ATLANTA -- After more than two years of waiting, the red-letter day -- or perhaps more accurately, blue-letter day -- in the history of Georgia State athletics is just over 48 hours away.
Nobody knows that better than GSU head football coach Bill Curry, whose Panthers hit the field for the first varsity football game in school history Thursday night against Shorter College at the Georgia Dome.
And not even the 108 combined scholarship and walk-on players who will don the blue and white Georgia State uniform may be as eagerly looking forward to that first kickoff than Curry.
"We get to go play now," Curry said in the first of his weekly news conferences Monday. "Just as a statement of facts. Here are some facts. Two years ago, we had zero players. As of January of (2009), we had one player -- (running back) Mark Hogan Jr., who's so happy to be out of the spotlight. ... We added 71 more players on Aug. 11, 2009.
"We now have 105. We will cap out at 108 because we have 108 lockers. Simple math. ... Our job is to put together a cohesive, well-drilled unit to go play football on Thursday night. As coaches, we have spent every waking moment working to that, and so have the players. We believe by Thursday night, we'll be ready to present a cohesive, well-drilled, enthusiastic football team."
For the players who have waited as long as Curry and his coaching staff, their thoughts seem a little more simplistic and less philosophical.
"It's all a lot more real now," said redshirt junior and Buford grad Ben Jacoby, who is projected to start on the offensive line at center for the Panthers on Thursday. "We've finally gotten into the game week-type situation being able to prepare for an opponent.
"The finish line is in sight. Well, I shouldn't say finish line, but the first one of many. We get our chance to go out there and show what we're all about and represent Georgia State the way that we know we can."
The Panthers will get a chance to show what they can in a festive atmosphere that will include a crowd school officials are cautiously optimistic could exceed 20,000 in the lower bowl of the Georgia Dome.
But as Jacoby's statement points out, they are also well aware that they have actual football issues, plus a very real opponent, to deal with before Thursday's game.
The team's first depth chart was released Monday. It included Jacoby and five others -- receiver Sidney Haynes (Peachtree Ridge), tight end Emmanuel Ogbuehi (Mill Creek), right guard Harrison Clottey (Grayson), kicker Iain Vance (Duluth) and field goal long snapper Scott McQueen (North Gwinnett) -- who played their high school ball in Gwinnett County and are expected to be in the starting lineup.
The biggest surprises in that group may be Ogbuehi and Clottey, who both edged out more veteran players to get the starting nod.
"I don't care who starts," Curry said. "The best player will start at each position. If it's one of the junior college guys (or Division I transfers), that's fine. But what happens when you have competition for playing time is that people ... pick it up. All of our outside linebackers improved when Jake Muasau showed up. ... That's what we did not have a year ago."
Perhaps the most hotly contested battle for a starting job is at quarterback -- so much so that Curry declined to name a starter for Thursday's game, instead listing Alabama transfer Star Jackson and redshirt freshmen Kelton Hill, Drew Little and Bo Schlecter all as co-starters.
"When we run on the field, you'll see somebody that has a team number on. That will be the quarterback," Curry said. "Of course we know who the quarterback is going to be, but for us to announce it for our opponent is just not very smart."
And make no mistake, Curry is playing his cards close to the vest because he expects the best from Shorter on Thursday, certainly better than the Hawks (0-1) showed in their season-opening 37-7 loss to West Alabama last Saturday.
"They love to run the ball. They're very good at it," Curry said of Shorter, an NAIA team coached by former Winder-Barrow coach Phil Jones. "They ran into a buzzsaw in Demopolis, Ala. ... This is going to be a very different Shorter team than the one that showed up Saturday night. My job is to convince our team of that."