Zach Jones had no idea what to expect the first time he met Bill Curry.
The former FPD standout heard great things about the former Georgia Tech and Alabama head coach from FPD head coach Greg Moore, who was a student manager at Alabama during Curry’s tenure.
When he met with Curry for the first time, Jones knew that Curry was starting a football program at Georgia State, one of the largest four-year colleges in the nation that didn’t have a football program. He also knew that Curry had a standout NFL career, went on to coach in college and worked as a broadcaster for ESPN. But Jones didn’t know much about the man personally.
Within minutes of meeting Curry, Jones wanted to play for him.
“You just have to listen to him speak for a few seconds, and you are inspired,” Jones said. “I wanted to run through a wall for him that night.”
Nearly two years after that meeting, Jones will suit up for Georgia State on Thursday in the college’s first-ever football game. The Panthers host Shorter College at 7:30 p.m. at the Georgia Dome.
It has been a long road for Jones and the rest of the Panthers, who have been together for about a year-and-a-half and nearly 100 practices without playing a game.
“I know everybody is anxious to play a game,” Jones said. “The school, the coaches, the players, everybody is ready.”
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound wide receiver caught 80 passes for 1,085 yards and six touchdowns in his final two seasons at FPD. But Jones could only parlay that into interest from a few smaller schools.
Moore, however, placed a call to his mentor Curry, who landed the Georgia State job a few months earlier in June 2008.
“I’ll listen to anything Greg Moore has to say,” Curry said. “I have tremendous respect for him. I put a lot of trust in him when we were at Alabama. So he told me that he had a receiver that he thought could play for us. I met Zach not long after.”
Curry was thrown into the fire quickly, needing to put together a coaching staff to hit the road and start evaluating players. The staff only had eight months to put together its first recruiting class, while other college programs had a head start in terms of years scouting through camps and relationships built with schools.
Georgia State, however, had Curry and the lure of going to school in Atlanta and playing at the Georgia Dome. Jones accepted Curry’s invitation to join the team as a preferred walk-on over partial scholarship offers from other schools.
“It was because of (Curry),” Jones said. “He told me his vision of the program, and I was sold. I didn’t want to play for any other coach. I wanted to work hard for him.”
Knowing that he would have to work as hard or perhaps harder than the scholarship players, Jones moved forward trying to make an impression with the coaching staff.
“I knew how hard Zach worked, and I never doubted that he could impress the coaches,” Moore said. “I haven’t coached many players with his work ethic.”
Jones did impress the coaches with his hands and his potential to be a reliable possession receiver.
“I tell people that Zach reminds me of my former teammate (and NFL Hall of Famer) Raymond Berry,” Curry said. “He just catches everything. I think he’ll be able to help us out this year. He’s the guy you want in a new program. He works very hard and helps set an example for his teammates.”
Middle Georgians on the Georgia State roster
WR Bo Carter, 83, Fr. (Crisp County)
P Michael Donovan, 96, Jr. (John Hancock Academy)
LB Trey Ennis, 51, Jr. (Tattnall Square)
LB Akeen Felder, 37, Soph. (Perry)
K Max Garcia, 43, Soph. (Westside)
S Michael Hall, 47, Jr. (Dublin)
WR Zach Jones, 82, Fr. (FPD)
DE Demetreious Shorter, 99, Fr. (Crisp County)