STATESBORO—On the sidelines again at Paulson Stadium, Paul Johnson and Greg Hill heard the cheers of the Georgia Southern University faithful directed toward them Saturday afternoon. But they were sans headset and helmet.
Johnson, the former assistant and head coach at Georgia Southern, and Hill, Johnson’s star quarterback, were part of the GSU athletics Hall of Fame class of 2010, inducted this weekend.
“It’s a real honor and it’s always great to get back to Statesboro and fun to be here back in Paulson Stadium,” said Johnson, now the head football coach at Georgia Tech. “A lot of great memories here.”
Johnson and Hill had a hand in many of the great moments at Paulson. Johnson drew up the offense and called the plays for the first two national championships at Georgia Southern and returned a decade later as head coach. He led the Eagles to three national championship appearances and two more crowns.
Hill, the spindly and speedy quarterback, led two of Johnson’s title game teams.
“This is definitely a great honor,” Hill said of his inclusion into the hall of fame. “It’s humbling to be recognized as one of the best ever to play at Georgia Southern and to be part of the Hall of Fame 2010 class.”
Going in alongside his coach “makes it extra sweet,” said Hill, a coach at Statesboro High School. “What a winner, and he instilled that in us.”
Also part of the class were swimmer Stacey Scheible, all-time leading women’s soccer scorer Tara Chaisson, tennis player Britta Wilms, baseball star Jeff Shireman and Pat Douglas — the original “runt” on the late Erk Russell’s first team when football was restarted in 1982.
Douglas also coached with Johnson under Russell.
“It’s great to go in with Greg,” Johnson said, “and I had the chance to coach with Pat Douglas, so it makes it special.”
It was also the first game Johnson’s watched that he hasn’t had a hand in for quite some time.
“It’s really strange,” he said. “It’s the first game I’ve watched in a long time.”
Hill said his favorite memory of playing at Paulson came in a 41-38 victory over Furman in 1999.
“My number was called each time,” he said of the drive that ended in a game-winning field goal.
Johnson said he talks occasionally with current GSU coach Jeff Monken, who was on Johnson’s staffs at Southern, Navy and Georgia Tech.
“Jeff’s going to do a great job here,” Johnson said. “I know they’ve got a few deficiencies right now, but with recruiting, they’re going to be a lot better, I think. It’s going to take him some time to get his players in place and get things going.”
Georgia Tech was off Saturday, allowing Johnson to take part in the festivities. But the next challenge isn’t far off — the Yellow Jackets visit No. 22 Virginia Tech on Thursday.
“We’re going to have to play well,” Johnson said. “They’re probably the best team in our conference and it’s a tough place to play. But we’re excited to go up there and give it our best shot.”