game

ATLANTA — As a veteran of more than 50 years in football as a player, coach and television analyst, it takes a lot to make Bill Curry nervous around a gridiron.

Yet, the Georgia State coach admitted he felt that way during the Panthers first-ever spring scrimmage Saturday at the Georgia Dome.

"There was a lot of emotion," Curry said. "I had butterflies. I've been in a lot of big games, but none bigger than this one. And there will be none that feel bigger than (GSU's inaugural game against Shorter College on) Sept. 2.

"You'd think (the reaction) would be a sigh of relief (after the game). Instead, it's more sleepless nights because I saw all the bad things that happened. But I'm thrilled the atmosphere was so festive, but we've got to get some things together better in order to win. But it was a good day of hustle, flying around and trying to make plays."

As with most college spring scrimmages, the score — a 36-31 victory by the GSU offense over the defense — mattered little.

But with a larger than expected crowd, announced at 3,192, Saturday's scrimmage definitely had a different feel to it than most.

The players definitely noticed.

"The (turn)out of fans was amazing," said redshirt junior center and Buford grad Ben Jacoby said. "There was so much energy, it was refreshing. You could see we're ready for Sept. 2."

Curry and his staff might differ, but the new group of Panthers had its moments Saturday. Especially Jacoby and the six other former Gwinnett high school players on the roster — five of whom are listed as No. 1 on the current depth chart at their position, with the other two at No. 2.

Those Gwinnett influences were seen from the first opening kickoff in Georgia State history, made by Duluth grad Iain Vance.

Peachtree Ridge's Sidney Haynes then made the first reception in GSU history on a 5-yard toss from Kelton Hill on the first offensive snap.

Finally, Mill Creek grad Emmanuel Ogbuehi scored the first touchdown, pulling down a scrambling Hill's pass from 4 yards out.

Haynes, who was elected as team captain by his offensive teammates, had a particularly big day with three receptions during the regulation portion of the scrimmage for 87 yards.

He also provided the most excitement of the day, speeding down the left sideline and hauling in Hill's bomb for a 54-yard scoring play early in the fourth quarter, demonstrating he could be the Panthers' primary deep threat this fall.

It also evoked some fond memories for the former Peachtree Ridge star, who has found a home at GSU after two seasons at Central Florida and a semester at North Dakota State.

"The last time I scored a touchdown was in high school right here in the Dome (in the 2006 Class AAAAA state semifinals) against Warner Robins," Haynes said. "I'm more comfortable here in my hometown with this coaching staff.

"I've known (GSU assistant head) Coach (and former Meadowcreek coach George) Pugh since I was in high school. I really like being back in Atlanta again."

The rest of the Gwinnett contingent also made their presence felt Saturday.

Freshman Harrison Clottey of Grayson saw a lot of time alongside Jacoby on the first-team offensive line at tackle, while North Gwinnett grad Scott McQueen handled most of the long-snapping duties.

Dacula grad and Georgia Southern transfer Brad Chahoy saw a lot of action at inside linebacker, including a tackle for a loss.

Vance connected on all four of his extra points and was 1 of 2 on field goals — missing short from 42 yards and sneaking one over the crossbar from 43 yards.

And Ogbuehi also proved to be a reliable part of the Panther passing game, hauling in three passes for 33 yards and the score.

It's the latest step of a long journey for the former Mill Creek standout, who came out for the team as a walk-on two years ago and has worked his way up to No. 2 on the depth chart in an offense that utilizes tight ends in the passing game a lot.

"It really was a dream," Ogbuehi said of walk-on tryouts in 2009. "I remember saying to myself in my head, ‘I can play here.' And now, I'm out here doing it."