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Panthers will feature strong Gwinnett presence in 2012 opener

ATLANTA -- Since the inception of the Georgia State's football program, there has been a strong presence of former Gwinnett County high school players on the team's roster.

The same should be the case this season, the program's third, with no fewer than six former Gwinnett players expected to see significant playing time when the Panthers take the field at the Georgia Dome for their 2012 opener Thursday night against South Carolina State.

Of course, the highest-profile Gwinnett grad in the lineup will be Brookwood grad Ben McLane, who will make his first start after winning the starting quarterback job during this past spring practice and holding onto in preseason camp.

The last time the 6-foot-1, 210-pound redshirt sophomore took a snap on the Dome's FieldTurf surface came when he led the Broncos to the 2010 Class AAAAA state championship by completing 8 of 13 passes with an interception for 144 yards in a 52-38 win over Colquitt County.

While McLane knows the atmosphere will be dramatically different Thursday night and that he prefers to look ahead, he admits he has some special memories of that game, including a 21-yard touchdown pass to current GSU teammate Nathaniel Minor in the second quarter.

"We didn't throw the ball until the second quarter," McLane recalled during GSU's first weekly press conference Tuesday at the team's practice facility. "We were playing a ... spread offense where I could just go out there, turn around and hand (the ball) off and watch the offense go (down the field). That was real special. That and I had a touchdown pass."

"We liked the way he threw it, too," GSU coach Bill Curry quickly added.

McLane will be joined by two other Gwinnett grads in the starting offense, with Grayson's Harrison Clottey atop the Panthers' depth chart at right guard, while Mill Creek grad Emmanuel Ogbuehi is set to start at tight end.

Minor should also see plenty of action both as a second-team receiver in GSU's spread offense and as a holder on placekicks, the latter of which he will receive snaps from North Gwinnett grad Scott McQueen, in his third season as the Panthers' long snapper.

Norcross' John Kelly is the lone Gwinnett grad slated to start on defense at one of the defensive end positions.

More for McQueen and Minor

McQueen and Minor have been rewarded by Curry and the coaching staff with more than just their playing time during preseason camp.

McQueen, a 6-0, 245-pound redshirt junior who has been part of the GSU program since it first started practicing in 2009, has been named one of the team's captains for Thursday's opener, along with receiver Jordan Giles on offense and strong safety Demazio Skelton on defense, though he also received a slight needle from Curry in Tuesday's press conference.

"He's our special teams captain for a reason," Curry said. "I have a special place in my heart for the guys who were here in the mud and the glass and the yellow jackets (on the old practice field before the new facility was built). And I have a more special place in my heart for walk-on long snappers because we raised one of those (Bill Curry Jr., who played at Virginia).

"I would give anything to get him to cut his hair before he walks out for the coin toss, but I don't know if that's going to happen. If you want to see how Scotty really looks, you can see it in the original team picture (in 2010) when he had no hair. Now he's got a lot."

And with GSU in a transition season from FCS to FBS competition this year, McQueen and Minor were also two of 13 Panthers who had their scholarship statuses upgraded this summer as the program increased scholarship numbers.

Both entered GSU as walk-on players before being upgraded to half-scholarships last season, and both will now be on full scholarships this season.

"(They did) it by performing," Curry said. "The old-fashioned way."

Status still on hold

GSU is still awaiting word from the NCAA about the eligibility of three transfers that came to the Panthers during the summer -- defensive end Theo Agnew, who came from Massachusetts, noseguard Nermin Delic, from Kentucky, and quarterback Ronnie Bell, from Ohio University.

GSU's transition status from FCS to FBS has complicated the matter of whether any or all of the three would be eligible to play this season or would have to sit out the season, and an apparent backlog of cases has made the NCAA slow in coming forth with a ruling.

Curry said the delay has made things difficult in planning for not only Thursday night's game, but also for the rest of the season, particularly with Agnew, listed as a starter, and Delic, a second-team, both being counted on to contribute. Bell is currently third on the depth chart behind McLane and redshirt junior Kelton Hill.

"We had to file an appeal to have them restored to eligibility, and we have not heard back (from the NCAA)," Curry said. "It's been very difficult to plan. ... We're very hopeful on those things, but we don't know, and we've planned to play ... with or without those guys."

Benvenuto on the way back?

One Panther whose status became a little clearer Tuesday was placekicker Christian Benvenuto, who was suspended indefinitely following an off-campus incident in April.

Curry revealed Tuesday that the sophomore's suspension could end following Thursday's game if he meets certain conditions.

"If he keeps his nose clean his suspension is over after one game. Whether he gets his job back is another question," said Curry.

Benvenuto would still have to win his job back with sophomores David Miller and Matt Ehaz currently ahead of him on the depth chart.