As fall semester gets underway at Mercer University, there seems to be a new buzz on campus.
Maybe its the new football stadium, where more than 10,000 people will venture in less than one week. Maybe its the marching band music that drifts across campus, as the first such band in decades prepares for the big game. Maybe its the spirit club, now called the Mercer Maniacs, spreading the word and stocking up on body paint. Or maybe its the university presidents long list of people still clamoring for tickets to the football season opener.
The upcoming football season -- the first for Mercer in 72 years -- has generated fervor across campus. As they await Saturdays kickoff, students and faculty say its a buzz that will have a long-term effect on the university in Macon. Mercers season opener is 6 p.m. against Reinhardt at home.
The program is a more than $20 million investment for Mercer.
It means a lot more in the long term than students are even realizing yet, said Melina Hettiaratchi, vice president of the Student Government Association. For our prospective students, it adds a new level for why they would want to come to Mercer.
In fact, this years freshman class is expected to be the biggest in the universitys history with more than 800 students, and football most likely played a role, President Bill Underwood said.
While the revitalization of the College Hill Corridor, enhanced academics and other factors contribute to the record number of freshmen, theres no doubt football is a part of it, he said.
In our culture, lots of talented young people think college football is a part of the complete college experience.
At Mercer, students are delving into that experience. The pep club recently garnered about $17,000 from the university to host spirit events, not just for football but for all sports, said junior Andrew Eck, director of membership and spirit for the Mercer Maniacs.
They are organizing pep rallies and tailgating events. They are encouraging students to get their game T-shirts signed by members of the Mercer Maniacs -- students need three signatures for an invitation into the spirit club. The Mercer Maniacs will be the ones in the front row, their entire bodies covered in paint.
A Mercer fight song from the 1940s was discovered in university archives and will be played at the games, Eck said.
When I came to Mercer, it was: Mercer University, prestigious academics, has a great basketball team, but no football team, Eck said. This is definitely going to put us on the map.
And with football comes tailgating. Several student and alumni groups are putting together tailgating events, including the Student Government Association. The SGA recently passed legislation that requires the student president to plan tailgating events for the entire campus, said Raymond Parcolan, SGA president.
Additionally, students are planning to send the football team onto the field with a bang.
With the football season comes a new tradition, the Bear Walk. The football team and band will march through campus to the football field, stopping at Cruz Plaza for a mini pep rally with tailgaters, Parcolan said.
Also, the library boasts a new set of chimes, which will sound when its time to move from tailgating parties to the field, he said.
Football means new customs not only for current students, but also for alumni. Both students and faculty say football will be an important tool to get more graduates involved and will hopefully result in more alumni giving.
It is producing a tremendous amount of excitement among our alumni, said Lake Lambert, dean of the College of Liberal Arts. Some are coming back to campus for the first time in many years.
It also has generated excitement among faculty. Mercer employees could register for free tickets, which were gone within 20 minutes, Lambert said.
The buzz is pretty strong, he said.
Theresa Rhodes, associate director for public services and collections, already has purchased season tickets. While the campus is alive with energy, there also is some anxiety, she said.
Theres a lot of uncertainty, she said. Nobody knows how the 31st is going to roll out until it gets here.
But students and faculty seem to be certain about one thing: The first game will be a popular one, and Mercer football will make a mark on the university.
On Wednesday, Underwood still had a long list of ticket requests.
Im excited at the prospect of seeing more than 10,000 people on campus, he said.
There isnt anything Ive seen here that has been more energized.
Telegraph sports writer Mike Lough contributed to this report. To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.