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Copyright 2014 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Doug Roberson; Staff

They call themselves the Sixth Man Crew. Their home is along the baseline of men's basketball games at GSU Sports Arena.

They are players on Georgia State's football team who make life difficult for the Panthers' basketball opponents.

The core of the group is kicker Wil Lutz, fullback/linebacker Sean Jeppesen, tight end Joel Ruiz and wide receiver Tyler Nemec. They swap football jerseys for basketball jerseys when they arrive at the Sports Arena, the site of tonight's game against Texas State as the Panthers (17-7, 10-1) attempt to improve to 10-0 at home and bounce back from Saturday's loss at Troy.

"We're the first four off the bench," Lutz said. "Guys in the back, back us up."

That cadre includes Melvin King, Kyler Neal, Joe Peterson, Mark Ruskell, Jarrell Robinson, Matt Hubbard, Keith Rucker and recently enrolled quarterback Nick Arbuckle.

They are a few of the faces that pack into the baseline on Georgia State's side of the court.

"More and more show up every week," Lutz said.

The group serves two purposes: Not only do they support the basketball team, but they also bond.

It's something that football coach Trent Miles is glad to see after last season's team struggled to an 0-12 record.

"The chemistry is really getting to where we want it to be," he said.

It's a different vibe than the past. In previous seasons, pockets of football players would sit in various places in the Sports Arena. Now they clump together, along with members of the volleyball and softball teams.

"We're trying to get close as a team ourselves, so we try to get everybody out here," Lutz said.

Supporting the basketball team is one of the bonding experiences for the team. The football players also got together to watch the Super Bowl, unbeknownst to Miles. They sent Miles a text with a photo of themselves watching the game at the practice complex.

They are working out together. Miles said strength-and-conditioning coach Ben Pollard reported the players have "been a joy to work with."

But most people don't get to see those bonding sessions. You might hear them as you walk by the weightlifting complex because they really get into the drills.

But they can be seen at the basketball games.

And the players come prepared.

Ruiz said they look up bios of opposing players to come armed with as much information, including mother's names, as they need to needle Georgia State's foes.

Sometimes the barbs are slightly more obvious. They called a South Alabama player Frodo (the short hero from "The Lord of the Rings") because he wasn't the tallest man on the court.

Between Nick Bray, who leads the students on the sideline opposite the visitors' bench, and the athletes under the basket on Georgia State's end, it's becoming a cacophonous cauldron for opponents.

"We love the football players," Georgia State center Curtis Washington said. "We go through the season getting screamed at (on the road). It's amazing to come to our home court, and they are right by our bench and letting the other team have it.

"When we won that (Texas)-Arlington game and they stormed the court --- it lets you know you have a lot of support at the school."

Manny Atkins said the basketball team will repay the favor during the next football season.

"You can count on it," he said.


February 17, 2014




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