Originally created 08/29/00

Eagles' matchup draws interest



STATESBORO, Ga. -- As the rest of Georgia Southern's team ran wind sprints to end Monday's football practice, Jason Neese couldn't help but notice the large crowd standing on the sidelines.

He hadn't seen crowds that size gather at a regular-season football practice since last year, when the Eagles were gearing up to play Youngstown State in the NCAA Division I-AA national championship game.

In addition to the fans that gathered, there were more television cameras and newspaper reporters than Neese had ever seen at a regular practice.

With the Eagles scheduled to play at Georgia at 6 p.m. Saturday, the media was waiting to drill the players with a list of questions.

"I was telling somebody earlier that if we were playing somebody else, it wouldn't be this crowded," Neese said. "I've never seen this many people. They (the media) are pumping it up pretty good, but this is just another game."

The coaches and the players insist the meeting between the in-state rivals is just another game. But Georgia Southern fans aren't acting like it.

Internet chat rooms have been full of both Georgia and Georgia Southern fans trash-talking and building up the contest.

Georgia Southern fans say they are tired of playing second fiddle to the state's oldest and largest university.

There didn't seem to be this much excitement for Georgia Southern fans in 1992, when the Eagles played at Georgia during the middle of the season. Then again, Georgia Southern wasn't coming off a national championship season either.

There is little doubt the Eagles would like to upend Georgia and prove they can play against Division I schools. However, Georgia Southern insists it has other things to worry about besides Georgia.

For example, the Eagles have a virtually brand new offensive line that returned just one starter and a new quarterback in J.R. Revere.

"Yeah, we have something to prove to them," said wide receiver Chris Johnson. "But every game we have something to prove anyway. We've got a bunch of new guys on offense. I feel like we've got a lot to prove to ourselves as far as stating our own identity in 2000."

Since Georgia Southern restarted its football program in 1982, it never has beaten a Division I opponent, although it came close last season when they dropped a 48-41 decision at Oregon State.

"Everywhere you go it's like `We gotta win, we gotta win,"' Neese said. "It's just like any other game. We're going to take every game serious. I guess everyone is so excited because it's the first game and it's against an in-state rival and we usually don't play anybody in the state."

Reach Tim Morse at (706) 823-3216.