When Lawrence Smith joined the newly-created Facebook group FCS Fans Nation in January 2017 and became an admin just days later, he had pretty reasonable expectations. The hope was to build up the page to have engaging conversations from FCS fans from all over the country.
Little did he know that joining the page would lead to three life-changing events: finding five of his best friends, being introduced to a woman he’ll eventually propose to, and moving across the country from Virginia to Washington.
“Looking back on it now, if you would’ve told me in January of 2017 where my life would be three years later, I would just say ‘no way,’” Smith said. “You can’t even fathom it.”
FCS Fans Nation has seen its members grow to more than 8,510. It’s a place where FCS fans interact and engage in mostly friendly banter and discussions.
For the admins, it’s turned into much more than a Facebook group.
Wyatt Cook (a JMU fan) created the group and was quickly joined by Smith (JMU fan), Kelsey Hatch-Brecek (EWU fan), Matthew Fraase (NDSU fan) and Kylor Neale (EWU fan) as admins for the group, responsible for monitoring conversations. Just recently, Chris Hammond, an Idaho fan and a consistent contributor to the group, took on admin roles as well.
The admins’ friendship evolved from Facebook group messages like “look out for so-and-so causing problems on a post” to sharing funny posts that they see online or talking FCS storylines. Over the next few months, it turned into all-day conversations of them talking about everyday stuff.
Smith, Fraase and Neale decided to start a podcast before the 2018 season, which led to more verbal conversations rather than just messaging.
“I think the podcast really solidified us as a group of friends as opposed to five individuals,” Smith said.
It wasn’t until October of 2018 when the members started to meet in person. Hatch-Brecek invited Smith to come to Cheney, Washington, for an EWU game. Smith decided “why not?” and made the trip from Virginia.
A few months later, EWU and NDSU met for the national championship in Frisco, Texas. Smith bought his tickets in the preseason with the confidence that JMU would be in the title game. Despite the Dukes falling short, he decided to make the trip. There, he met up with Hatch-Brecek again along with NDSU diehard Fraase and EWU diehard Neale, who happens to live in Houston.
That was when Hatch-Brecek introduced Smith to her friend Schaelyn Fell.
Smith and Fell hung out that weekend in Frisco. After they left, the two stayed in touch and chatted as friends off and on. The summer of 2019 was when they “started to pick up steam and were getting closer to a relationship.”
Smith took another trip to Cheney last October, this time for two weeks. He and Fell hung out every day, including driving to Missoula for the EWU-Montana game and then watching an EWU home game against Northern Arizona the next week. When it was time to go back to Virginia, Fell dropped Smith off at the airport. While standing at the TSA checkpoint, he asked her to be his girlfriend.
She said yes.
Smith went home to Virginia in a relationship, and that’s when the idea of moving to Washington became serious.
Later that season, NDSU and JMU faced off in Frisco for the national title. Once again, the admins (plus Hammond) and Fell planned to all meet up again and stay in an Airbnb together.
A couple of weeks before the game, Hatch-Brecek told Smith she had a job opportunity for him in Washington at a company she manages. Smith accepted, put in his two weeks notice at his job in Virginia and began packing.
Smith then flew to Frisco for the weekend’s title game and to hang out with the admins and Fell. She flew back to Virginia with him after the weekend concluded and two days later, they were in the car driving across the country.
Smith began his new job and is also now doing some graphic work for the EWU football team. When asked where his FCS rooting interest lies, he admits his closet is half purple and half red.
The whirlwind of changes in the last year culminated earlier this week when Smith asked Fell if she’ll marry him.
Once again, she said yes.
“There’s just something different about our group,” Smith said. “It’s a close-knit group with a niche interest. So the people that come to our page, it’s a meaningful discussion and that facilitates building genuine relationships even if you live 3,000 miles away. It’s been a community more-so than just a group. If it wasn’t for this group, I wouldn’t be living in Washington and I wouldn’t be engaged to this amazing girl. It’s just been incredible.”