April 17, 2015
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
Georgia Tech’s special teams coach was kidding as several dozen international students took turns kicking extra points as Butker usually does.
More than 80 Tech students from countries around the world, many unfamiliar with the sport of American football, listened to a tutorial from head coach Paul Johnson, toured the locker room, tried on equipment, and then took to the field to go through eight different drills run by coaches and players.
Tech’s third annual International Football Clinic, run in conjunction with the Student Government Association, seemed a rousing success. There was little doubt that folks were having fun, especially when drilling with defensive backs.
They ran a drill that simulated “players” intercepting passes, and then . . . celebrating. Some of the, um, dances were quite interesting.
“I basically know zero [about football]; I would say about 10 percent,” said junior biomedical engineering major Phillip Ngo, a one-semester exchange student from Australia. “The big games are on back home, like the Super Bowl, but it’s hard to know what’s going on.
“We just love being active. It was a chance to hang out with the football team. Who could say no? I really liked the DB stuff, the celebrations.”
Plenty of smiles broke out as international students took turns running a variety of drills, tackling dummies, throwing passes, catching balls and more.
The Yellow Jackets seemed to have as much fun as those new to the sport.
“Somebody did my, `No ceilings,’ move,” said senior safety Jamal Golden. “We had a guy put the ball to his ear and dial like he was calling someone. One guy was petting it like a baby or a cat. I may have to steal one of those.
“It’s very nice to know that they care. Some guys knew our names, and some girls knew our names. It’s nice to know they care when we play for them.”
The clinic began in the team meeting room, which seats 130 or so, with Johnson explaining first a brief history of football at Tech, going over basic rules and explaining details of the game. With a video accompaniment behind him, he even went so far as to highlight nuances of the Jackets’ offense.
“A-backs are the two slots, they line up right outside the offensive line. The B-back is the one who lines up behind the quarterback,” he explained. “We’ll have a lot of new skill position players this year. We had five senior A-backs, senior B-backs, and two senior wide receivers. We’ll have a lot of new guys.”
When taking questions, Johnson was asked, “What is the triple option, and why do we run it?”
The head coach was ready.
“We don’t run it as much as everybody thinks,” he said. “Three things can happen: the quarterback can hand it off to the B-back, he can pull it and run it himself, or he can pitch it to the A-back. It all depends on what the defense does.”
Johnson then asked two international students in the front row to stand up, and while using them as a defensive tackle and a defensive end, he offered a more detailed three-dimensional explanation of how the triple option works.
The group then moved to the expansive Tech locker room, where many of them tried on shoulder pads and helmets. Many took selfies, or posed for photos.
One Atlanta local TV station was present and taping, and the Al-Jazeera news organization had a reporter on the scene.
The international students followed the Ramblin’ Wreck out the same tunnel that players exit on game days, and then split into eight drill stations.
Many of the internationals, like junior environmental science major Lucas Everitt, tackled dummies and kicked footballs with vigor.
The exchange student from New Zealand has played soccer and field hockey, and he’s familiar with Australian Rules Football. This, though, was different.
“I got the e-mail, and we’ve been signing up for everything, soaking up as many experiences as we can. I liked the kicking,” he said. “Australian Rules is like a 12-year-old made up a sport. It’s fun, though. It’s physical, though; none of this pad stuff.”
Junior public policy major Jen Abrams, the rising SGA president, was present.
After the internationals rotated through all eight drills stations, they had an opportunity to take pictures with Johnson, and then everybody — players and many coaches included — had dinner on the concourse on the north side of the stadium, near Callaway Plaza.
While there, many took pictures of the Governor’s Cup trophy, which the Jackets now possess after their overtime win over Georgia in November.
Ngo and Everitt said they’ve never been to a football game. Friday night’s Spring Game will be their first. Before attending that contest, which will wrap up the Jackets’ spring practice in Bobby Dodd Stadium, they wanted a better idea of what will be happening.
Gotsis, the senior defensive tackle who played Australian Rules Football and American football in Australia before receiving a scholarship offer from Johnson on the advice of one of Johnson’s coaching colleagues who has moved Down Under, was honored to be part of the event.
“It’s always real good fun having international students out there. Being an international and just seeing them out there running around, and having fun was great,” he said. “When I went to my first practice, I remember going out there with no idea what to expect.
“I really had never thrown a ball or done anything they were doing. I feel like out there on the field culture really doesn’t matter. You’re running around and having fun. You’ve got a smile on your face, and that’ the main thing.”