Sometimes lost amid the SEC shuffle of Georgia, Auburn and Alabama, the LaGrange College Panther football team is quietly one of the best kept secrets in the area.
"I came, found LaGrange, looked the campus—campus is beautiful, by the way—fell in love with, and now I'm here," said senior linebacker Andre Carter.
The Panthers are an 11-a-side anathema, a juxtaposition of old and new rarely seen in the world of sport. The oldest private institution in the state of Georgia, LaGrange did not begin fielding a football team until the 2006 season.
"We were a brand-new program with absolutely no football history behind it," said head coach Todd Mooney, the only coach the Panthers have ever known. "That makes a big difference when you're playing schools that have played 60, 70, 80, 90, 100 years of football. Everything we did was brand new, and every tradition that we have is brand new."
The school, administration and community have all embraced the team.
"For a program that only started playing football in 2006, we've had fantastic support all the way through the community and school and with our parents as well," Mooney said.
Some may look past the Panthers because they played in the NCAA's Division III, where there are no athletic scholarships, thinking the competition may be somehow inferior. Not so, says Carter.
"It's football," he said. "A lot of people get it misconstrued and say, ‘Aw, it's D-III football,' but it's all football. You have grown men out there who are passionate about the game, flying around, hitting people, making plays. I feel like where it's D-I, D-II, NAIA, it doesn't matter. I mean, it's football."
Football it is. But it's something off the field that makes LaGrange College stand out.
"I think what makes it special is the people," Mooney said. "Whether it be administrators, faculty, staff, students, this is a place that you can immediately call home the second you walk on campus."
The Panthers begin fall workouts Aug. 15, and open the season Sept. 7 at home against Birmingham Southern.