NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - The Stephen F. Austin State University Lumberjacks are set to practice tonight in Portland, Oregon in preparation for Thursday's game in the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
A loyal Nacogdoches fan base made a difference at this morning's send off.
Although spring break kept cheerleaders and the marching band away from the SFA Lumberjacks send off, it didn't keep the dedicated Nacogdoches fans away.
Coach Brad Underwood has seen to it that players respect community fans, who always out number student fan base.
"Just love supporting our Jacks, and I think the adults just enjoy watching those kids out there and enjoy supporting them," said Shanna Magee, a Lumberjacks fan.
"I used to be a cheerleader here so it was like, 'Oh my gosh, this is so neat," said Margaret Palm, another SFA fan.
In appreciation, no matter how big the game, players take time to visit with fans of all ages.
"What's up buddy?" a player asked as he signed an autograph.
Special hugs are given to adopted mentors from First United Methodist Church.
It's an idea from the coach so players receive a community connection and lifetime friendships.
"They eat anything, I think," said Katherine Robertson, a mentor.
"All the support we can get, we're thankful for and we don't care, we don't care if they're coming from retirement home or if they're just newborns," said Jacob Parker, an SFA Lumberjack basketball player "We're happy to have everyone."
All the support makes a difference on the court, even if fans are thousands of miles away.
"There's going to be plenty of purple there in the crowd hopefully, but we'll know we have a lot here in Nacogdoches," said Thomas Walkup, another SFA Lumberjack.
The meaningful connection helps players on and off the court.
"Now we are going to go to the great northwest to see if we can have a little fun and represent not just SFA, but all of Nacogdoches and all the state of Texas. Thank you," Underwood said. "You guys are the best."
With that, the bus pulled away for a chartered jet in Shreveport. Fans cheered until the Lumberjacks were no longer in sight.
The Lumberjacks will face Utah in a South Regional game at 6:30 Thursday evening on TruTV. Check your local listings.
Not one player in the opposing team has been to an NCAA Championship. SFA players say that and fan support builds their confidence.