A plea for football at the University of North Georgia

  • A plea for football at the University of North Georgia
    A plea for football at the University of North Georgia

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but wouldn’t it be awesome to watch a college football game right here in Dahlonega?
(Yes, I know you’ve watched thousands of football games from your Dahlonega-based couch. I’m right there with you, but this is different.)
I’m talking about the Nighthawks of UNG.
During my time at UNG I attended enough sporting events to know that we have our own passionate fans that already devote themselves to the program.
Are you trying to tell me Daniel Burkett, known to most UNG folks simply as “The Captain,” wouldn’t be tailgating at 10 a.m. for some Nighthawks football?
Can you imagine our own Jim Stewart up in the booth calling out to a packed stadium of UNG alumni and students, Dahlonega residents and anyone else who simply love the great sport of football, to get loud for a third down play? Showing off our own traditions and coming with our own passion?
I had the pleasure recently of attending a football game at Kennesaw State University. And by having the pleasure, I mean I bought a ticket for $15 and hopped in my truck and went. You could have the same pleasure, with just the tiniest of initiative.
I showed up three hours before the game.
And while that sounds like the epitome of loneliness to most people, I truly had one of the best times of my life.
After a nice calm drive that took about an hour, I show up knowing very little about the Kennesaw State campus, football team or gameday experience. Had it not been for the GPS on my phone I wouldn’t even know where it is. So basically I knew nothing.
But a simple Google search led me to find out that a free tailgate started each home game three-hours before kickoff. And so there I was, also three hours before kickoff, just feet away from free hotdogs, potato salad and the other cookout staples. I don’t have to write what happened next.
Once I had achieved what my Nanny used to call a “happy plate,” and had done all there was to do at the free school sponsored tailgate, I still had about two hours before the game.
And then it hit me. What the heck do I do now for the next two hours?
Well, I’ll tell you what I did in a second, but spoiler alert, I had to rush to not miss kickoff. And was not bored for a second.
First there’s the “Owl Walk.” Yep, pretty much the same thing as the “Dawg Walk” at UGA. I’m becoming fairly certain that since every football team has to arrive at the stadium before they play, that the players probably walk in. But in that moment, when you’re standing mere feet from the players, marching band in full force alongside them, even the silliest of traditions seems so cool.
“Okay, so now what do I do for the next one hour and 55 minutes until the game starts?” I thought. That’s when I wandered down and met Julie McCoy. She’s just a regular person, but she loves her some Kennesaw State Football and wanted to tell me all about it. See, at the FBS level she’s a West Virginia fan, she lives with an Illinois fan and is neighbor to a Connecticut fan. So if she was going to experience a college football tailgate with her friends, they’d either have a lot of expensive traveling to do, or they could travel one mile from their neighborhood and check out the brand new Kennesaw State football team in its inaugural year. Four years later they’re season-ticket holders and have a tailgate at every home game.
 I told her of my mission to experience all the best a fan could experience on gameday in Kennesaw and she steered me in the right direction. She also offered me a jello shot. That’s called southern hospitality, I think.
Following her direction, I found more tailgates and more free food. I stumbled upon the family of Shaquil Terry, one of Kennesaw State’s most dynamic players, both on offense and special teams. More importantly, his family has a dynamically welcoming personality and an air fryer.
From there I was introduced to Tom, who runs the Hoot House, KSU’s alumni tailgate. Tom is just a regular guy too, but his passion for his alma mater is infectious. I left the Hoot House with a swelling pride for KSU and a swelling belly from Tom’s food.
As I walked back to the stadium, I ran into the heart of the KSU student section, who were busy painting on long-sleeve shirts for the cold afternoon. I learned that unlike spirit squads at bigger universities, these guys went into pocket for their own paint. Needing the cheapest option available, they turn to Home Depot’s paint section...the house paint section.
“It doesn’t come off, so we have to do it right the first time,” one of the guys told me.
It was at that moment I had to take a second to reflect on everything I’d seen. Just the overwhelming passion for a football program just four-years-old. The pride of being there since Day 1, and devoting themselves to something small in order to watch it grow. Heck, a lot of these people are like Julie, with no tie to the school except location.
I see how their community has embraced KSU football, and how Dahlonega embraces UNG.
I’m sure logistically it’s a headache or it would’ve already happened, but I see enough in common with schools like Kennesaw State and the University of West Georgia that have started football programs to believe that we can do this too at UNG.
And when it does happen, I’ll bring the hotdogs and house paint.