Sept. 1, 2006
Joe Anoai can’t wait until Saturday.
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot,” the defensive tackle admitted. “When you’re a little boy and just starting to think about playing college football, this is the kind of game you imagine. It’s prime time, College GameDay, everything you want in a season opener.”
As if anyone needed a reminder, Anoai and his teammates host Notre Dame Saturday night in front of a national television audience. The senior finds himself in the same position as many Tech fans scrambling for tickets, but he’s also ready to set aside the distractions and focus on the game.
“The hardest thing right now is getting tickets,” he said. “Everyone wants tickets. It’s a huge game. It’s going to be fun, but it’s also a big opportunity for this team. I just want to come out and have the best game possible and help this team get a momentum boost.”
At 6-3 and 280 pounds, Anoai has given Tech’s defensive front a big boost the last three seasons. As a starter on the line the past two seasons, he registered 17.5 tackles for loss and six and a half sacks.
Anoai has literally grown into the role since coming to Georgia Tech from Pensacola as a linebacker. Since his freshman year, Anoai has packed on over 30 pounds while maintaining his quickness to become a force on Tech’s interior line. An ankle injury marred part of last season, adding to the casualties among the front four in 2005. However, he and several of his teammates are fully recovered to give the Jackets depth and experience up and down the line.
“It feels good to be healthy,” he stated. “I’m 100 percent again. Darryl (Richard) is back to full speed. Adamm (Oliver) has a great motor. We have two other ends that can make it happen in Michael Johnson and Darrell Robertson. It feels good to be intact.”
“He’s one of the keys to our defense,” added linebacker KaMichael Hall. “Without Joe, there are a lot of things we couldn’t do because of the type of athlete he is. There’s a lot of stuff in our defensive package that revolves around him.”
Anoai is also relishing the opportunity to play another season under defensive coordination Jon Tenuta. The unit has been among the best in the country statistically, and they are looking to continue their aggressive play.
“Teams know we’re coming, but a good bit of the time, they can’t do anything about it,” he said. “We’ve been very successful in this system, and we don’t plan to change.
“We all play with the same mentality–we’re relentless. We’ve always been aggressive, but I do think we’re faster in the secondary. There’s inexperience but the talent and speed is a big upside. If our front four can get pressure, there’s no telling how far we can go.”
One challenge for the defensive line is replacing the void left by Eric Henderson, an all-ACC performer and team leader.
“Anytime you lose a player and leader like Eric, it always hurts,” Anoai said. “Luckily we have guys that are experienced with plenty of reps. We can take it in stride. We have a lot of athletes that have experience, so we’re going into this season with high hopes and expectations.”
Coach Chan Gailey insists that Anoai is well-equipped to step into that leadership role. “The way he prepares and the way he plays is what sets him apart,” he explained. “Obviously he’s got talent, but a lot of people have talent. He prepares and plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played. When the other guys see that, it helps them work.”
While Notre Dame is the next hurdle, Anoai wants to his final season to be his best. His aspirations include playing in the NFL, and seeing former teammates in the pros has only whetted his appetite.
“The last three years have gone by quick,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve done here. My experiences on and off the field have been great. It’s been a great choice for me and my family. I just want to cap it off with a big year.
“I’ve thought about [the NFL] since I was seven years old. It’s definitely something I want to pursue, and I think I’m good it enough to give it a shot. I want to have a good senior year and see what happens.”