Oct. 27, 2002
By John Martin – With four years of waiting under his belt, Georgia Tech fifth-year senior running back Gordon Clinkscale is finally getting his chance to shine.
“Personally, I know in my heart that I had the ability to play,” said Clinkscale. “I’ve been plagued by injuries throughout my career here. Plus there have been a lot of great backs in front of me – Sean Gregory, Joe Burns. I just waited patiently to get my opportunity to play.”
And he is making the most of that opportunity, as the Yellow Jacket backfield has been decimated by injuries this season. With Tony Hollings gone for the year, Sidney Ford out and Ajenavi Eziemefe limited by an ankle injury over the last couple of weeks, Clinkscale and redshirt freshman walk-on P.J. Daniels have filled in nicely.
“Things aren’t exactly how we thought they would be, but those two guys have come in and exceeded expectations,” said Tech head coach Chan Gailey of his two new-found contributors. “They are running hard, they’re protecting the ball and not putting it on the ground, and their pass protection has been excellent.”
On the season, Clinkscale ranks third on the team with 201 yards rushing on just 23 carries. He is also fourth on the team with 12 receptions for 78 yards. He has also shown a knack for the big play, averaging 8.7 yards per carry. Clinkscale has runs of 37 and 51 yards over the last two outings.
“Now that Coach (Bill) O’Brien is putting trust in me to handle the ball, it just makes me play better,” said Clinkscale. “It gives me confidence.”
After Clinkscale’s performance in Tech’s 23-15 win over Virginia on Saturday, O’Brien’s confidence in Clinkscale has to be at an all-time high. The Doraville native was heavily involved in the game plan, rushing 10 times for 74 yards and catching four balls for another 35 yards. Over the last two games, he has tallied 161 yards on just 15 carries. Not bad for someone who totalled 46 yards in his first seasons at Tech and had not touched the football since 1999.
Clinkscale is returning to the form he showed at Dunwoody High School, where he was named DeKalb County Offensive Player of the Year as a junior. He rushed for 2,033 yards and 24 scores that season. As a senior, he ran four 1,093 yards in seven games before ending the season with a broken right ankle.
Despite the injury, Clinkscale still earned a scholarship to Tech, where, unfortunately, the injury bug followed. He redshirted the 1998 season, played as a wide out a year ago and has struggled to find the right fit until now.
Despite having only 46 yards on 15 carries in his first three seasons, Clinkscale continued to impress with his willingness to work hard.
“We know and the coaches know that we have enough confidence to go out there and play our hardest,” said Clinkscale. “If we do that, we put ourselves in a good position to win. We know that the coaches are going to put us in the best position to win, so we just trust that and go out there and play our hardest.”
Clinkscale also carries this work ethic into the classroom. He is slated to graduate with a degree in management in December, becoming the first member of his family to earn a college diploma.
Clinkscale’s late breakthrough on the field could not have come at a better time, as the Yellow Jacket schedule takes a tough turn as the season winds to an end. Meetings with NC State (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh, N.C.), Florida State, Duke and Georgia await Tech. However, with the strong play of Clinkscale and Daniels against Virginia, Tech has renewed energy for the stretch run.
“Every game is a big game, especially when we’re in the position we’re in now,” said Clinkscale. “We beat Virginia and NC State is next week. We’ve just got to prepare for them the same way we prepared for Virginia. Just go out there everyday in practice correct our mistakes and work hard and put the game together on Saturday.
“We know that in each of our losses we had the ability to win. We just looked around at each other and said ‘Look, a lot of things are going on around here. A lot of people are down, but the people that we have need to come together.’ We needed to put it together and play like we know how to play and that’s what we did against Virginia.”
Clinkscale was a big part of this win and figures to be a major player over the final month of the season as Tech looks for a sixth-straight bowl appearance. Thus far, it looks like he’s been worth the wait.