Tech se­niors have one last chance to beat Bull­dogs

The Covington News - - SPORTS - By Charles Odum

AT­LANTA — Ge­or­gia Tech never needs ex­tra mo­ti­va­tion when play­ing Ge­or­gia, and yet this week there is more driv­ing the play­ers, es­pe­cially the se­niors, than the de­sire to claim state supremacy.

Ge­or­gia Tech se­niors have been re­ceiv­ing calls and text mes­sages from for­mer team­mates with a sim­ple re­quest: Please beat Ge­or­gia.

Some who have sent those mes­sages left Ge­or­gia Tech with­out a win over Ge­or­gia, which has six straight wins in the se­ries.

The streak makes some Ge­or­gia Tech play­ers feel like they will be rep­re­sent­ing past se­nior classes, as well as this year’s 7-4 team, when they face No. 6 Ge­or­gia on Satur­day.

The se­niors also may be play­ing to pro­tect the job se­cu­rity of their coach, Chan Gai­ley.

Throw in the emo­tions that go with play­ing their last home game at Bobby Dodd Sta­dium, and there should be no short­age of mo­ti­va­tion for the se­niors.

Se­nior line­backer Philip Wheeler said he has heard from two for­mer linebackers about the game. Wheeler said Ger­ris Wilkin­son, a se­nior cap­tain on the 2005 team who now plays for the New York Gi­ants, checked in this week.

“He was ask­ing me could we please beat Ge­or­gia this year,” Wheeler said. “I would like to do this not only for this team but for the last teams that didn’t.”

Wheeler said he also talked with Daryl Smith, a starter for the Jack­sonville Jaguars.

“He was say­ing the same thing, please beat Ge­or­gia,” Wheeler said.

“I can make the prom­ise that I’m go­ing to play my best. I’m go­ing to play my hard­est.”

Tech is ex­pected to start 13 se­niors, in­clud­ing kicker Travis Bell and punter Du­rant Brooks. Two se­niors, of­fen­sive guard Nate McManus and run­ning back Rashaun Grant, are out with in­juries.

Seven se­niors start on de­fense.

Wheeler said the high­light of his ca­reer was play­ing in the At­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship game last sea­son. Would beat­ing Ge­or­gia, and win­ning the state brag­ging rights, be a greater thrill than play­ing for the ACC ti­tle in last year’s loss to Wake For­est?

“I think it would,” Wheeler said. “Beat­ing Ge­or­gia, and it’s my se­nior year.

“It means a lot. I wish we could have done that for the se­niors last year. ... I don’t want to be like those guys. I want to win ev­ery game, ob­vi­ously, but this means a lot to beat Ge­or­gia for my last time.”

Not all the se­niors be­gan their ca­reers in At­lanta. Tail­back Tashard Choice, the ACC’s lead­ing rusher for the sec­ond straight year, trans­ferred from Oklahoma.

Brooks, a Ray Guy Award fi­nal­ist for the sec­ond straight year, spent two years at Ge­or­gia Mil­i­tary Col­lege.

“It’s been a very unique group,” said Gai­ley of the se­nior class. “The hard part is to see those guys com­ing to the end. That’s the hard part for a coach. Not only be­cause they are great play­ers, and it’s hard to see great play­ers leave, but be­cause you’ve been around them four and five years.

“Even Du­rant and Tashard, they have be­come one of us. That’s en­joy­able for a coach, to see that group come to­gether and the spe­cial bond that they have ac­quired through the years. It leaves a void in a lot of dif­fer­ent ways when you have a group like that leav­ing.”

And what of Gai­ley? Might he be fired if Tech loses Satur­day?

Gai­ley has dealt with ru­mors about his job sta­tus since Tech’s loss to Vir­ginia Tech on Nov. 1. He has four years, at $1 mil­lion per year, re­main­ing on his con­tact.

Ath­letic di­rec­tor Dan Radakovich said dur­ing the Vir­ginia Tech game that he may have to make a de­ci­sion about Gai­ley af­ter the sea­son.

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