Dec. 14, 2016
Jon Cooper | The Good Word
Playing in a bowl game is the reward for a great season. Getting to play in your hometown is icing on the cake.
There are going to be several Yellow Jackets that will get to taste that icing when Georgia Tech plays Kentucky in the TaxSlayer Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 31. Among them are cornerbacks Step Durham and Lamont Simmons, two of the four current Yellow Jackets that hail from inside the Jacksonville city limits (linebacker Victory Alexander and defensive lineman Antonio Simmons — no relation to Lamont — are also Jacksonville natives).
“I think it’s very exciting,” said Durham, who was a four-year letterman and three-year team captain at Atlantic Coast High School. “As a kid I always dreamed of playing at [EverBank Field]. There was nothing better than going there for, originally, the Gator Bowl. It was a dream as a kid. Now it’s coming to fruition. It’s very exciting.”
“It is a great opportunity to play in that stadium,” said Simmons, who played defensive back and wide receiver for three years at Lee High School and one year at Raines High School. “That’s my city. All my family is pretty much from Jacksonville, so it’s a great opportunity for them to see me play, especially playing in [EverBank] Field. That’s a great opportunity, especially being from Jacksonville. A lot of guys don’t get the opportunity to play in that stadium.”
Simmons has actually been on the field before but has not played on it.
“The last time I was there, [it] was to be honored for Super 24,” he said. “That is when [The Florida Times-Union] honors the top 24 guys in my city. It was a great opportunity to at least be on the field and see the great Jaguar fan base.”
Playing in the TaxSlayer Bowl will be the perfect way to cap his first season on the field at Georgia Tech. He had to sit out last year after transferring to Tech from USC.
For senior linebacker P.J. Davis, the TaxSlayer Bowl is his final game and presents him one final opportunity to shine for the Yellow Jackets. The relative proximity to his hometown of Cairo, Ga. also allows one more opportunity for his family and friends to see him play in the White and Gold. The trip to Jacksonville is actually more convenient for friends and family than a trip to Atlanta.
“Cairo is about two hours from Jacksonville. It’s definitely closer than Atlanta, so I’ll have a lot of people there,” said Tech’s second-leading tackler, who is expecting a cheering section of around 20. “I have a lot of family buying tickets and I’ve been asking around for tickets. I have a great support system, so I really appreciate that.”
The trip to Jacksonville marks sixth time in Georgia Tech’s last eight bowl games that the postseason destination is within easy driving range for the Yellow Jackets’ fan base, which has shown great propensity to travel well.
The Jackets are looking to starting a new bowl streak. This year’s 8-4 regular-season record served as redemption for Tech, which saw its string of 18 consecutive bowl appearances, the ninth-longest in college-football history, snapped last season.
“Just being able to go to a bowl game, that’s great. Being able to go back to Jacksonville is even better,” said Durham. “Last year, we didn’t have a good feeling but I think we pushed forward to have a good season this year and I’m happy that we did.”
Keeping friends and family happy regarding ticket requests will be the next big challenge — the Wildcats notwithstanding.
“My mom told a few people about tickets,” said Simmons with a laugh. “I may need five to six extra tickets. There’s no telling next week and going along.
“A few guys on social media asked me for tickets but, of course, family comes first,” he added. “I have to look out for my family.”
“They haven’t been pressing me so hard, not yet,” said Durham when asked about the demand for tickets from his friends and family. “[When I go home], that’s when it’s going to get worse.”