ATHENS – Mercer University opens its football season Thursday in Macon against Jacksonville University. That has little to do with Georgia and its home opener against Appalachian State two days later, unless you are Bobby Lamb.
Then it is everything in the world.
Lamb is the coach of the Mercer football program, which is playing its first season as a full member of the Southern Conference. He also happens to be the father of Taylor Lamb.
Taylor Lamb is a fifth-year senior and the starting quarterback for Appalachian State. And the fact that Taylor will play against the Bulldogs in Sanford Stadium is a pretty big deal for his entire family. More on that later.
It’s no coincidence that Bobby Lamb happens to have a clear schedule Saturday and will be in Athens to watch his son lead the Mountaineers offense against No. 15-ranked Georgia. He has a say in Mercer’s schedule.
“Funny story on that,” said Bobby Lamb in a telephone interview from Macon this past Friday. “Last year we opened with a Thursday night game, too. Well, Tennessee and App State were scheduled to play that Saturday. But about a month or so out, the network moved it to Thursday night.”
That meant that Bobby Lamb couldn’t go to Knoxville to watch his son’s team play against the Volunteers in Neyland Stadium. The Mountaineers gave the Vols fits that night. Tennessee had to rally to tie the game and finally won in overtime, 20-13.
At the time, Mercer was in its own battle against The Citadel in Macon. In the end, Lamb’s Bears lost a heartbreaker, 24-23.
Coach Lamb was in the middle of his postgame radio show when the announcer said to him, “I know you had a tough game here tonight, but I figured you’d want to know, App State is up on Tennessee 13-6 in the fourth quarter.”
“I said, ‘Oh my God! I’ve got to go!’” Bobby Lamb said with a laugh. “And that was the end of my show right there. I just walked away.”
Fortunately for Coach Lamb and his family, there will be no such conflict this year. Georgia and App State are scheduled to kick off at 6:15 p.m. Saturday at Sanford Stadium, and Bobby Lamb will be there.
And so will his dad, and his mom, and his wife, and his daughter, and his brother, and his brother’s family, and their cousins and nephews and nieces. Suffice it to say, the entire football family that is the Lambs will be on hand for Saturday’s game. It’s one none of them would miss for the world.
“I’m scrambling for tickets right now,” said Lamb, a fourth-year starter for the Mountaineers at quarterback. “But I think they can probably pull some tickets from somewhere. It’ll be a family affair for sure.”
Yeah, the Lambs should be able to come up with some tickets. Their connections to UGA run deep. They run through Ray Lamb, who is known as “Papa” to Taylor and all the other grandchildren in the clan. Lamb worked for UGA for 19 years as the football program’s high school liaison. He served three head coaches during that span, starting with Ray Goff and continuing through Jim Donnan and finally Mark Richt.
“I’d go down there on the weekends and follow Papa around the offices,” Taylor Lamb said in a telephone interview from Boone, N.C. “We’d go to the Varsity every time I was there, me and my Papa and my cousins. Some of my favorite memories are of that place and running around at practice with Coach Richt and all of those guys.”
Despite all those connections and relationships at UGA, Taylor Lamb did not have the opportunity to play for the Bulldogs. He was never offered a scholarship to play at Georgia, nor was he invited to join the program as a walk-on.
Not that Taylor Lamb would have come as a walk-on. While he wasn’t a blue-chip recruit with multiple major-college offers, he had plenty of attractive opportunities to attend college on a full football ride. He ended up with offers from Memphis, South Alabama, Southern Miss and Chattanooga, among a few others.
Georgia’s snub is not something about which Taylor harbors any ill will.
“Coming out of high school, you kind of know where you stand,” said Taylor, whose teams at Calhoun (Ga.) High finished 29-1 with one state championship in his two years as starting quarterback. “That’s where I stood, kind of lower FBS. I knew all those coaches down there. Richt and (Mike) Bobo were there at the time, and they’re all family friends of ours. But God has a plan and he wanted me here at App. So it’s been good.”
Yeah, it has turned out all right. Taylor Lamb will leave as one of the most productive and successful quarterbacks ever for the Mountaineers.
He comes to Sanford Stadium having completed 60.6 percent of his passes for 7,026 yards and 63 touchdowns with 26 interceptions in his career. He also has been a productive runner, accounting for another 1,426 yards on the ground with 18 touchdowns. More importantly to App State, it has won 27 of its last 32 games with him under center.
“He understands exactly what we’re trying to do offensively and the scope of everything,” App State coach Scott Satterfield said. “He has a unique ability to relate to the players and the coaches, which is very unique because he’s been around us for so long and around coaching for so long.”
As an athlete, Satterfield said of Lamb: “Taylor doesn’t have the cannon arm, certainly not like Georgia’s quarterback. But he’s very accurate, throws on time and has deceptive speed. People will look at him and say he doesn’t run that great, but he’s been a 500-yard rusher every year that he’s played. So he keeps pressure on the defense with his legs, being able to run and get first downs.”
So it’s a poised and experienced Taylor Lamb who will enter the visitors locker room at Sanford Stadium with App State on Saturday. Despite all his ties to Georgia and Bulldogs football, he’s not likely to be overwhelmed by the moment.
He showed as much at Tennessee last season. Taylor completed 15 of 23 passes for 123 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He ran for 29 yards and another score.
“It was a great experience last year in Neyland, except for not getting the win,” Lamb said. “Up here at App, we go in to win every game. There are no moral victories. At those games, we come in with a little chip on our shoulder. … Playing in Neyland was cool, but at the same time, you’re playing 11 guys against 11 guys. It’s all about execution, executing our plays. They executed more plays than we did down the stretch and that’s what it came down to.”
No, all parties are expecting a cool and calm Taylor Lamb under center for the Mountaineers Saturday.
The same cannot be said for Bobby Lamb.
“I get way more nervous watching him play than I do watching my own team play,” said the coach, who attended every one of Taylor’s games in high school. “All I hope is he walks out of there standing up on Saturday.”
The same could be said for Dad.