In less than two weeks Bobby Lamb will walk out onto the field at Mercer University Stadium -- the brand-new home of the brand-new Mercer football program -- and experience one of the highlights of his long coaching career.
The Bears' season opener, against fellow startup Reinhardt University on Aug. 31, is already a sellout. That's a not-too-common occurrence in the Championship Subdivision and certainly a rarity in the nonscholarship Pioneer League, where Mercer is playing this season before it joins the Southern Conference next fall.
"We've got 8,000 aluminum seats, and there's not one to be had right now," he said in a recent phone interview from Macon, Ga. "Right now everybody's calling about tickets, and there are none."
Since being introduced as the Bears' coach in January 2011, Lamb hasn't coached a game. But that doesn't mean he hasn't been busy. Starting a football program is no simple task. From putting together a staff to recruiting to ordering practice equipment or uniforms or facemasks, to drumming up interest and support in and around Macon -- it's been a busy time.
And the first big reward from all that work will come as the Bears take the field for their first game. Lamb was a star quarterback at Furman and played for the FCS national championship in 1985. He was an assistant coach on Furman's 1988 national championship team and was an assistant on the 2001 team that played for the title.
On-the-field success is nothing new Lamb, but building a program from the ground up is a different challenge.
"This is just something different. This will probably be as gratifying a moment as I've had in my professional career because of the magnitude of what's happening at this university," he said. "They haven't had football since 1941 and now we're bringing it back, and bringing it back in a big way."
The Bears had more than 4,000 spectators at their spring game and as many as 10,000 -- depending on how many are allowed to sit on the berm behind one end zone -- could show up for Mercer's first football game in nearly 72 years. More than 5,000 season-ticket packages have been sold.
Mercer's last game, on Nov. 27, 1941, was against the then-named University of Chattanooga Moccasins. The Mocs and Bears will resume their rivalry (UTC leads the series 16-6-1) in 2014 when Mercer begins SoCon play.
While Lamb has been up to his neck in program building since taking the Mercer job, he's also had fall weekends free. His son Taylor was an all-state quarterback, playing for Lamb's brother Hal at Calhoun High School, and Lamb was there for every game during Taylor's final two seasons. On Friday mornings during the season the Lambs would go to breakfast together, and father and son would talk about that night's game.
"My X and O fix for the last two years has been Calhoun football and my son Taylor," he said. "Now my X and O fix is Mercer Bears and taking this program into the first season."
The Bears could use a player of Taylor's abilities at quarterback, but he's now a freshman at Appalachian State. Father won't coach against son, however, since this is the Mountaineers' final season in the SoCon. Lamb said the time he was able to spend with Taylor and the rest of the family was "the biggest thing I got out of these last two years."
He also got to experience something that's a staple of college football, though one coaches don't ever get to enjoy -- he went tailgating with his wife Allyson.
"My wife's a Clemson grad, and the first year I was out, we went to the Clemson-Florida State game," he said. "That was a huge step for me because I'd never been tailgating before."
On Aug. 31, thousands will tailgate before the Bears' opener. If they talk about Mercer's players as they sip cold beverages and munch on burgers, they'll be talking about a lot of freshmen.
On the Bears' roster listed on Mercer's website, it's far easier to count the number of players who aren't true or redshirt freshmen than those who are. That's because there are just eight of them -- all of them sophomores except for senior punter/kicker Josh Shutter, a Clemson transfer.
In their first and only season in the Pioneer League, Mercer was picked to finish 11th out of 12 teams. But this season isn't about wins and losses for the Bears.
"We're looking at it as a foundation year because we know that if we can build a solid foundation this year and we can move forward each and every year that we play, we can build something special here," Lamb said. "It's going to take a little time, but we have the resources to be successful here at Mercer."
Contact John Frierson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6268. Follow him at twitter.com/MocsBeat.
John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...