As practice came to a close Monday at Georgia State, the players gathered in the end zone and looked out at the coaches. A couple of guys took turns going in front of their teammates and getting them pumped up by running back and forth with raised arms asking the Panthers to get loud. After a few trips up and down the line, running back Kyler Neal waited at the end of the group to give a shove of encouragement to the players promoting the screams.
The team was loose.
“We play so much more relaxed now,” defensive end Shawanye Lawrence said. “It just feels like fun out here, and when we play it’s really starting to show. We play like we have nothing to lose.”
As the season comes to a close for GSU (3-8, 2-5 Sun Belt), the team has looked for ways to stay motivated and engaged to prevent a lackluster finish to a year that fell short of expectations.
After taking over as interim coach, Tim Lappano said the Panthers and the coaching staff were going through a three-week job interview. Yet players said since Lappano has taken over, there is less of a work-like environment with practice.
“There’s been a lot of energy out here, so it’s good to have (Lappano)” center Gabe Mobley said. “He’s a high-tempo and energy guy, and it just kinda radiates throughout. … It just makes to where it’s not as much work-based. So you come out here and have fun with it, and it works out better for everybody.”
For a team that lost its coach and has lost seven games by two possessions or less, it would be understandable if fun was not at an abundance. This group however has rallied behind its misfortunes and now looks to just create as many positives as it can from its situation, players said.
Saturday in Idaho (7-4, 5-2) will be the last chance this team has to find a positive in this disappointing season. Unlike the game against Georgia Southern (4-7, 3-4) where the Panthers got to strip the Eagles of their chance to become bowl eligible and take an upperhand in the rivalry, there is not as much on the line against the Vandals.
Since they lost their opportunity to qualify for a bowl game, GSU players have said their love for the game and their teammates will be their motivation as they wrap up the season. With one game left, the Panthers said they are embracing those loves to enjoy one last week together, and hopefully turn that joy into one last win together.
“These guys are having fun and they’re enjoying it,” Lappano said. “And it’s not an easy situation for them. It’s a difficult situation for everybody out there, and they’re handling this thing like pros and that’s what we asked them to do.”