STATESBORO, Ga. --- There might have been subliminal messages flashing somewhere.
His father played and coached football at Georgia Southern. His mother graduated from Georgia Southern. His big sister Maggie graduated an Eagle, too.
John Douglas spent nearly a lifetime hearing Erk Russell stories and rooting for Georgia Southern.
"I had grown up a Georgia Southern fan and I always thought about playing there, but Auburn came along when I was a junior (at Aquinas) and kind of swept me off my feet so I went with that," Douglas said.
After a couple of years at Auburn, Douglas looked to transfer. But where?
Something, maybe everything, said Georgia Southern.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound junior defensive end is a few years older now with a new school and new position while pursuing an old passion.
He's a second generation Georgia Southern Eagle, a rarity for a football program beginning only its 29th year since restarting in 1982. John's father, Pat, was a walk-on at Georgia, but left the Bulldogs to play as a senior for Russell and the budding program at Georgia Southern.
Pat, now a co-manager and investment broker at Morgan Keegan & Company, Inc., in Augusta, worked as an assistant for Russell from 1983-85. During Pat's last season as a defensive backs coach, the Eagles won a Division I-AA national championship.
Pat remained good friends with Paul Johnson, then the Eagles offensive coordinator.
When Johnson took over as Georgia Southern's head coach in 1997, Pat came down to watch, bringing John along.
"(John) always dreamed of playing at Georgia Southern, but I kind of told him, maybe you're selling yourself short," Pat said. "The Auburn offer was attractive and exciting, but in the back of his mind he might have wanted to go to Georgia Southern."
Auburn recruited John Douglas as a fullback. Rivals.com ranked him a three-star performer and fifth among fullbacks nationally in 2006.
But his career at Auburn never quite blossomed. He was red-shirted in 2007, started the 2008 season opener against Louisiana-Monroe but was injured and played in just three games that year. The next year, Coach Gene Chizik replaced Tommy Tuberville and installed a spread offense, limiting the need for a fullback.
After the regular season, he was suspended for driving under the influence and did not play in Auburn's Outback Bowl game against Northwestern.
A new start
Douglas's search for a new start collided with Georgia Southern's hopes of rebuilding its football program. First-year coach Jeff Monken needed help on the defensive line, which was changing from a three-man front to a four-man front.
Douglas, who played defensive end at Aquinas, didn't mind the view from the other side of the line of scrimmage.
A few weeks into preseason practice, he was competing for starting defensive end.
"It took a few weeks to get used to it and it's still a work in progress," Douglas said. "You look at the game differently on defense. At fullback, you're attacking people, but defense is a lot more reacting, more playing on your toes."
Douglas' speed and physicality have been assets to the Eagles' attacking defense. While starting all three games this season, he has nine total tackles, including a seven-yard tackle for loss against Coastal Carolina last Saturday.
Pat Douglas remembers walking back to the hotel room with Johnson on a bitterly cold night in Cedar Falls, Iowa before a 1985 playoff game against Northern Iowa.
Snow was on the ground and the two assistant coaches discovered a six-pack of beer, sans one, in the bushes.
"What are we going to do?" Douglas asked. They decided to drink the beer.
The next morning, they saw Russell, and Douglas asked how his evening went.
"Not so good," Russell said. "I put a six-pack out in the snow to keep it cold and some sorry rascal ran off with it."
Douglas and Johnson worked to hide their laughter, never confessing until months later.
As a Georgia Southern player (back when the school was Georgia Southern College), Douglas was part of the "Gnat Pack" and was the team's first captain. He will be inducted into the GSU Hall of Fame on Oct. 29.
"It's great (to see a father-son combination) in the football program," Monken said. "I'm sure we'll have more here as the years go on."