- Associated Press - Friday, August 20, 2010

ATLANTA (AP) - In his previous head coaching jobs, there were plenty of things for Bill Curry to worry about.

Who’s going to play quarterback? How does the defense look? Will these Alabama fans ever fully accept me?

There were other issues that never crossed his mind.

Do we have enough helmets and chin straps? What are we going to use for a locker room? Where are we going to practice?

But those are just the sort of things Curry has fretted over in what will certainly be the final coaching job of his career and arguably the most daunting one yet.

In less than two weeks, Curry will lead the Georgia State Panthers onto the field for their very first game, the culmination of a two-year journey that exposed the exhilarating highs and excruciating lows of starting a college football program from scratch.

“It’s been a real adventure and I’ve loved every minute of the challenge,” the 67-year-old Curry said, pausing briefly and adding with a wry grin, “Well, almost every minute.”

OK, so he didn’t really love it when he learned that his first semblance of a team _ recruits and walk-ons who spent a formative year doing nothing but practicing and scrimmaging against themselves _ didn’t actually have a field.

So Curry and one of his assistants, George Pugh, hopped in a car and started riding around Atlanta, looking for any patch of grass and goalposts within a 40-minute radius of Georgia State’s downtown campus.

“We found a bunch of them. Then we had to find out who ran them,” Curry recalled. “There was an awful lot of time and effort spent on those kind of things, and that’s just one example.”

It will all seem worth it on the night of Sept. 2, when the Panthers, an independent in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, play their first game against Shorter, an NAIA school. From humble beginnings, they’ll run onto a relatively grand stage _ the 70,000-seat Georgia Dome, home field of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, site of the Southeastern Conference championship game, venue for two Super Bowls and an Olympics.

“This is the reason why I came here,” said Mark Hogan, who was Georgia State’s very first player. “I didn’t come here to practice all year like we did last year, but that was part of it. That was preparation for this. It was well worth it. Now we’re here, and we’re about to play some real football.”

Georgia State is one of six institutions launching programs this year, a diverse group that runs the gamut from South Alabama, which plans to make a full transition to the top level of Division I in 2013, to Notre Dame, uh, College, a former women-only school in Ohio that will compete in NAIA.

Plenty of others are on the way. According to the National Football Foundation, another 11 schools plan to have football teams up and running by 2013, including one right up Interstate 85 that is of similar size and urban location to Georgia State _ the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

For their own roadmap, the Panthers may want to look toward the sunshine state.

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