Despite temperatures reaching the low 90s Thursday afternoon, many students began to stake out their tailgating spots five hours before Mercer University’s first football game of the season.
Among the first fans to claim a spot near the university’s football stadium were members of the Mercer Maniacs, a student spirit group, who were eager for the matchup between the Mercer Bears and the Reinhardt University Eagles.
“I’m pumped,” freshman Triston Smith, from Dalton, said. “It’s all about getting pumped.”
It was about 2:30 p.m. when a group of three set up a grill and an orange tent in a grassy area near the new fountain installed this summer, several hundred yards from the stadium.
The fountain was surrounded by orange and black by 5:30 p.m. Greek organizations arrived with leather couches, Mercer’s Robotics Club flew a drone, shirtless Mercer Maniacs painted their bodies, and other students grilled hamburgers and hotdogs. There was live music on a stage near the fountain.
“We just did our 20 pushups ... before the game, before we paint up,” said junior Thomas Hannah, a Mercer Maniac. “We’re ready to go out there and kick some Eagles.”
Hannah said he thinks Mercer’s football team has gotten stronger since last year.
“There’s no what I call ‘player privilege’ yet, where if you’re a senior you’re going to play,” Hannah said. “It’s ‘this is our best team. You guys are going to play.’ ’’
Across the street in a pay-to-park lot, Craig Johnson and Tim Thomas sat under a white tent with a few store-bought finger foods. They were two of a handful of non-students tailgating near the stadium. A few other tents were scattered about the parking lots.
“Everybody’s at work, I think,” Johnson said about 5 p.m. “It’s not going to be much of a tailgate tonight because everybody gets off work, and by the time they get down here the game’s going to start. Maybe after the game, but we’ve got to work tomorrow, too.”
Johnson said he and Thomas were able to leave work early to set up a tent in the same place they tailgated last year. A fan of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide, Johnson said he thinks Thursday night games are good because they don’t interfere with Saturday football games.
“It’s very exciting,” Johnson said. “Reinhardt, last year, was the best game of the year here.”