Academic and housing buildings were damaged on campus. Off-campus apartment complexes were destroyed. Families were left homeless. Everyone wanted to go back to when things were normal; when there were things that brought smiles to everyone’s face.
As days flew by and calendars turned after every month, there was nothing but ongoing turmoil between the university and city officials. Frustration was beginning to boil over, but luckily football season was quickly approaching.
The countdown towards this moment, the first home football game since the tornado, began at six (weeks) when the Gamecocks opened preseason practice the last full week of July.
Over the next month, Jacksonville State head coach John Grass was asked about the situation nearly as many times as who would be the Gamecocks’ starting quarterback against North Carolina A&T in the Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff.
[credit] Matt Reynolds/JSU Athletics[/credit]
“It’s just going to be fun to get out there,” Grass said. “And knowing that everybody is going to just be able to have fun and tailgate before the game … the (Marching) Southerners will be playing … Cocky and the cheerleaders will be there … and just our fans in general will be able to enjoy a Saturday football game. I think it’ll be a sense of normalcy back.
The normalcy, even though there’s still a long way to go to fully recovery, is something many people in the city of Jacksonville desperately need and sports, for a long time, has been a way to get people’s minds off of reality.
Insert Burgess-Snow Field at JSU Stadium.
Since expanding to the current 24,000-seat capacity in 2010, each of the last eight seasons has ranked among the top eight in Jacksonville State history in terms of attendance. From a school- and Ohio Valley Conference-record 164,781 fans during the 2015 season to the 80,032 in the five-home game schedule of the 2012 season, thousands have called Jacksonville State home throughout a football season. And it doesn't go unnoticed.
“Every time we take the field, we do it for our fans and those who lost everything,” said OVC preseason defensive player of the year Marlon Bridges. “The crowd and how much they are into the game really makes games at home special. They fuss at the referees and we don’t have to say anything, because they’re doing it all. It’s just very exciting to play at home, because it gives us a great advantage against any team. They give us so much energy.
The raw emotion leftover from March 19 will help fuel an emotional post-game performance by the Marching Southerners as they performance “bookends” of their 2018 production, “When I Think of Home,” which will feature iconic voices and historical moments from Jacksonville State’s history. Among those voices is current JSU radio announcer Mike Parris as his call from the Gamecocks’ 49-48 double-overtime win at Ole Miss from the 2010 season is mixed into the show.
Everything from the pregame tailgating to the football game to the Marching Southerners’ performance should, if nothing else, help those effected by the March 19 tornado to give their minds a break from the ongoing stress. It’ll give those student-athletes and band members who were out among the community helping the recovery process an opportunity to feel appreciated.
Matt Reynolds/JSU Athletics[/credit]
“And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for.”