#TGW Fanning the Flames

Aug. 8, 2016

THE FLATS – Fan Day at Bobby Dodd Stadium has become an annual rite of the Georgia Tech football season.

It’s that unique first opportunity for the fans to meet and make face-to-face contact with the team and personally offer heartfelt wishes for the season ahead.

On Saturday, Georgia Tech football and its fan base celebrated Fan Day.

If anyone thought attendance might be down and the mood a little less upbeat than in years past following the disappointing 2015 season … well, they just don’t understand Georgia Tech fans.

“We’ve got the best fans in the world. We love them to death,” said senior center Freddie Burden in between shaking hands with a young fan and signing his poster. “It’s a great experience to have all the fans out here. This is what it’s about, giving back to the fans and looking forward to the upcoming season.”

“It’s awesome,” agreed junior defensive end KeShun Freeman. “I’m glad to be out here with the fans and just getting to see the community, getting to know who’s actually supporting us throughout the year,”

Everyone was in good spirits and filled with high hopes on Saturday, including head coach Paul Johnson, who expressed similar feelings while meeting the press a couple of hours earlier at his kickoff press conference in the Goldsmith Conference Room.

“It’s always exciting to come back in and get a fresh start,” said Johnson. “It’s like I told our players, there are very few things in life you can get a fresh start at every year and football is one of them. Everything is brand new. All-in-all, I’m excited about the group we’ve got, camp and looking forward to having a chance to play this year.”

Johnson felt the same about Fan Day. While his signing area, as usual, had one of the longest lines — stretching sideline-to-sideline in front of the South End Zone — he relished meeting every fan that came to the table, shaking hands and answering questions from adult fans and signing autographs, high-fiving and taking pictures with the kids.

“It’s fun. It’s fun with a lot of little kids. I think they have a big time, to watch them come out and see everybody,” he said. “It’s for appreciation for the fans. It’s something that we feel like we need to do and we enjoy it every year.”

Just as every season is different and holds the unexpected, so too does Fan Day. On Saturday, Johnson got to do something he doesn’t get to do every Fan Day and may be a first in his career — a difficult feat for someone who is in his 38th year as a coach, his 20th season as a head coach and his ninth on the Flats.

A couple expecting their first child came up to Johnson and asked him to make a video announcement. “It’s a boy!” Johnson said enthusiastically into the camera, breaking into a big smile.

Of course, not every conversation is as dynamic as that, but the fans’ genuine interest makes for fun chatter.

“They ask us about the season and just sort of check in with us and see how we’re doing during camp,” said Freeman, who didn’t miss a beat greeting fans, signing their posters and thanking them for their good luck wishes. “We’re doing great. We’re excited about the season. We’ve got a lot to work toward. We’re just excited.”

“I know they’re going to wish us the best season possible,” added Burden. “I just say, `Hey, we’re going to give you the best season possible.’ We’re excited for it and just can’t wait to get started.

The fans are as eager for “Toe Meets Leather, 2016.”

“I’m looking forward to a new season, especially after last season,” said John Huggins, Class of 2000, who is in his second year as a season-ticket holder and was attending his second Fan Day, with his young son, Alex. “He’s already a fan. He’s kind of been indoctrinated already. I don’t think he knows the players but since I like it, he likes it.”

Another proud papa in attendance was Adrian Marshall, redshirt freshman defensive back Dorian Walker’s dad.

“I’m out to show support for Georgia Tech. I love the team,” said, Marshall, who got his master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering from Tech in 2004, while waiting in line for the defensive linemen with Dorian’s mom, Kristan, brother, Amani, and sisters, Mariyah and Ariana (the family had already visited and took pictures at the DB’s area). “Ever since I went to grad school here, I’ve fallen in love with the team and I’ve been following them ever since. My son is now a member of the team, so we’re excited that the season is starting up.”

That start is still 27 days and nearly 4,000 miles away but the good will, enthusiasm and support shown by the fans is something the team appreciates and is something that will resonate throughout 2016.

“It’s very exciting,” said Freeman. “It shows us that when we’re in Ireland, we’ll have people watching at 7:30 a.m. I’m excited about the season and I’m glad these people are here to give support and smile.”

[View the story “Georgia Tech Fan Day” on Storify]

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