Resilient and Persistent

Oct. 9, 2010

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Two words came to mind late Saturday night in Bobby Dodd Stadium as I set about talking about Tech’s win over Virginia: resilience and persistence.

They dovetail back and forth into one another, if you think about this through a football prism, and they remind me of a youngster some call, “Goat Boy.”

The Yellow Jackets had plenty of these characteristics in a 30-24 win at North Carolina a few weeks ago, particularly in the second half. But these have not exactly been Tech’s steady hallmarks this season.

Something may be changing, however. From my vantage point, since the latter stages of Tech’s last-minute win at Wake Forest a week earlier and again in a 33-21 win over the Cavaliers, the Jackets have refused to let one bad play become many.

They did not dwell or mope when things went haywire Saturday. They moved on as if possessed of collective amnesia.

That’s a characteristic common in successful sports teams so I was happy when center Sean Bedford sort of confirmed my theory. “I think you saw guys who didn’t let negatives get them down,” he said. “I think we just kept going and trying to execute to the best of our abilities.”

There was mirth in the room moments after Anthony Allen and Mario Butler sat side-by-side behind microphones for an unusual joint press conference that began with Butler worrying that nobody would ask him any questions after Allen rushed for 195 yards and three touchdowns.

Butler was joking. Allen wasn’t when he commented about quarterback Joshua Nesbitt’s ability to bounce back from mistakes like they didn’t happen. “That’s what he does,” the big B-back said.

Tech seemed absent of worry, actually. The Jackets countered repeatedly against the Cavs, and they had to do a little more countering than was reasonable after outgaining Virginia 302 yards to 107 in the first half only to lead 13-7. That’ll happen when you turn the ball over twice.

Butler said something about his teammates making excuses a couple weeks earlier when N.C. State repeatedly strafed the Tech defense on the way to a rather easy win over the Jackets. The lesson gleaned in the aftermath: no more excuses; just shut up, “and play the game.”

Great message.

My 13-year-old son’s been hearing versions of this recently, chiefly from me. After two-plus autumns spent playing baseball, he’s playing football again, and he’s had to work hard to earn playing time. There was some payoff Saturday morning, when he played quite a bit – and well — at middle linebacker and defensive end and his team broke from a 14-all tie to win 42-14.

On the way home from practice earlier this week, I preached to Patrick and a couple of his teammates about how important it would be to be physical with the opposing quarterback Saturday morning. That kid represented a disproportionate percentage of his team’s offense. Talented young man, for sure.

That game changed when perhaps the scrappiest player on my son’s team, a somewhat undersized defensive lineman who never gives up on a play, blasted that quarterback just as he threw a pass. It was a clean play, but the blind-side hit left the quarterback down for a minute or more.

That wasn’t the first good lick the boys put on that quarterback, either, and since he was not quite Joshua Nesbitt (man of steel?), he wasn’t quite the same QB thereafter.

The young man who delivered that hit is kind of bow-legged. He would cast perfectly in a movie as the grungy kid whom friends might send into a mine to make sure it’s safe. He has two nicknames: “Cro-magnon,” and, “Goat Boy.”

He showed up before the first day of practice wearing sweat pants with pockets. He kept pulling chicken wings out of the pockets and eating them. There was a grease stain on the outside of his drawers, and one of those wings eventually won, as he chipped a tooth and started bleeding.

Didn’t stop him from practicing that day.

Saturday, he and his teammates were persistent. And after the opposing team put together a frantic drive to tie the score right before halftime, they were resilient. Tech was as well.

The Jackets kept pushing.

These are positive signs, and perhaps the answer to what many have been asking about the Jackets: “What’s missing?” (Other than five players now in the NFL or on injured reserve, not to mention scrappy linebacker Sedric Griffin.)

Bedford again: “The quote of the week, coach [Paul] Johnson said, `Toughness is a state of mind.’ “

This win, complete with 477 rushing yards, started up front. If you’ve been reading Sting Daily, you might have seen the story I wrote earlier in the week quoting co-offensive line coach Mike Sewak as saying that his charges (and those of fellow line coach Todd Spencer) had not yet developed the requisite toughness.

“God blesses us all with a certain amount of talent, but he doesn’t tell us how much heart we can pour into the game or how much mental toughness we can develop,” Sewak said five days earlier. “That becomes individual character, and I think when you find that you’ll find that development comes along.

“This group is so young. They haven’t reached their maturity level yet. They haven’t reached their mental toughness. They reached their physical toughness yet. This group . . . will be fine.”

Tech was tougher Saturday. And more persistent. And quite resilient.

They were, in my view, a team of Goat Boys.

I know this is not standard fare, but I’ve already written a couple stories for the AJC after a day at youth football, closing up the house so that I can leave from Bobby Dodd Stadium for a few days in North Georgia (where my family has been for six hours), and I’m a bit goofy even when well-rested. But I’ve got a bit of Goat Boy in me so I’m plugging away. If you have any interesting thoughts, send them to stingdaily@gmail.com. Perhaps we’ll publish a readers’ digest Monday if enough of you respond.

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