Aug. 30, 2006
ATLANTA (AP) -Tashard Choice spent a year backing up Adrian Peterson at Oklahoma. Then he filled the same role behind P.J. Daniels at Georgia Tech.
Choice never complained. He was never seen moping around. He did what was asked of him and waited patiently for his chance to shine.
He’ll get it Saturday night.
Choice takes over as the Yellow Jackets’ starter after spending the past two years as a backup for two different schools. His timing is impeccable – Georgia Tech opens the season against No. 2 Notre Dame.
“Coming out of high school, I really had the dream of being out there as the starter,” Choice said. “Waiting can be hard, but it can also be a learning experience. You get a chance to see other people in the spotlight – see how they train, see how they look at different situations. That helps you become a better player. Then, when it’s your turn, you can step in and help the team in your own way.”
Choice, a native of Atlanta’s southern suburbs, started his college career at Oklahoma in 2004. He carried the ball only 22 times for 100 yards as a backup to Peterson, a Heisman Trophy finalist who appropriately got the bulk of the work.
Shortly after the season ended, Choice returned to Atlanta and enrolled at Georgia Tech. While normally that would have meant sitting out a year, he got to play right away when the NCAA granted a waiver due to “extenuating family circumstances,” going along with his desire to be closer to home after his mother sustained a foot injury.
P.J. Daniels was entrenched as the Yellow Jackets’ starter, but he also was plagued by injuries that gave Choice plenty of chances to run the ball as a sophomore. He finished with 513 yards, tied for the team lead with six touchdowns and caught 14 passes.
In his lone career start, Choice carried a season-high 29 times for 84 yards in a shocking upset at Miami. Even though he is listed at just 205 pounds, he appears to be a durable back who could handle a similar workload this season.
“I would get the ball on every play if I could,” Choice said. “I love to run the ball. If I get a chance to carry it until my legs fall off, I will. I’m hungry. I want to eat.”
Choice’s hunger is understandable. It was tough to watch Peterson get the upper hand when they were both freshmen. It was tough to stand around on the sidelines while Daniels finished up his career as the fourth-leading rusher in Georgia Tech history.
But he never whined about his fate.
“I don’t think I would call it patience,” coach Chan Gailey said. “He wanted to play. He wanted to start. He kept playing hard. It’s funny how they say a guy who isn’t griping must have a lot of patience. It just means he’s continuing to work hard and understands the process. But these days, I guess, an athlete is expected to cry foul if he’s not playing.”
Gailey is extremely confident that Georgia Tech’s running game will keep chugging right along with Choice taking the bulk of the handoffs instead of Daniels.
“He’s not going to change a lot,” the coach said. “He’s probably not as physical between the tackles as P.J. was, but he was one of our best runners at the goal line. I’ve seen him score some touchdowns on plays where it looked like he was going to be stopped.”
Which may be the best way to describe Choice’s running style: He gets the yards he should get – and a little bit more.
“If you need him to get 4 yards, he gets 4 1/2,” Gailey said. “If you need 2 yards, he’ll get 2 1/2 to 3. But he also has enough speed and elusiveness to break the big one.”
Choice knows that more is expected of him this season. If he does something wrong, everyone will notice. If he doesn’t live up to expectations, the Yellow Jackets could be in for a long season.
“It’s a different feeling,” Choice said. “I understand that I have more responsibility. I’ve always tried to be a leader on and off the field. This year, I’ve got to set the example. I’ve got to go out there and make plays. This is a dream for me and it’s something that I accept.
“I realize I’ll be counted on every game now.”