What, Me Worry?

Aug. 4, 2011

Georgia Tech Pre-Season Central

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Day two of Georgia Tech’s football practice went into books Thursday under cloud cover, the Yellow Jackets having made their first genuine use of the new John & Mary Brock indoor facility when lightning crackled in the distance.

Given the gloomy 20-degree difference in temperature outside versus Wednesday, the fact the Jackets will not be in pads until Sunday, and that everybody is just getting their feet under them, there is not yet a full-throttle fall vibe.

It’ll come, but the first scents of gridiron glory remain yet to be found in the forward mist. Here, in fact, is the scene as I write:

I’m sitting in one of the Tech sports information department offices. On a wall above me is a large “NCAA FINAL FOUR 2002 ATLANTA” sign. It has a basketball somehow reconfigured into a peach.

Next to me is the first Burlsworth Trophy, which former center Sean Bedford won after last season. He earned that as the nation’s top former walk-on player.

I’m told his version of the trophy is in his possession. This one, which hasn’t found a trophy case yet, has a temporary sign: Betsy Devine “G.A. Extraordinaire” 2011.

So there is some re-calibration taking place; football has not yet extended its full grip, especially since campus is nearly a ghost town.

The Jackets are doing some re-configuring of their own, and their place in the college football landscape remains a guess.

When the AJC’s Ken Sugiura mentioned that Tech received one vote Thursday in the first issue of the coaches’ poll, Roddy Jones remarked that he had no idea how good any other teams were because he doesn’t watch them. He added, “In my opinion, we’re No. 1.”

Synjyn Days walked by at that moment (after practice, while on his way back into the locker room), and said, “I like that way of thinking.”

So moods Thursday did not match the weather.

That’s a good thing, and it made me wonder: might it be right to suggest that Tech players probably couldn’t care less about the way they’ve been viewed of late? Might they be prompted to shut out the rest of the world?

They were picked a few weeks ago by the ACC media to finish fourth in their division. Much has been made about off-kilter chemistry since the Jackets slogged through the second half of the season. And there hasn’t been good news lately, not that there is a need to re-hash specifics here.

I thought about the notion for a moment, and countered myself with this thought: No way. These are bright young men, and we ALL care to some degree what others see in us, how we’re perceived by outsiders.

But where’s the tipping point?

Should the Jackets not care? Or should they be offended and defensive?

Jones, who is as on-the-ball as any Tech player perhaps in years, laid down some perspective. He’s a good one for it as some of his teammates have suggested that the young man may one day be president of the U.S. of A.

“There’s a balance. You can use it as motivation, or ignore it totally. I think we use it as motivation,” he said. “You take [criticism] with a grain of salt. People are kind of doubting us, and we have something to prove.”

B-back Preston Lyons, like Jones an Atlanta-area native, has fielded his share of questions recently. He advocates patience in response.

“You get sick of trying to explain it or defend yourself, but you have passion about it, and you want to explain it to your loved ones,” he said. “People who don’t understand, you don’t want to spend too much time.

“You’ve got to know who you can tell. You can’t get too emotional or fired up about it because you’ll be wasting your time.”

Moments earlier Jones explained to the AJC’s Jeff Schultz that he will always consider himself an ACC champion, that he still has his ring, and that all he needs to do to reinforce the thought of Tech’s 2009 success is pop in tape of the Jackets’ title game win over Clemson.

The curious alter-ego in me wondered if Johnson or any Tech officials have counseled players how to respond to questions about all the distractive commotion, particularly recent events that need not be re-hashed.

Jones: “Coach Johnson did. He told us to basically say the [ACC Championship] Game was played on the field, and everything after that is out of our hands. As far as what’s going on now with the appeal, that’s out of our hands. We can’t worry about it.”

It’s there, though, like a scab.

So, Embry Peeples said, “It’s a motivation factor . . . we have to care. People who are close to us pretty much understand the situation. They don’t bring it up.”

Yet some people will pick at the scab. That’s human nature.

As for how much to care, players have to take stock but I would posit that there is a point where going overboard with the concept of using the perceptions of others as motivation might lead to the Jackets losing sight of their goals and then getting in their own way.

Play to win more than to prove people wrong. Win, and you’ll prove plenty.

This is not to say there can be a complete disconnect from the human element of wanting to be appreciated, not by a long shot.

“When people are talking negatively about your program, something that you’ve put so much into for four years, it’s tough to hear,” Jones said. “That’s why we’re trying to turn it around.

“We’re trying to get back to the level where people don’t have anything bad to say about us other than maybe, `You don’t throw the ball enough.’ Then, as long as we’re winning, nobody [among players] will care.”

Thoughts to stingdaily@gmail.com.

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