May 9, 2011
By Jon Cooper
One of the most unique aspects of college athletics is that it’s finite.
Student-Athletes get four years of eligibility — sometimes five — and that’s it. The time comes and goes so fast. One day you’re a wide-eyed freshman trying to find your way to the field on time, the next you’re a senior giving instructions and shortcuts to the new class of freshmen.
But oh, what great memories they have.
A lefty from Murrayville, Ga, Zach Brewster will leave Georgia Tech after putting together one of the best seasons ever for a reliever as far as durability.
In his sophomore year of 2009, Brewster pitched in a team-high 32 games, with 20 of his appearances being scoreless. He would earn ACC Honor Roll honors that season. His four years at Tech certainly surpassed his expectations.
“You leave high school and you never know what to expect about college in general,” he said. “In college baseball you never know either. You know that you want to go play and have fun. It’s certainly everything that I thought it would be.”
Brewster, who has pitched one scoreless inning this season and comes into his final home series with a 2-3 career record and a save, has stored a lot of knowledge away in that time and found one of the most rewarding parts of the year being his opportunity to give back to the new freshman class.
“Coming into the year I knew less than half the team, so it was kind of like being a freshman again,” he said. “But, as a senior, I’m just trying to set a good example and show the guys the ropes and a way to play through their four years here. It’s going to be good knowing that next week everybody’s kind of playing for us on that day.”
Brewster will graduate in the fall with a degree in Business Management.
Like Brewster, hard-throwing right-hander Kevin Jacob had no idea what he was getting into when he came to Georgia Tech.
“Coming from Baltimore, baseball, is good but it’s nothing like down South. So I didn’t really have too many expectations,” he said. “But it’s definitely been the best four years of my life. Just being at Tech and the guys that I’ve met, that’s probably been the biggest thing. I didn’t expect to get such a good group of friends, lifelong friends because every year you get a new group coming in.”
One of his best friends was one his biggest tormentors when early In his Tech career..
“I remember the first workouts I was kind of nervous because you’ve got the older guys and they’re going to mess with you a little bit,” he recalled. “The first workouts, I think Chris Hicks gave me a little bit of a hard time and I was thinking, ‘This is going to be a long year.’ He turned out to be one of my good friends, that I still talk to. First practice is kind of like, instead of being the standout in high school, you’re playing on a field where everyone was the standout. It’s a big adjustment.”
With an unorthodox over-the-top delivery, Jacob was a 19th-round pick of the New York Yankees in the 2010 June Draft, but he chose to stay at Tech, where he was to be the closer. Those plans were complicated following a shoulder injury that hampered him throughout 2010. Jacob was midweek starter in 2009, when he was ACC Honor Roll, and has worked his way back pitching out of the bullpen in 2011.
Jacob, who heads into Senior Weekend with a career-record of 5-4 and a 4.71 ERA and two saves (he’s 0-1, with a 2.38 this season), is proud of his time at Tech, and especially of the team’s record against rival Georgia in Athens.
“Beating Georgia every year at their place has been pretty great,” he said. “Every year I’ve been here we’ve beaten them at their place, pretty soundly, too. That will definitely stick out. Just the traditions we have at the Rusty C, coming in daily at the field, everything will be remembered.”
Outfielder Jeff Ussery, the senior amongst the seniors — he redshirted what would have been his sophomore year of 2009 — admitted that seeing his final season on The Flats end is bittersweet.
He’d have a right to be bitter, as a broken foot, then a broken leg ruined his collegiate career. But the Hilton Head, S.C., native dwells on the positives, which came primarily during his freshman campaign.
As a freshman, he was starting second baseman and was having a solid freshman season. One of his best games came in the 2007 game against Georgia at Turner Field. It, too, would turn out to be a bittersweet day.
“I hit two triples but I actually broke my foot running around the bases on my second triple,” he said. “That was the end of my season right there. That was probably the highlight of my career, four years ago.”
He would break his leg the following summer, causing him to redshirt in 2009, and he wouldn’t regain the form of his earlier years. But Ussery never gave up playing, and, as important, excelling in the classroom, as he was ACC Honor Roll in ’08, ’09 and ’10.
Another of Ussery’s best memories, which took place in his first practice, encapsulates him as a person as well.
“You respect all these guys around you because of the legacy that Georgia Tech Baseball guys have. I remember being very nervous,” he said. “I also remember hitting a ball out on my first swing right-handed, I hit one over the fence and my first swing left-handed I hit one over the fence in batting practice. That was just kind of fun to do that right away.”
Ussery refused to go down any way but swinging and will always look back fondly on his days as a Yellow Jacket.
“My time on the field was amazing,” he said. “I never take for granted being able to play baseball at Georgia Tech..”
Ussery, the last of his freshman recruiting class ’07 to leave Georgia Tech, graduates with a degree in Management.
Baseball is very much a game of statistics and numbers.
Someday that will come in handy for Taylor Wood. But right now, the lefty from Suwanee, Ga., who would like to get into investment or commercial banking, is simply enjoying his senior season.
“I guess the emotion hasn’t really sunk in yet,” said Wood, who is 3-1 lifetime, with a 3.42 ERA (19 ER in 50 innings). “It’s hard to really appreciate it, I guess, until it’s gone but I’m enjoying this time with the guys and that’s always a lot of fun.”
Wood won his three decisions as a freshman in 2008, when he made a career-best 20 appearances, covering 17 2/3 innings. He still remembers the jitters starting that first season.
“I remember it being kind of intimidating, all of the older guys and having to pitch to some of those guys who have really made a name for themselves in the minor leagues or the big leagues,” he said. “I remember having to get on the mound and facing guys who were nowhere near the competition I used to play against. It really encouraged me to work hard and perform to the best of my ability.”
He wouldn’t pick one moment as his favorite memory, preferring to call his entire senior season his favorite memory.
Wood, who was ACC Honor Roll in 2009 and ’10, graduated with a degree in Management and that means a lot.
“It’s an honor to even be able to come to a school like this and especially getting a degree from here,” he said. “It’s awesome and especially to play baseball.”