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Birth of Coastal Carolina football helped by gesture from Georgia Bulldogs
Before there was Tyler Thigpen, Mike Tolbert and Jerome Simpson, before the Big South Conference championships, the FCS playoff appearances and the growth of Chanticleer football, there was the Coastal Carolina Bulldogs.
More than a decade before CCU formally launched its football program, a club team represented Coastal on the field for two seasons in 1987-88 – unofficially, that is – and took support wherever it could be found.
And all these years later, Andy Lanier – the coach of that club team – recalls calling around to South Carolina and Clemson trying to find extra equipment, uniforms and whatever else he could for his small but dedicated roster of players.
The in-state schools didn’t have anything for him, but the Georgia Bulldogs did. The program’s equipment manager at the time told Lanier to get a truck and meet him in Athens, Ga.
“I went down there, and they loaded us [up],” Lanier said. “I got knee pads, shoulder pads, helmets, pants, practice jerseys, you name it. They just gave me a montage of all kind of stuff.”
So the Coastal Carolina Bulldogs were born.
As the CCU Chanticleers now head down to Athens to play Georgia for the first time in program history Saturday afternoon, Lanier will be on the Coastal sideline as an invited guest of coach David Bennett and a recognized contributor to the school’s football history.
“They started this thing, not us,” Bennett said of the short-lived club football squad. “They were here before us. … We want to honor them in any way we can.”
And what better opportunity than against the other Bulldogs.
Playing for pride
Speaking over the phone earlier this week, Lanier reflected fondly on the Coastal Carolina Bulldogs’ two seasons and the players who gave their time and effort to the cause.
“We were ahead of our time,” he said.
The next day, he shared with a visitor a scrapbook of clippings from local newspapers chronicling the team’s success – including a conference championship victory over Clemson’s club team during the debut 1987 season.
“I had 30-36 kids who played for the love of the game,” Lanier said. “They didn’t get nothing. They had to buy their own insurance, which I don’t know if it would have given them a Band-Aid.”
The club team was not recognized by the university at the time and therefore wasn’t allowed to play on campus, Lanier said. So they played wherever they could find a field – from Socastee High School to Georgetown to the Air Force Base.
In addition to Clemson, they played against club teams from Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State and Appalachian State among others, Lanier said.
And they practiced daily.
“We used to put money together to try to have enough to buy gas to go on the road. They had to love what they were doing,” Lanier said. “… Just to play, just to have the chance to compete one more time, it was just exciting to be around guys like that. There was so much talent.”
Those teams featured brothers Mark and Will Adkins, whose name is now attached to the on-campus field house they donated toward, and a few students who would go on to become high school football coaches, among other notable players.
“It was incredible,” said John Cassidy, who played on those club teams and now owns the local company Duplicates INK. “Everybody that played played out of passion.”
Lanier believed the club team was not sponsored by the university because the school administrators didn’t want money going to the team that could be going toward buildings on campus or other causes.
“For two years, I had to beg, borrow and steal as the old saying goes just to get enough stuff so we could play, but it was a great bunch of kids,” Lanier said. “Everybody that played on that team had to go to Coastal. Coastal … didn’t want anything to do with us, and they had nothing to do with us. They did not help us in any way, but they could not shake the fact that all of my players were Coastal students.”
Even if they dressed like Georgia Bulldogs.
During the Chants’ inaugural season as an official college football program in 2003, Bennett brought a bunch of players from those late-’80s club teams into the locker room to be introduced at a game.
“You think about it, those guys were a club football team – they were trying to get something started here, trying to get a football program started here,” Bennett said this week. “But you’ve got to have the backing of the board and have the financial backing and all that.”
The Coastal Carolina Bulldogs’ short existence ended after just those two seasons.
“[Hurricane] Hugo came in Sept. ’89 and it was all over,” Lanier said. “Everything on this beach was just totally devastated.”
Some of the squad’s opponents also discontinued their club teams because of liability concerns, Lanier said.
Still, all these years later, the memories remain fresh, and Lanier hopes to eventually give Coastal the trophy he has kept in his office from the conference championship victory over Clemson if the Chants want it.
“It was just a very positive thing,” he said of the experience.
Knowing Georgia was on the schedule this year, Bennett thought it would be a good opportunity to recognize Lanier, and as he was driving home from Big South media day in Charlotte, N.C., this July, he decided to put the plan in motion.
“That’s a tie between Georgia and Coastal that people ought to know about,” Bennett said.
Cassidy, a Chants season-ticket holder since their inaugural season, said the matchup has made him also think of that connection and what Coastal football has become over the years.
“That was cool to be [a part of] history there, be part of Coastal’s football past,” Cassidy said, reflecting back.
Lanier, meanwhile, is staying with the team this weekend and will be on the sideline with the Chants as they take on the Bulldogs. He spoke of his appreciation for that gesture.
“I’m a big Georgia fan,” Lanier said. “Come Saturday, I won’t be. I’ll be wearing teal.”
By Ryan Young, The Sun News