ATLANTA -- With the season opener just four weeks away, the Georgia State football team opens preseason practice Friday. The first workout is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. at Georgia State Stadium as the Panthers begin preparation for their Aug. 31 season opener at Tennessee.

"This is always the time of year, as a football coach, when you sit back and smile," head coach Shawn Elliott said as he enters his third season at the helm. "It's about the competition, it's about playing for championships, it's about molding young men and pushing them to be the very, very best they can be.

"This is what we do, this is who we are."

As college football celebrates its 150th anniversary, the Georgia State program is entering its 10th season of play. After the opener at Tennessee (3:30 p.m. at Neyland Stadium on ESPNU), the Panthers' home opener is Saturday, Sept. 7 vs. Furman at 7 p.m. at Georgia State Stadium.

"I don't think any coach in the country is more excited in anticipation of hitting the field Aug. 2," Elliott said. "We're ready to go out there and transform what we had a year ago, which was youth and inexperience that gained a little knowledge, a lot of heart and learned the hard way from some tough situations. I'm excited to see just how we took that and developed during the off-season to move forward into our new season."

"We have some experience coming back - we are returning 18 of 22 starters," Elliott said. "And we're returning a great leader in our quarterback Dan Ellington, who can really elevate our football team from a play standpoint and from a leadership standpoint."

In his first year with the program, Ellington led the Panthers in passing and rushing as he gained 2,119 yards through the air and 625 yards on the ground while accounting for 17 touchdowns (12 passing, 5 rushing) to earn All-Sun Conference honors.

Along with Ellington, the offense returns a pair of All-Sun Belt offensive linemen in senior left tackle Hunter Atkinson at left tackle and junior Shamarious Gilmore at left guard.

The receiving corps graduated all-star Penny Hart, who finished his career as the fourth-leading receiver in Sun Belt history, but talent returns, including sophomore Cornelius McCoy (35 receptions, 495 yards, 1 TD), an honorable mention all-conference selection.

Top returnees on defense include senior defensive end Terry Thomas, an All-Sun Belt honoree as well as a CoSIDA Academic All-District selection, and senior linebacker Ed Curney, who led the team with 81 tackles, including 4.5 tackles for loss.

Senior Brandon Wright is one of the nation’s top punters after ranking third in the FBS in both gross and net punting last fall. His average of 48.2 yards per kick set a Sun Belt record and is the eighth-best figure in FBS history.

"When I look at this football team, I instantly know who are leaders are," Elliott said. "That's a real comforting feeling, that you don't have to try to grow and develop leadership each week.
I know those four, five, six guys who are there when things get tough, and they're ready to take control and make the difference in our season."

Season and single-game tickets for all six home games at Georgia State Stadium are on sale now. Call 404-413-4020 or visit GeorgiaStateSports.com/tix.